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Magma - Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh CD (album) cover

MËKANÏK DËSTRUKTÏẁ KÖMMANDÖH

Magma

 

Zeuhl

4.31 | 692 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
5 stars 'Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh' - Magma (87/100)

Among the things I like most about Magma these days, is the fact that there was a time when I didn't like Magma. It all fell upon this album, Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh, the band's seminal classic, and an album that would lay the groundwork for a fresh, foreboding and entirely alien style to come: Zeuhl. While it's natural for listeners to grow in and out of different types of music with age, it's incredibly rare that my opinion would take such a 180 turn. Throughout high school, I'd be fairly dedicated to an education in prog rock. The amount of praise and mention I'd seen lobbed Magma's way had piqued my interest. After all; a band that was being upheld by so many fans I'd shared more common tastes with had to have some stroke of brilliance to boast.

Imagine the mixture of shock and disappointment I'd felt when I first heard Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh, then. The repetitive jazz rock loops, the apparent nonsense of their lyrics, the campy choral arrangements, the nails-on-chalkboard caterwauling. I'd been provoked enough to show the music to my girlfriend at the time. She started laughing, and called it "space music for a bad '70s porn." In my ignorance, I agreed with her. It wasn't until years later when I heard Magma were coming to town that I gave them another chance in earnest. Returning to a calculated masterwork like Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh in particular, I could see what an idiot I'd been. Even so, the fact that I'd been so turned off initially plays into a part of why I respect them so much now. Progressive rock is replete with would-be Bachs and Handels. These are often artists that mean to take a popular sound to classically accepted heights of artistry; the ambition is often there, but proggers are often catering to a rubric of musicality laid out by symphonies penned centuries before any of them were born. At the end of the day, you don't see many genuine weirdos in progressive rock. Christian Vander and the rest of the space cadets in Magma rank highest among those chosen few, and Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh was the album that brought the extent of their vision to light.

This was Magma's third album, released at the height of prog's classic period. While their first two albums-- Kobaia and 1001 Centigrades-- both stood out as particularly deviant jazz rock offerings, it would be a stretch to call either of them Zeuhl in the purest sense. Christian Vander began the band as a spiritual tribute to fallen legend John Coltrane, and the earliest work operated upon that influence as much as their own novel innovations. With M.D.K, they created something that was so unique and bold that it virtually begged to warrant its own genre. To describe M.D.K is to describe the Zeuhl style it pioneered, and vice versa. Slow-burning minimalism and martial rhythms are parried here with cosmic jazz rock. Bombastic choral arrangements sound like they were drawn out of a Teutonic opera. Lead vocals strike a contrast between sharply enunciated bellowing and ear-piercing caterwauling, the likes of which sound as if a jazz scat singer was just administered a lethal dose of LSD. To attempt describing the kind of unique statement Magma conjured here will always either result in confusion or hyperbole. Whether loving or hating it, my subjective impression of the music has always been that of an alien rock opera, written by or for the sort of utopian extra-terrestrials you read about in pulp sci-fi.

By this point of M.D.K, Magma had built enough confidence in their composition that they were finally comfortable with dwelling on riffs and motifs, long after intuitive notions might suggest they should end. While most prog rock albums are no doubt imagined to be digested as a whole, I can't imagine hearing most of M.D.K outside of its album context. Although I like to refer newcomers to "Ima Suri Dondai" if ever they're interested, the album unfolds as a single song, oppressive and extremely focused. Some of the noisiest jam-like pieces-- which usually offer the spotlight to Vander's love-or-hate-it screeching-- would feel dawdling if the composition didn't have such a feeling of concentration. Although some of these freeform moments towards the album's mid-section give the impression of losing track, "Mëkanïk Kömmandöh" is a pummelling climax to the work. I find "Kreühn Köhrmahn Iss de Hündïn" is a pretty underwhelming conclusion to an otherwise intense album, but I've come to see it as an unnecessary but welcome denouement. When I saw Magma perform this album live a few months back, they left the last few minutes out, so I'm assuming they agree with me.

Getting to know Magma entailed some growing pains on my part, but I'm in a fairly constant awe of them these days. Even so, I feel like Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh may be the sort of album I respect more than I necessarily enjoy. The martial discipline doesn't leave a ton of room for surprises, and there aren't too many moments that stand out as highlights in my mind. When they finally released K.A a few decades later, Magma would finally pair their astounding vision with the emotional warmth and feeling they were always capable of. While K.A will always stand as my favourite of their work however, there's no doubting that M.D.K is the most culturally significant thing Magma have ever done. There aren't a lot of albums that can say they've changed the course of music history. While I don't think the average pleb would be much phased by whether Zeuhl exists or not, there are at least a few dozen bands out there whose styles depended on this album. Not that I think any of them have done it better than Magma themselves!

Conor Fynes | 5/5 |

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