As Magma begins their first proper United States tour in quite a while it felt right to finally tackle the burning question of what are the best Magma pieces ever. What songs or scores are we going to be demanding from the rafters as thousands of people gather to hear the greatest space opera in a made-up language to have ever existed? I can feel the amount of hype and excitement that is building inside you; the anticipation of the coming shows that will make you reconsider life itself. Will they play De Futura? What about Maahnt? Perhaps Wurdah Itah? Before we get too excited lets break down this list to see what we should be demanding.
Merci on its on is pretty much a dud of an album, a poor attempt at making something straight forward which is not Chirstian Vander’s strong suit. What makes the album worse is that it is not even a proper train wreck, but just a total miscalculation as to what the qualities people looked for in Magma albums. Fortunately there is Otis, a song of expression to one of Christian’s musical crushes, Otis Redding. This was not the first time that Vander had made a song dedicated to one of his favorite musicians as he had done the same for John Coltrane on 1974’s Köhntarkösz. Otis is a rare example of a Magma song that is mostly not a complete whackadoo insane odyssey. Christian’s shrieking is to a minimum and only when he is getting really psyched up. You won’t play it at your wedding, but its a cute little piece.
Although we have yet to hear the full version of this song (allegedly the true piece is 3-5 hours in length) what we have been shown is truly remarkable and puts into place the gravitas of how epic Magma always strives to be. This is not to say Magma always succeeds in their endeavors as some of their outings turn into complete musical Hindenburgs by the time they come to a close. I truly believe that Zess’s grandeur is far beyond what has been featured and that when it does come out our collective minds will melt to provide the space fuel to power the spaceship to Kobaïa.
#8 The Last Seven Minutes
Like Otis The Last Seven Minutes is really not classic Magma by any definition. Rather it is a fierce progressive rock song being played by the most frenetic French musicians ever, and believe you me there are PLENTY of those. This was the first song that I had ever heard by Magma since the album it is on Attahk is their first album alphabetically. Fortunate that this was the case too as their other music is dense that I may not have been willing if I had not heard the more rock focus opener here. The guitar rips along the cumbersome time signature as the song erupts leading into a more bass, key, and drum centric piece, which is more typical of Magma but it features far less doomsday chanting and end of the world theatrics. This is a great starting point for lovers of 70’s prog rock, but are skeptical of taking the plunge.
#7 Rïah Sahïltaahk
Initially the opener to 1001 Centigrades Rïah Sahïltaahk found itself being retooled and rereleased in 2014 as a stand alone album. This was a smart move as it let the 25 minute epic stand on its own two legs and stretch out to allow for greater appreciation. This has such a majestically adventurous tone to it as if a group of friends are going on a grand adventure which quickly goes wrong before coming to a punctuated and catastrophic end. It’s a boisterous piece, but not over the top meaning it won’t scare your significant other or parents too much if you play it in the car, a definite plus for non-Magma lovers.
#6 Attahk (Retrovision)
A jovial piece is a rarity for Magma as the majority of their songs are the soundtrack for the end of the world. Attahk is a bit different in that the majority of it has a positive and welcoming vibe, coaxing the listener into a false sense of positivity before the second half begins. At that point the once bubbly (in Magma terms) jingle ruptures into an air raid in music form. Christian’s cymbals explode on impact in conjunction with the now wailing chorus of scared witnesses to the carnage unfolding. It is such a glorious bait and switch that does a brilliant job of demonstrating Magma‘s incapability to treat a listener with care.
This is cheating a bit as Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré is an amalgam of many great Magma tracks that have now fused into one super song. Hhai and Zombies are now wed with Rindaë in tow along with a multitude of purely brilliant new movements forming into some sort of musical Voltron. Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré benefits from being recorded by a more mellow and mature Christian Vander who is no longer as adamant about being the head singer. Amusing as his shrieks and propaganda speeches are they can become grating very quickly. All of this means that this release is a bit more relaxed, yes the music is still a clown car of sound going at light speed, but at least it slowly brings you there instead of in one quick motion. Some may complain that later era Magma suffers from losing its edge, but I firmly believe it makes for more composed and well thought out music that wows with virtuosity as opposed to stunning you with bombast.
The first of the new generation of Magma releases was actually a suite that had been written decades prior. For whatever reason Christian Vander did not get to recording it until long after he initially broke up Magma. K.A., like Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré benefits from a softer touch, but it certainly is not without its grandiosity. Although K.A. clocks in at an exhausting 49 minutes it never feels specifically tiring or overstaying its welcome. There is a positive radiance that fills this piece that melds with its seemingly tragic demeanor. Things really pick up during the third movement which had previously existed as Om Zanka where the Rhodes piano swells into a heart breaking pattern that allows everyone else to go wild. I’ve already mentioned that Magma excels at its soundtracks for Armageddon and K.A. is no different in that regard. Where it differs is in its ability to brilliantly create a more harrowing song as opposed to the more traumatizing form the music tends to take.
#3 De Futura
You might have noticed that the majority of the previous numbers were here because they did not perfectly fit the Magma formula of death incarnate in music form. If we are going to talk the song from hell then we are going to talk De Futura. De Futura IS the soundtrack to the end of time, and no Magma song can compare to its macabre presentation despite its boggling simplicity. De Futura is Magma at its finest, a plodding bass line matched by a cryptic singer who is no doubt summoning some type of demon to eat our flesh. Near the end the chanting turns into painful screams as the bass picks up in tempo as if to inform the listener that the devil himself has now been brought to the earth.
The first song from the first album which set the trend for everything to come. Kobaïa has nearly everything you would expect from all future Magma songs such as overindulgent drum work, grueling bass-lines, non-traditional song structure, and choral style vocals. Much tamer compared to later numbers sure, but by 1970 standards I can only imagine how overwhelming it must have been to have first heard this music. Consider that King Crimson, Yes, and the ilk had barely been out of the gate when you explore this sprawling album opener. Kobaïa set the precedent for the Zeuhl genre of music; a proverbial fuck you to the progressive genre claiming they were not nearly complex or weird enough. From the very beginning Magma has excelled in ridiculousness and this is proof.
#1 Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh
While Kobaïa may have set the template, Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh is the easily the most quintessential Magma piece, demonstrating everything the band is known for, for better or for worse. The grandiosity of it all goes beyond any realm of sensibility into sheer insanity as Christian Vander decides that he can sing falsetto (he can’t) and gets into a screaming competition with another vocalist somewhere in the middle. All the while the music comes across as a military war anthem, marching in beat as they watch their super weapon come from the earth. It is almost cartoonish in its audacity, but what makes it work is that its all done with a straight face. There never seems to be a tongue-in-cheek sense of irony. No, they take what they are doing quite seriously, to the point of bewilderment. I adore Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh for being so genuine and completely batshit insane, and that is what Magma is about. Magma is someone giving the most passionate speech while on fire and dressed like Liberace on one of his most garish days.