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Magma - Retrospekt´ẁ I-II CD (album) cover





4.53 | 125 ratings

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5 stars Ok, so this review must come with a caveat: 'tis long, and very flattering!

There seems to be a fair amount of debate on the topic of 'Which album is the best starting point for those who want to investigate Magma?' I think my personal suggestion would be this album.

First of all, from my somewhat inexpert and fondly fanatical perspective, I think if the essential ingredients of Magma are going to appeal to you, then you'll be impressed by this album. It delivers all those signature aspects (supernaturally brilliant drumming, gut-threatening bass, seraphic vocals, addictively hypnotic rhythm, sinister/spiritual unison) in spades, and at the highest quality. Basically, if you like this, you'll like Magma.

Secondly, to get the measure of a band, a live album is often more illuminating than a studio album, especially when the studio albums represent such dramatically different stylistic extremes. (The early 'weird jazz' stuff, the classic 'doom oratorio' stuff, the mathematically precise 'difference engine rock' that you get when Janik Top is at the helm. they're all pretty different, despite all being instantly recognisable as Magma.)

Thirdly, this album is a more straightforward listen than some, having a clear and beautifully-balanced live sound (rather than what some would call the claustrophobic, airless, muffled studio sound of 'MDK', for example). This allows a clearer view of just what is going on in the music. To my ears, Magma's music seems made up of countless interlocking three-dimensional shapes. It's both simple and complicated at the same time, which makes it rather difficult to describe without sounding fairly idiotic! Anyway, the framework, the construction, is more discernible here than in some of the studio albums.

Lastly, it features some truly excellent playing. The drumming especially is remarkable - genius - Christian Vander manages to be propulsive without being needlessly ballistic, delicate without being fiddly, fast but not just for the sake of showing off, full of dramatic flourishes without hogging the limelight. It's like the punctuation that makes a piece of writing comprehensible. Amazing stuff!

On to the music then! This album contains two long compositions: 'Theusz Hamtaahk' (the first movement of the trilogy of the same name) and 'Mekan´k Destrukt´w Kommand÷h' (the third part of the 'Theusz Hamtaahk' trilogy). (The second part of the trilogy, not included here, is 'Wurdah ¤tah'.)

This version of 'Theusz Hamtaahk' is reckoned to be the definitive recorded version, and, well, it's stunning. If you've heard and enjoyed the studio version of 'MDK', with its furious intensity and moody choral textures, then expect a somewhat similar style of composition, but providing a subtly different experience here. It is partly down to the elegant, evenly spaced live sound, but there feels like there's more light and space in this piece. Also, the arrangement is more sparse - no brass, less of the accusatory singing, and the spotlight falls frequently on the majestic coupling of bass and drums. There are parts of this recording where the interplay between Bernard Paganotti's bass and Christian Vander's drumming is nothing short of stunning. Hypnotic, transcendental. I could go on, but you'd probably get bored before I ran out of adoring things to say about it! Anyway, that over-used word 'tight' is inadequate to describe this performance - oh my, the precision, the dramatic speed over some difficult musical terrain, the instinctiveness - wow. (Compare it to the early and rather faltering version on 'BBC 1974 Londres', and you'll be impressed!)

So to sum up, this piece isn't as relentless and crushing as 'MDK', but it is cut from the same fabric; and it's a very excellent performance.

I should, without further ado, mention the magnificent Klaus Blasquiz, vocalist par excellence. This record was his last act as Magma's singer, and he gives it his all. Spitting fury one minute, keening tenderly the next, he imbues the tongue-twisting Koba´an lyrics (which could be really annoying, let's face it) with an intensity, a sincerity, that almost makes you forget that this is a made up language. When Klaus's alien torch-singing combines with the angelically melodious celestial choir of female voices, and Christian Vander's weirdly high pitched juddering flurries and deep angry growls, some kind of vocal alchemy emerges. Magical!

Which brings us neatly to this bleedin' fantastic version of 'Mekan´k Destrukt´w Kommand÷h'. This rendition of Magma's most famous piece is really excellent. They make great use of variations in the tempo here - instead of stolidly chugging along, they play around with slow and fast passages, giving a thrillingly theatrical feel to the music. It loses the slightly monotonous, cult-ritual air of the studio version, and you can hear the sheer enjoyment of the performers through every note. (Indeed, you'd think they'd have got a bit bored of playing this, but this performance exudes nothing short of hearty enthusiasm!) Every note, every word, is crisp and polished. You may even (if you're as sadly obsessed as I am!) find yourself trying to sing along!

Not only that, there's a frantic, sizzling, thickly sexy bass solo from Paganotti at around 23 minutes in that will resonate through you like the purr of a tame panther!

It's followed by a violin solo by Didier Lockwood - personally, I'm not a fan of violin solos (more often than not, all you get is some aimless squeaking), but it is not too unbearable, and it is accompanied by some feverishly quick and brisk drumming from Vander.

The climax to 'MDK' is (already! I'm still new to this music really!) one of my all time favourite musical passages, and this rendition of it is lightning fast, passionate, vehement, assured. The final ecstatic chord falls away into a brief cacophony, some rapturous audience noise, and then a feedback tone (happily not as ear splitting as the one on the studio album!).

Seriously, what a marvellous album! I think it's my joint favourite (with K÷hntark÷sz) of all the Magma music I've heard so far. If the definition of a good live album is one which features a good quality recording of an excellent performance that takes a familiar piece of music and takes it somewhere different from its previously known studio incarnation (or, if it doesn't exist in studio form, represents the best recorded live expression of the piece), then this is a damn good live album.

I'm aware that there are references here and there to this not being a 'completely live' album, but I'm not sure enough of the circumstances to say anything useful about that.

Whatever manner of beast it is, however, these are magnificent performances of two wonderful compositions, and if you are destined to be a Magma acolyte, you'll LOVE it! Five stars!!

song_of_copper | 5/5 |


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