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Magma - Köhntarkösz CD (album) cover





4.15 | 492 ratings

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5 stars Zeuhl has many distinct faces. The quick, tight, rhythmically led, and very jazzy Zeuhl; the grandiose, compositional Zeuhl; the spacey, bass-heavy, and also jazzy Zeuhl. Interestingly, all of these different styles were all derived from one or two Magma albums. The quick, tight jazz Zeuhl from their first two; the grandiose, compositional Zeuhl from Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh (and Wurdah Ïtah to a degree), and the spacey, bass-heavy Zeuhl from Üdü Wüdü. The side of Zeuhl we see very little of is the liquid, pulsing, slowing and subtly climaxing Zeuhl developed with this release. Köhntarkösz is the first release where the music truly does the name justice. No previous Magma release was so liquid, so thick and unhurried, and never were the eruptions so grand. In fact, this album is in such a new direction from the previous Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh, that there is in fact nothing but the Kobaïan language that relates the two. Now that they had founded an entirely new genre (not an offshoot of another genre, mind you!), they were off to new things.

Not only is the Khöntarkösz suite incredibly slow, thick, layered, and milky, but it is also infinitely malicious and malevolent. Some of the sections are just downright evil. To up this up yet another notch, listening to it is one of the most atmospheric and encapsulating experiences I've ever had. The vocals completely abandon the harsh, high, and operatic style of before, and adopt a very symphonic, a very melodious style. They are used just as any other instrument forming this great volcano of sound. And as they are used more as an instrument, they are used less as a tool for lyrics. That is the chief reason why the story, the narrative of the Kobaïan odyssey, is somewhat lost on this release. In the previous three albums (and the following Christian Vander solo album Wurdah Ïtah) the vocals were used greatly as a vessel for the very meaningful lyrics (though many or most listeners will never understand their meaning).

What is known based on what lyrics can be translated, and a great deal of guesswork based on the atmosphere and feel of the music is this. A man named Köhntarkösz finds an ancient tomb, which he somehow learns is the resting place of an Egyptian Master or Lord. Maybe a Pharaoh or Emperor of some sort? Only Vander knows. Upon his entrance into the tomb (which seems to be a quite large and spacious catacomb-type of tomb, judging by the atmosphere) Köhntarkösz has a terrifying vision of Ëmëhntëht-Rê, who was the Egyptian whom this tomb belongs to. Ëmëhntëht-Rê's goal in life was to reach immortality, but he was murdered before he had success in his goal. Now, all the secrets and knowledge that Ëmëhntëht-Rê had acquired on his pilgrimage to eternity had been passed to Köhntarkösz. Kind of creepy, eh? Well, that's about as far as the story goes.

However, I can tell you theme of the remaining two tracks outside of the Köhntarkösz suite. Most obvious is Coltrane Sündïa. The booklet states beside the song name "Coltrane rest in peace". It is a track in honour and in memory of Vander's great influence and inspiration, John Coltrane. The track does not call up any recognizable riffs or melodies from Blue Train or anything, it's just a gorgeous piano and guitar harmony. Ork Alarm, however, is more cryptic and extremely hard to understand. Beside the song name, the booklet reads "The people of ORK are marching upon us. The people are made of indescribable matter which to the machines is what the machines are to man. The alarm is sounded... ORK ALARM! The people of ZEUHL WORTZ are preparing for battle..." This is the first word of "the people of ORK", who show up again in following albums. I presume that those two bubbly, and clearly organic ("matter which to the machines is what the machines are to man") folk sporting neat shades on the cover of Attahk are these "people of ORK". (Don't quote me on that, it's simply an uneducated guess.) But who are they? No idea. Some evil alien race that the Kobaïans will save us from? Probably not.

This is in fact the first movement in a second cycle (the first cycle being Theusz Hamtaahk) called Ëmëhntëht-Rê. The following movements weren't released altogether, and are all split up among various live albums and Üdü Wüdü. Supposedly Attahk isn't related to the Ëmëhntëht-Rê story, which would destroy my guess that those two plump figures could be people of ORK (or maybe not...). So, beyond what you read above, we know nothing more about the concept behind this one.

This album will require many, many listens to understand. The miniature (and the massive) climaxes are sometimes subtle, and only a few listens will reveal them. The writing and arrangements are absolutely brilliant. There's something so incredibly otherworldly and surreal about some of the melodies here. The atmosphere is absolutely gripping (more than any post-rock album you'll ever hear) and the clear and distinct thing about the mood is that it paints. If I were to close my eyes while listening to this (which I often do!) I see the red, red glow of the slowly crawling lava. It's this unreal atmosphere that is so captivating that makes this album so phenomenal: not the brilliant drumming or perfect bass playing, not the interesting and thought-provoking concept, not even the stellar writing.

This is absolutely essential to any casual fan of Zeuhl. After Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh, this is the most vital Magma album. I cannot speak for all of the Zeuhl genre (for I can't claim to have heard it all). For something really fresh, really cleansing and renewing, and extremely atmospheric, get Köhntarkösz. Though it may take many listens to fully comprehend, and requires some patience to enjoy to its full potential, the end result is extremely rewarding and undeniably unforgettable. We see too little of this type of Zeuhl, methinks. Pity. But this only makes Köhntarkösz even more independent, unique, and essential. I pity the ears that die afore digesting these sounds.

Shakespeare | 5/5 |


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