Thursday, August 29, 2013


This concerns you.
Your system collapsed and your revolts assassinate: in fact you
destroy only that which you don't understand.
We know that you also will be destroyed.
Our music is for the beauty that you wish to ignore and for the
hatred of your damnable evolution.
Out beyond space and time, a planet awaits us, Kobaia.
We have known this world since the day we opened our eyes,
millions of years ago.
May all those who suffocate here below follow us.
But may the hypocrite hope for nothing!
You are already no more than oblivion.

The Magma universe began with a concept.  Magma, a French band, pictured above,  also ushered in a new hybrid form of music known as zeuhl, but to my ears sounds similar to fusion jazz more than anything, although there's influences of opera (in the singing at times), and Canterbury (which is also another form of progressive music deriving out of the area of Canterbury England).  So it's hard to pigeonhole, but that's one of the things I like about it,  the complexity and diversity.  I've also heard it described as, what the Klingons might have sounded like if they'd made a rock album, which might be facetious, but is also a somewhat apt description.

The Magma universe is carried out thematically over several recordings.  It was originally conceived as a nine-album opera by their leader Christian Vander, who is also their drummer, however, that never came to fruition.  Mostly is defined in their first three albums.  It chronicles the deterioration of Earthly civilizations and colonization of planet Kobaia by a tiny group of humans who left Earth to establish a utopian society, based on the concept of universal harmony (not to far from the 60's hippie ethic).  A couple of other bands at the time also came out with a similar utopian concept of fleeing earth and establishing their own societies, one that comes to mind is the American band,  Jefferson Starship, who recorded the Blows Against The Empire album.  Gong, the UK,French band, is another example perhaps, but their concept is less defined, looser in concept, so it remains nebulous at best, but some great music too, if you enjoy their sound.

The Magma/zeulh journey began with their first self-titled album in 1970.  To say the music was challenging is an understatement.  Most people didn't know what to make of it at all, I would think, and I'm sure I wouldn't have either had I encountered it at that point in time.  Rolling Stone magazine rated it worthless: a record that never (or should have never been created) and sounds as if undergoing a bout of colitis.  Not exactly a glowing review.  The style lies somewhere between some maybe King Crimson and Mahavishnu Orchestra, and the vocals are sung in an operatic style in a fictitious guttural language, known as Kobian, that was invented by Vander (the Klingon reference).   On the first album,  Earthlings travel across time and space to discover Kobia and develop a highly technological society. Years later they rescue another Earth ship that malfunctioned.  The rescued space travelers relate their tale of how Earth was struck by a string of catastrophes.  The Earthlings convince the Kobians to return to Earth to share their new knowledge with their former home world.

The second part of the story continues with their second release, 1001 Centigrades (1971), and opens when the Kobians arrive on Earth.  Unfortunately the powers that be on Earth feel threatened by these new aliens and their message of universal harmony and imprison them, but are eventually set free when the Kobians threaten Earth with annihilation with their technology, and vows they'll never return.

The third album, Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh (1973)  concludes the trilogy when a troubled Earth receives a savior, Nebehr Gudahtt, who attempts to right the wrongs. As with most messiahs, the prophetic words of Gudahtt are not welcomed by the masses and he is crucified.

All in all  the band and their concepts are complex, alien, but interesting if you are up for challenging music.  I'm not saying I listen to this all the time, I enjoy my pop music as well, and Magma's music is a bit brooding and intense at times, but it works well for me at night.  I had to read about the concepts to these albums through magazines and the web due to it being in a totally made-up language.  But I have to give Vander and his group credit for even attempting to pull off this avant garde concept, and to be able to perform this stuff on stage--I can't imagine learning an alien language just to sing a song.

If interested in exploring the band's music, I'd recommend their Live Hhai (1975) album first, recorded at the Taverne de l'Olympia in Paris.  Better yet, there should be plenty of clips on Youtube to discover and listen to, and you could make up your mind if this might be your cup of tea or not.  What's amazing, however, is that Magma influenced many other zeuhl bands, some of these bands includes:  Guapo, Ruins, Bondage Fruit, Setna, Universal Totem Orchestra, Pseu, Xing Sa, Ga'an, Masal, Koenjihyakkei, and many others as well. 


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