Magma Retrospective

Take a step back. A French progressive rock band formed in the late 1960’s, influenced by jazz of that period, Wagner, and Orff, singing in a made-up language over album-length tracks, and often featuring at least 7 or 8 members in its lineup. The chances of that group still going strong in 2015 is…negligible?

Not for Magma. While born in the early “prog” era, Magma has transcended that label, and is responsible for not only influencing dozens of bands (Univers Zero, Art Zoyd, Happy Family, Eider Stellaire, Eskaton, Sotos, etc.), spinning off several others (Weidorje, Zao, etc.), and created a unique category of music (Zuehl). Since the late 1990’s, the group, lead by founder Christian Vander, Magma has reemerged with a string of studio and live albums of a quality that matches that of their earlier era.

220px-KobaiaMagma (Kobaïa) (1970)

Klaus Basquiz – vocals
François Cahen – piano
Claude Engel – guitars, flute, vocals
Teddy Lasry – soprano sax, flute
Richard Raux – alto and tenor sax, flute
Alain “Paco” Charlery – trumpet, percussion
Francis Moze – electric bass, contrabass
Christian Vander – drums, vocals

Kobaïa – 10:15
Aïna – 6:15
Malaria – 4:20
Sohïa – 7:00
Sckxyss – 3:47
Auraë – 10:55
Thaud Zaïa – 7:00
Nau Ektila – 12:55
Stoah – 8:05
Muh – 11:13

In the course of this album, the band tells the story of a group of people fleeing a doomed Earth to settle on the fictional planet Kobaïa.

220px-Magma_1001°_Centigrades1001° Centigrades (1971)

Klaus Blasquiz – vocals, percussion
Teddy Lasry – clarinet, saxophone, flute, voice
Yochk’o “Jeff” Seffer – saxophone, bass clarinet
Louis Toesca – trumpet
François Cahen – acoustic & electric pianos
Francis Moze – bass
Christian Vander – vocals, drums, percussion

Rïah Sahïltaahk – 21:45
“Iss” Lanseï Doïa – 11:46
Ki Ïahl Ö Lïahk – 8:23

220px-MekanikMëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh (1973)

Klaus Blasquiz – vocals, percussion
Stella Vander – vocals
Muriel Streisfield – vocals
Evelyne Razymovski – vocals
Michele Saulnier – vocals
Doris Reinhardt – vocals
René Garber – bass clarinet, vocals
Teddy Lasry – brass, flute
Jean-Luc Manderlier – piano, organ
Benoit Widemann – keyboards
Claude Olmos – guitar
Jannick Top – bass
Christian Vander – drums, vocals, organ, percussion

Hortz Fur Dëhn Štekëhn Ẁešt – 9:36
Ïma Süri Dondaï – 4:30
Kobaïa Is de Hündïn – 3:34
Da Zeuhl Ẁortz Mëkanïk – 7:48
Nebëhr Gudahtt – 6:02
Mëkanïk Kömmandöh – 4:10
Kreühn Köhrmahn Ïss Dëh Hündïn – 3:13

220px-Wurdah_itahẀurdah Ïtah (1974)

Stella Vander – vocals
Klaus Blasquiz – vocals, percussion
Jannick Top – bass
Christian Vander – drums, piano, Fender Rhodes, percussion, vocals

Malaẁëlëkaahm – 3:37
Bradïa da Zïmehn Iëgah – 2:18
Manëh Fur Da Zëss – 1:38
Fur Dïhhël Kobaïa – 4:55
Blüm Tendiwa – 3:29
Ẁohldünt Mᴧëm Dëẁëlëss – 3:29
Ẁaïnsaht!!! – 2:30
Ẁlasïk Steuhn Kobaïa – 2:46
Sëhnntëht Dros Ẁurdah Süms – 3:24
C’est la vie qui les a menés là! – 4:58
Ëk Sün Da Zëss – 2:16
De Zeuhl Ündazïr – 3:40

Ẁurdah Ïtah was originally released as a Christian Vander soundtrack for Yvan Lagrange’s 1972 film Tristan et Iseult. It was re-released on Seventh Records in 1989 as a Magma album.

