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Magma - Félicité Thösz CD (album) cover





4.08 | 407 ratings

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Symphonic Team
4 stars Relaxing, mesmirising, dreamy... but where are the dark shockwaves of irregularity?

New Magma! That is irresistible. Not since that other previous album beginning and ending in E have we been blessed with the madcap genius of Christian Vander and his merry band of Kobaian misfits. As all Magmanites who approach this album, I guess we would all be expecting more delirious insanity in the form of Ancient alien monk chants, high pitched screeches, operatic choral vocals, majestic cinematic musicianship, and non-sensical alien Kobaian languages. If that is what you are expecting, then you might assume this album would be enveloped with the same sound that Magma have generated since their debut and the infamous MDK, that has developed an elite cult following for decades. However 'Felicite Thosz' does have variations that may or may not appeal. Firstly, it is a very short album clocking only 32:24, but that is no problem as far as I am concerned as it is easy to take Magma in small bursts, in order to retain their power and not overstay their welcome. Still, it would have been nice to have some more Magma even if they were live or bonus tracks, to give more bang for the buck.

I guess it is unfriendly music at times so not something to revel in for hours, unless you are addicted to Zeuhl. This is a prog genre that is best served chilled on a plate after listening to normal music. Only by being familiar with the normal can we be entranced by the sub-normal. Nothing shocks when one is desensitised, and it is easy to become desensitised to the macabre or hyper strange. This music is on the fringe certainly, though I don't believe it is taken to the Nth degree, as it is framed in a specific style that never diverts from the genre it is cocooned within. There is something rather comforting in the fact that the music is housed within its own conventions, thus the power in the music is retained. Had the band moved into a mainstream style, with normal song structures, English lyrics, or even more conventional vocal performances, this in itself would be the most shocking diversion of all. It would alienate listeners and create its own form of chaos. The main drawcard to Magma is to spend some precious moments captured under their spell. It can be a dark journey, and indeed has been over the years, but on this latest album Magma opt to return to some of their more angelic compositions, albeit the atmosphere is still oppressive in places but overall there is an uplifting air of optimism in the atmosphere. Again, this may or may not appeal to Magma addicts. Only in a few places do they return to those darkened wails and sporadic musical shapes creating a powerful wall of sound.

I would suggest that Magma are a musical art form rather than a band. Not all modern art appeals to everyone, in fact it confronts and repels at times, and that stops it from becoming dull, causing us to question its existence. Likewise, if Magma appealed to everyone it would be boring. It is the fact that the music causes us to question and fascinates that it becomes so captivating. For it to be Magma, the constants must always be there, but there are nice variations to look forward to. For example, every album features different artists and there are always choirs, a plethora of musicians and singers that vary from album to album. The one constant is the frenetic drumming and cringe-worthy intonations of Christian Vander, also on keyboards. His wife, Stella, is a constant presence too, who smacks the casing off a tambourine, and it is always a treat to hear her high pitched warblings. The rest of the crew consist of Isabelle Feuillebois who dongs bells, Beno't Alziary, chiming on the vibraphone, James Mac gaw twanging guitar, Bruno Ruder plinking the piano, Philippe Bussonnet slapping the bass, and the other Kobaian vocals are courteousy of Isabelle, Herve, Sandrine, Sylvie, and Marcus. Most of these artists appeared on 2009's ''Emmehntehtt-Re', though again not all. The Magma logo is the final constant that must be there and it is pleasing to see that iconic broken claw like moniker glaring at us on the darkened cover, that boasts the Kobaian title in white hot lettering. The logo is a warning that this album is not designed for the normal music listener. All listeners of top 40 commercial radio hit singles may do well to steer clear, for Magma is an off- ramp detour from the mainstream highway.

The album opens with that captivating sound that immediately transfixes. The epic choirs chant in the estranged language, and the symphonic textures flood over the listener. The voices will jolt listeners out of their comfort zone unless they have heard Magma before. My first reaction to hearing my first Magma album, "Live", is what the heck am I listening to? Then it dawned on me that it was challenging me and it would take many more excursions into Magma before I was even close to appreciating it. Now it simply feels like returning to an old friend. Vander's drumming is off the scale and the choirs are as enchanting as always.

As the album progresses, each track segues into the next and it is difficult to make out where each ends and begins. The music on ''Ekmah' instantly manages somehow to seize the conscious with an arrogant air of glory. The emotional resonance of Stella's beautiful operatics are heard like angels descending on 'Teha'. Then a gorgeous piano dominates 'Waahrz', and it almost feels improvisational but there is a haunting beauty as the ivories are caressed. This is Magma at it's most stripped back and subdued, like a calm before the storm. The piano still manages to threaten a foreboding downpour, but retains trickles of tranquility.

'Tsai!' is classic Magma with raucous choirs chanting and odd angular rhythms on keys and drums. The way the male sections are echoed by female opera is the convention utilised on all Magma albums at some point, and this is what I came here for. Eventually the heaviness breaks to a solo section, Stella and Isabelle trade off and are answered by a deep male voice. The dialogue is a necessary component as we hear the aliens take on the spoils of war.

The war is fought and then won in ''Ohst', driven by Christian Vander's manic vocals. The way he moves from deep resonances to the high pitched falsetto is always impressive. The lyrics sound somewhat like English in places that at times lends a humorous quality to the soundscape; at one point it sounds like "Say song song song now listen now now now do a good deal, it's our deal". The jaunty piano motif is frenetic and builds to a full on choir section. This song takes a long time to leave the conscious; at least the melody jams into the brain, and now it feels like the old Magma sound.

It segues into 'Zahrr', a 49 second conclusion to the mammoth epic. Then the second track ends the album, 'Les hommes sont venus', which only runs to 4:18, and then it is over. Stella leads as Isabelle, Herve, Sandrine, Sylvie and Marcus chant a hypnotic rhythm. The music is left up to Christian who indulges in relentless tinkling glockenspiel, and some keyboards. This is a very odd song for Magma, minimalist without guitar or drums, but it feels as alienating and compelling as the other tracks. The lyrics are basically 'Tu Zahrr Zahrr, Tu Zahrr Zahrr, Tu Zahrr Zahrr.' The flute keys are haunting and it really shows the diversity of the band in terms of the sounds they can generate.

The sudden cut off of the sound is quite unnerving, as it all seemed to fly by so quickly. The positive side of this is that it is easy to sit down and take it all in on one sitting. The negative side is that it feels like only half an album, as though there was supposed to be more. It is nowhere as dark as previous Magma and this is perhaps a delightful surprise as it is a different side to Magma, capturing more beauty than usual. Although I don't think that the album loses any of its power, it still did not have the soundscape that is cognizant of previous explorations. In place of an experimental approach the band seem focussed on stirring the emotions to feel empathy or security in some form of musical comfort.

Familiarity can breed contempt, but I was hoping for the familiar darkened interstellar intense experience of "Emehntehtt Re", "Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh", "1001 Centigrades" or "KA". At times "Felicite Thosz" measures up to the hyper music on those albums but it is not consistent in its execution. It feels safer without manic screeching and really off kilter rhythms and structures that tantalise and jar the senses. As "Kohntarkosz" begins now, it feels like a new beast rampaging through the speakers. In contrast, the music on this newer album is rather relaxing, mesmirisingly dreamy, and very rarely launches into shockwaves of irregularity. It is a new approach but now my ears have to be readjusted if Magma are going to take this tact in their music. This proves you cannot put Magma in a box (unless you count that incredible box set "Studio Zund") but it is still wondrous music and deserves at least 4 stars.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 4/5 |


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