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Magma - Köhntarkösz CD (album) cover





4.15 | 483 ratings

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5 stars 'Köhntarkösz' must be one of the most otherworldly albums I've ever heard. Be warned, it is not the sort of thing that most people will 'get' straight away (I certainly didn't!). Repeated plays, however, will reveal the sheer cleverness of Magma. Only they manage this particular blending of the cerebral, the visceral and the spiritual.

The 'Köhntarkösz Suite' in particular has got this solemn, icy feel, as if it's the soundtrack to the progress of a glacier. Part One is deceptively simple (i.e. not simple at all...), spending much of its 15 minutes cycling through macabre repetitions like some obsessive mantra. It begins with slow, heavy chords and fluttering, tingling percussion, marking the beginning of its subtle, pacing procession around what feels like a claustrophobic space. The music seems glued to the same few repetitive motions, which when you first listen to the piece, make no sense whatsoever. It took me many repeated listens before the penny dropped - this is actually very like the more immediately thrilling, hot-and-quick music of 'MDK' - just slowed right down to the pace of a planet's tectonic plates scraping past one another! The first part rolls ominously along to its conclusion, a bright, icy chime of piano with a cold breeze of vocals stirred into it.

(I have the CD version, in which 'Köhntarkösz Part Two' follows straight after Part One, rather than being interspersed by 'Ork Alarm'. I think it makes more sense to keep the suite together - its impact would be far less profound if interrupted by the machine-like gurglings of 'Ork Alarm'! The 'Köhntarkösz Suite', in contrast, feels organic - like a force of nature!)

Part Two opens with more frosted piano and keyboard, and vocals like visible breath on a cold day. The beginning of this piece is gentle and sweet, only to revert to being macabre, just a couple of minutes in. The drumming here is restless, fidgety, uneasy, whilst the keyboard oils its way across an unsettling melody. Mournful soprano climbs discordantly, before a sudden attack of militaristic urgency seizes the whole ensemble, the bass growling, the drums clattering, the piano speeding up, frantically clutching at the same three chords over and over. Something that sounds like a guitar faking an electric violin keens. All the time, the same three chords are pounded out by the piano, keyboards and vocalists. The guitar-like sound is now describing lunacy at lightning speed. This music is trance-inducingly heavy! It never lets up, not for a moment, the pressure building, growing more and more hysterical by the split second. The tempo speeds up gradually and inexorably and at some point you notice that most of the ensemble is still revolving around three chords, whilst in the foreground the yelping guitar is joined by howling vocals that cycle through four notes, creating a very weird sensation of jarring and blurring at the same time. The four against the three, continuously repeating, line up differently each time, sometimes clashing, sometimes complimenting each other. A very clever device that!

Then suddenly the tension becomes ecstasy, in which the minor key erupts into an obsessive major key chant, like some kind of spiritual ceremony reaching an emotional climax. If you stood in the centre of a tornado it might feel like this!

Finally, the music thins out into repeated hammer falls of dark piano, bass and drums, with blackly malevolent, inhumanly deep vocals croaked out at the resonant frequency of your soul!

The instruments used on these two pieces seem fused together under the heat and pressure of the doom-laden music. Yes, it starts out cold, but by the end it is white hot! There seems to be no space between the different instruments and vocals, no free will - it all adheres together into one huge, enormous, mega-instrument, compelled by some omnipotent force to surge on together in sinister unison.

The story that goes with this music is of a man who discovers an ancient Egyptian tomb, in which he experiences a revelation, becoming endowed with the wisdom of the tomb's occupant. It really does give you the feeling of leaving a hot, normal, everyday world behind, and entering a cold, majestic place in which something important and otherworldly is going to happen.

Now, on to 'Ork Alarm'! This piece by Jannick Top assembles an infernal doomsday machine of dark, guttural vocals - like a choir of satanic miners! Layer upon layer of strings, as emptily obedient as zombies under Top's puppet-mastery, blot out any light and space. Creepy electronic squelches resound in syncopated rhythms, plugging any remaining gaps in the structure. A choir of falsetto and soprano zombies comes in, howling wordlessly, whilst a guitar yelps atonally. Appalling crashes and unholy laughter bring the piece to a bone-rattling conclusion, wreaking destruction on the carefully-constructed behemoth until it collapses abruptly, not even bothering to fade out.

'Coltrane Sundia', on the other hand, shimmers into being like the lady of lake emerging with Excalibur in her lily-white hand! It starts off sounding a little eastern in places, and then the piano trembles its calmness, matched by liquid guitar, outlining a hopeful-sounding melody. This piece is sheer balm - you will need it after listening to both parts of 'Köhntarkösz' and then 'Ork Alarm'! Its tone of optimism and sentimentality (in memoriam John Coltrane) will leave you feeling peaceful as it fades out, having hardly begun.

My word, does this album ever grow on you! My first encounter with it left me frankly confused. But it bears persevering with - and at some point you will find yourself assaulted with amazement at the things this music can do. Partly, I think the vintage keyboard sounds might mask the brilliance at first. If the 'Köhntarkösz Suite' was given a full-on Wagnerian orchestration... well, actually, that might be DANGEROUS...!

So... yes indeed! Five stars!!!

song_of_copper | 5/5 |


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