220px-KöhntarköszKöhntarkösz (1974)

Klaus Basquiz – vocals, percussion
Stella Vander – vocals
Gerard Bikialo – pianos, Yamaha organ
Michel Graillier – pianos, clavinet
Brian Godding – guitar
Jannick Top – bass, cello, vocals, piano
Christian Vander – drums, vocals, piano, percussion

Köhntarkösz (Part I) – 15:22
Köhntarkösz (Part II) – 15:55
Ork Alarm – 5:28
Coltrane Sündïa” – 4:11

220px-Live_Hhaï_MagmaLive/Hhaï (1975)

Klaus Blasquiz – vocals
Stella Vander – vocals
Didier Lockwood – violin
Gabrial Federow – guitar
Benoit Widemann – keyboards
Jean Pierre Asseline – keyboards
Bernard Paganotti – bass
Christian Vander – drums

Köhntark (Part One) – 15:45
Könntark (Part Two) – 16:14
Ëmëhntëht-Rê (Announcement) – 8:10
Hhaï – 9:20
Kobah – 6:36
Lïhns – 4:55
Da Zeuhl Wortz Mekanïk – 6:14
Mëkanïk Zaïn – 18:57

220px-Üdü_Wüdü_Magma_alternateÜdü Ẁüdü (1976)

Klaus Blasquiz – vocals, percussion
Stella Vander – vocals (track 1)
“Lisa” – vocals (track 1)
Lucille Cullaz – vocals (track 1)
Catherine Szpira – vocals (track 1)
Alain Hatot – saxophones, flute
Patrick Gauthier – piano, synthesiser (track 2)
Bernard Paganotti – bass, vocals (track 2)
Jannick “Janik” Top – bass, brass arrangements, vocals, synthesiser
Christian Vander – percussion, vocals, piano, keyboards, drums

Üdü Ẁüdü” – 4:10
Weidorje – 4:30
Tröller Tanz – 3:40
Soleil d’Ork – 3:50
Zombies (Ghost Dance) – 4:10
De Futura – 18:00
Ëmëhntëht-Rê (extrait no. 2) – 3:12

Attahk_MagmaAttahk (1978)

Klaus Blasquiz (Klotz) – vocals
Rene Garber (Stundehr) – vocals
Stella Vander (Thaud) – vocals
Lisa Bois (Sïhnn) – vocals
Tony Russo – trumpet
Jacques Bolognesi – trombone
Benoit Widemann (Kahal) – grand piano, Fender Rhodes, Minimoog, Oberheim polyphonic
Guy Delacroix (Ürgon and Gorgo) – “Earth” bass, “Air” bass
Christian Vander (Dëhrstün) – lead vocals, drums, percussion, grand piano, Fender Rhodes, Chamberlin

The Last Seven Minutes – 7:00
Spiritual (Negro Song) – 3:17
Rindë (Eastern Song) – 3:07
Liriïk Necronomicus Kahnt (in which our heroes Ürgon & Ğorğo Meet) – 4:59
Maahnt (The Wizard’s Fight Versus the Devil) – 5:29
Dondaï (To an Eternal Love) – 7:59
Nono (1978, Phase II) – 6:17

220px-Merci_MagmaMerci (1984)

Christian Vander – vocals, piano, Celeste, keyboards, percussion
Stella Vander – vocals
Guy Khalifa – vocals
Liza Deluxe – backing vocals
Benoit Widemann – synthesizer
Simon Goubert – synthesizer (1, 3)
Jean Pierre Fouquey – Fender Rhodes piano on (2)
Phillipe Slominski – trumpet on (1, 3, 4)
Christian Martinez – trumpet on (1, 4)
Michel Goldberg – saxophone on (1, 3)
Michel Gaucher – saxophone on (2)
Freddy Opsepian – trumpet on (2)
Christian Guizen – trombone on (2)
Alex Ferrand – vocals on (3)
Jean-Luc Chevalier – guitar on (3)
Patrick Gauthier – synthesizer on (3)
Paul Bayle – saxophone on (3)
Denis LeLoup – trombone on (3, 4)
Arrigo Lorenz – soprano sax on (3)
Maria Popkiewicz – backing vocals on (4)
Jerome Naulay – trombone on (4)
Zaka – percussion on (4)
Michel Graillier – Fender Rhodes piano on (5)
Marc Eliard – bass
Francois Laizeau – drums, drum programming

