Magma - Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh CD (album) cover





4.30 | 679 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
5 stars 'Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh' - Magma (86/100)

Well Magma, it's been a long journey we've been on together. Alongside my growing warmth towards Hip-Hop and most modern electronic music styles, I like to think of the evolving relationship I've had with your work as an indication of my own growth as a music listener. I discovered you and the 'Zeuhl' style years back in high school, and it's funny to think now that I was completely turned off by your music-- Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh in particular! My girlfriend at the time shared my repulsion; I remember her calling it "space-themed 70's porn music", and in my ignorance I shamelessly agreed with her. Fast forward to the present, and I had the pleasure of seeing you guys live at the beginning of the month. It was the most life affirming live concert experience I've ever had, and I wouldn't trade it in for anything.

Indeed... there are only a few incidences in my listening history where there has been such a 180 in my opinion of a band. Usually when something like that does happen, it's an opposite case of growing out or tired of a band's music. With Magma, I can understand why myself and others have had potential difficulty getting into them, but I consider myself completely converted by this point. While their career is almost uniform in its excellence, Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh is the album that finally solidified Magma's grasp on what they wanted to do. Kobaia and 1001 Centigrades were both strong releases, but it was here that Christian Vander and co. brought Zeuhl to full speed. It's a slow-burning jazz rock opera of a very alien sort, and though it may not be my favourite of their work (that accolade goes to the lively K.A!) it's entirely earned the immortal classic status it has earned amongst progressive rock circles.

While Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh has never fallen short of evoking strong impressions in me one way or another, it's nonetheless a challenge to write about the album. The more I've discussed and listened to them, the more I've come to the conclusion that they're a band that needs to be heard to begin to understand. I'll give describing their music a try regardless; think jazz rock if it met a strictly composed sensibility and choral accompaniment from a planet you've only heard about in pulpy sci-fi magazines. Other fans of the band are sure to have their own variations on that description. Since this album, Magma have used and constantly reinvented this formula. Only the disco-pop detour Merci really dared to be different, but we won't get into that here.

Even moreso than most progressive rock albums (which tend to be album-focused by default) M.D.K demands to be experienced as a whole. I like showing people "Ima Suri Dondai" as a Magma primer, but the album only really makes sense if it's taken as a single forty minute symphony. The classical minimalism of modern composers comes to bear heavily on the way the music evolves. Magma will take an idea and build it gradually over the course of a movement. Whereas on their Kobaia debut Magma tended to be relatively economical in their use of ideas, the band was no longer afraid by this point to develop a single for several minutes if the desire arose. The surest sign of Christian Vander's genius as a composer on M.D.K is the fact that, in spite of this seemingly static repetition, the music never feels stale or boring. There's always a development at some level of the arrangement, whether it's an added vocal harmony or a slightly more intense rhythm section. Be that as it may, it's a stark departure from the more conventional composition of most progressive rock bands, and can make for a pretty harrowing experience at first. If my love letter at the beginning of this was any indicator, believe me when I say they're something of an acquired taste.

The thing that held me back the most at first, I think, are the vocals themselves. They're the most important element of the band's performance, and were arguably the most impressive when I saw them live. The female-driven vocal harmonies give the impression of a choir. Given that the instrumentation is fairly martial and slow-burning on this one (arguably moreso than on other Magma records) it's all to the music's favour that the vocals are there to provide the warmth and dynamic needed. A little less warm are Christian Vander's infamous 'screech' vocals. He is prone to caterwauling through much of the album's mid-section. It's obnoxious enough that I can forgive myself for not buying into the band at first.

Revisiting this album, I'll agree with anyone that calls it a classic or masterpiece, but for my own listening, I do wonder if the composition is a little too minimalist and plodding for my own tastes. Magma takes the listener on a journey to be sure, but the highlighted martial angle makes the composition so that the innate jazzy musicianship has a harder time breathing. Be that as it may, I am not sure I could imagine this album being any other way. In the end, this is a chief demonstration of Christian Vander's genius as a modern composer, and a more loosely-fitted composition may have served to dull that impression. I've always though that M.D.K skirted the border between sounding triumphant and eerie, and after looking a little bit into the 'plot' behind this space opera, I can see those feelings are well-placed. The invented quasi-Teutonic Kobaian language would make a literal interpretation of the events impossible, but needless to say there are matters of interstellar war and apocalypse at stake. A promising foundation, I think, for an album that has proved to be the archetype for a particularly interesting movement in music.

Conor Fynes | 5/5 |


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