Call from the Dark (Ooh Ooh Baby) – 7:20
Otis – 5:20
Do the Musi” – 4:25
Otis (Ending) – 1:32
I Must Return – 6:32
Eliphas Levi – 11:15
The Night We Died – 3:40

220px-Theusz_Hamtaakh-coverTrilogie Theusz Hamtaahk (2001)

Stella Vander − vocals, piano, percussion
Antoine Paganotti − vocals, piano
Emmanuel Borghi − piano
James Mac Gaw − vocals, piano, guitar
Claude Lamamy − vocals
Jean-Christophe Gamet − vocals
Julie Vander − vocals
Isabelle Feuillebois − vocals, percussion
Benoît Gaudiche − trumpet
Yannick Neveu − trumpet
Fred Burgazzi − trombone
Ronan Simon − trombone
Philippe Bussonnet − bass
Christian Vander − drums

First Movement: Theusz Hamtaahk
Malaẁëlëkaahm − 6:28
Sëẁolahẁëhn öhn Zaïn − 6:42
Dëümb ʌëwëlëss dölëhn − 3:52
Zeuhl Ẁortz − 2:28
Ğorutz ẁaahrn’ − 3:15
Tü lü lï ʌë üi dü wiï − 1:08
Sé Lah Maahrï Donsaï − 2:31
Slibenli dëh Theusz − 5:21
Zortsüng − 3:09

Second Movement: Ẁurdah Ïtah
Malaẁëlëkaahm (Incantation) − 4:21
Bradïa da zïmehn iëgah (L’initié a parlé) − 2:35
Manëh fur da Zëss (Ensemble pour le Maître) − 1:42
Fur dï Hël Kobaïa (Pour la vie eternelle) − 5:38
Blüm tendiwa (L’âme du peuple) − 5:49
Ẁohldünt mᴧëm dëwëlëss (Message dans l’étendue) − 3:08
Ẁaïnsaht !!! (En avant !!!) − 3:11
Ẁlasïk steuhn Kobaïa (Ascension vers l’éternel) − 2:44
Sëhnntëht dros ẁurdah süms (La mort n’est rien) − 6:00
C’est la vie qui les a menés là! − 4:32
Ëk sün da Zëss (Qui est le maître) − 2:37
De Zeuhl ündazïr (Vision de la musique céleste) − 6:11

Third Movement: Mëkanïk Dëstruktïw Kömmandöh
Hortz fur dëhn Štekëhn Ẁešt − 10:16
Ïma sürï Dondaï − 4:13
Kobaïa iss dëh hündïn − 2:07
Da Zeuhl Ẁortz Mëkanïk − 7:20
Nebëhr Gudahtt − 7:39
Mëkanïk Kömmandöh − 8:05
Kreühn Köhrmahn iss dëh Hündïn − 1:30
Da Zeuhl Ẁortz ẁaïnsaht (Hymne de la Zeuhl Ẁortz) − 1:53
Untitled (Joyeux Anniversaire) − 5:41

K.A._(Kohntarkosz_Anteria)K.A. (Köhntarkösz Anteria) (2004)

Stella Vander – vocals, percussion
Antoine Paganotti – vocals
Himiko Paganotti – vocals
Isabelle Feuillebois – vocals
James Mac Gaw – guitars
Emmanuel Borghi – piano, Fender Rhodes
Frédéric d’Oelsnitz – Fender Rhodes
Philippe Bussonnet – bass guitar
Christian Vander – drums, vocals, percussion

K.A. I – 11:12
K.A. II – 15:53
K.A. III – 21:43

Magma‘s first full studio album in 20 years, K.A. (short for Köhntarkösz Anteria), is a reminder that the modern version of the band is at least as powerful as the 1970-78 lineups.  Despite the new band members and different instrumentation, K.A. was mostly composed in the mid-1970’s, and harkens back to that era.

Consisting of three long tracks aptly titled K.A. I, K.A. II, and K.A. III, the album features epic compositional themes, multi-part vocals, and a jazz-inflected prog-rock approach.  Nonetheless, Magma is Magma, and ultimately only resemble themselves. Unlike their 1970’s recordings, K.A. does not involve horns or much dissonance, but includes long jams. Vocal interplay and counterpoint, as well as swirling instrumental dynamics are the focus. The vocals are catchy, melodic at times, but never mundane.

K.A. I kicks off with a representative vocal-heavy approach, featuring the two male and three female singers taking turns in lead and harmony roles. Guitar and keyboards follow or compliment the vocals, while Vander and Bussonnet provide busy rhythms. K.A. II is perhaps the most memorable piece, as it features a long section of soulful, urgent call-and-response vocal patterns, followed by an instrumental section. K.A. III is more obviously in the prog-rock camp than the other tracks, as it features a long keyboard solo, as well as several distinctive vocal themes.

I won’t be shy – K.A. is my favorite Magma album of them all. It is the recording that I keep coming back to when I feel the urge for something Kobaian. Vander and company outdid themselves on this recording and created a desert-island classic.

220px-Magma_-_Ëmëhntëhtt-RéËmëhntëhtt-Ré (2009)

Stella Vander – vocals, percussion
Isabelle Feuillebois – vocals
Hervé Aknin – vocals
Benoît Alziary – vibraphone
James MacGaw – guitar
Bruno Ruder – Fender Rhodes
Philippe Bussonnet – bass, piccolo bass
Christian Vander – drums, vocals, piano, Fender Rhodes, keyboard, percussion

Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré I – 6:53
Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré II – 22:25
Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré III – 13:06
Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré IV – 3:54
Funëhrarïum Kahnt – 4:19
Sêhë – 0:27

Magma’s second studio album since their rebirth in the late 1990’s, Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré is a combination of studio and live pieces that the group has been playing since the mid 1970’s. For instance, Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré I combines Ëmëhntëht-Rê (Announcement) from the Live/Hhaï and Rindë (Eastern Song) from the Attahk, while Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré II combines Ëmëhntëht-Rê (Extrait n’ deux) and Zombies (Ghost Dance) from Üdü Ẁüdü, as well as Hhaï from Live/Hhaï.

Nonetheless, the recording on this release are a reworking of those older compositions, with new material and a more modern approach. Particularly, Antoine Paganotti is replaced as lead male vocalist with Hervé Aknin, and Benoît Alziary on vibraphone is added. The centerpiece of the recording is the 22-minute Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré II, which features a powerful vocal workout from Aknin and female leads Stella Vander and Isabelle Feuillebois. Notably, the song structure is both deceptively complex, but contains no shortage of catchy hooks. The last third of the song exhibits new versions of the pieces from Üdü Ẁüdü, in the form of chants.

Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré III, the other long piece, initially slows the tempo to an intense simmer, before building up to a crescendo. Like many Magma tracks, the vocals serve as additional instruments, rather than vehicles for words per se. The remaining shorter tracks round the album out, with Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré I both Funëhrarïum Kahnt both containing dirges. As a consequence, Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré is darker than 2004’s K.A., but no less vital.

cover_1848191852012_rFélicité Thösz (2012)

Stella Vander – Vocals, Tambourine
Isabelle Feuillebois – Vocals, Bells
Hervé Aknin – Vocals
Benoît Alziary – Vibraphone
James Mac Gaw – Guitar
Bruno Ruder – Piano
Philippe Bussonnet – Bass
Christian Vander – Drums, Vocals, Piano, Keyboard
Sandrine Destefanis, Sylvie Fisichella, Marcus Linon (Chorus of Les Hommes Sont Venus)

Ëkmah – 2:39
Ëlss – 1:11
Dzoï – 2:27
Nüms – 1:51
Tëha – 5:15
Waahrz – 4:03
Dühl – 1:19
Tsaï! – 3:41
Öhst – 4:53
Zahrr – 0:49
Les Hommes Sont Venus – 4:18

Félicité Thösz is a departure of sort for the modern Magma lineup. While featuring guitar and vibraphone, the album squarely revolves around vocals, piano, bass, and drums. Further, the thirty-minute title track is a suite of shorter songs. The longest of these, Tëha, is the most memorable with compelling melodies and lead singing by Stella Vander. While each track has a beauty of its own, the epic feel of a Magma composition is largely missing. A notable exception would be Tsaï!, which features a violent vocal chant over an intense theme performed by the entire group. Les Hommes Sont Venus, which is not part of the Félicité Thösz suite, is almost a pure vocal piece, with some bells in the background laying down a simple repetitive rhythm.

cover_5920112092014_rRïah Sahïltaahk (2014)

Stella Vander / voice
Isabelle Feuillebois / voice
Hervé Aknin / voice
Benoît Alziary / vibraphone
James Mac Gaw / guitar
Jérémie Ternoy / piano
Philippe Bussonnet / bass
Christian Vander / drums, voice, piano

Watseï kobaïa (4:40)
Di mahntër sahïltaahk (3:00)
Süri sï toïdo (3:31)
Ün zoïn glaö (3:10)
Ïss walomëhn dôm (2:25)
Bradïa ëtnah (2:24)
Môm loïlë (3:45)
Woleï (1:29)

Apparently, Christian Vander was never satisfied with the original 21-minute arrangement of Rïah Sahïltaahk that appeared on 1971’s 1001 Degrees Centigrades. Thus, over 40 years later, he set out to rectify the situation.

And the result? There are plenty of familiar passages throughout this 24-minute version. However, Vander has broken up the original single-track piece into seven separately-named tracks. Also gone are the horns of the 1971 recording, notably the distinctive bass clarinet of Yochk’o Seffer. In the place of the brass and woodwinds, we get guitar, vibraphone, and female vocals. All in all, not a bad tradeoff.

But when listened back-to-back, a few textual differences become apparent. The 2014 version is tighter, less jarring, and not as abrupt or shrill. This is probably due to the said lack of horns, as well as Klaus Blasquiz not taking part in the recording. In the balance of Vander’s influences, Coltrane wins out over Wagner, despite omission of the saxes.

Also, due to modern technology, this EP has a cleaner, clearer mix than the original. Regardless, the soulful joy that is Magma at its best shines through into the digital era. One of the band’s better efforts of their modern incarnation.

41KFB-mGh-L._SY300_Slag Tanz (2015)

Stella Vander / Vocals
Isabelle Feuillebois / Vocals
Hervé Aknin / Vocals
Benoit Alziary / Vibraphone
James Mac Gaw / Guitar
Jérémie Ternoy / Piano, Fender Rhodes
Philippe Bussonnet / Bass Guitar
Christian Vander / Drums, Piano, Vocals on “Wohldünt”

Imëhntösz – Alerte! (2:19)
Slag (3:03)
Dümb (2:57)
Vers la nuit (3:30)
Dümblaë – Le silence des mondes (2:58)
Zü Zaïn ! (2:16)
Slaǧ Tanƶ (2:29)
Wohldünt (1:23)

Magma is back with its second EP release in three months. Following rapidly on the heels of the re-recording of Rïah Sahïltaahk, Slag Tanz once again features the modern Magma lineup performing music reminiscent of their arrival on this planet 45 years ago.

For Magma fans, Slag Tanz has a lot to like. The familiar, layered call-and-response vocals, jagged bass-and-drum-driven rhythms, and distinctive potency of the compositions are on display. The eight short tracks sum up to about 20 minutes, and run together in a suite form. While Slag Tanz breaks less new ground for Magma than, say, Félicité Thösz, it marks a return to the more complex scores Magma worked from in the 1970s. In fact, according to Christian Vander, Slag Tanz was originally written in that time period. It has been performed several times since 2009, reportedly evolving from show to show. Thus, it is hard to characterize this effort as a remake like Rïah Sahïltaahk.

Still, you could call Slag Tanz retro, but doing so would unduly dismiss the pure joy that is Magma in peak form. The operatic choruses, heavy angular riffing, atmospheric vibes, and superb rhythm section are transcendent. Bravo.

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