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Magma: “Ork Alarm”

From the album Köhntarkösz (1974)

For those who just can’t get enough Francophone prog-rock, and as a follow-up to my recent post on Univers Zero, I offer a sampling of music by one of the bands that seems to be at the root of the western European prog-rock movement beginning in the 1970s.

Founded by classically trained “drum hero” Christian Vander in 1969, Magma has been hailed as ”the ultimate progressive rock group” by anonymous internet oracles.  What musical glory could possibly live up to such hype, you ask?  How about a concept band whose premise is the future colonization of the planet Kobaia by a group of enlightened émigrés who have fled an Earth doomed to war and destruction? (Perceptive readers will note that this is essentially the same scenario behind Karl-Birger Blomdahl’s 1959 “space opera” Aniara, recently featured on this blog.)

If that’s not enough, Magma’s lyrics are sung in a constructed language called Kobaian.  Their music has apparently spawned a sub-genre of global prog-rock known as “Zeuhl,” which is a Kobaian word meaning “celestial.”

Although bearing many of the familiar characteristics of the more familiar Anglophone brand of prog-rock (extended, quasi-symphonic song structures, sci-fi or D&D lyrical obsessions, and a certain bombastic theatricality), Magma’s music is distinctive, accomplished, and significantly less obnoxious than many of its English language equivalents.  Perhaps it helps that the lyrics are indecipherable.

Magma also seems to have a more diverse stylistic pedigree than many prog-rock bands, whose classical training is often all too conspicuous.  Front man Vander played as a jazz drummer before starting Magma, and has named John Coltrane as a primary, enduring influence.  (The album Köhntarkösz includes a track called “Coltrane Sündia”— Kobaian for “Coltrane Rest in Peace.”)


Played 79 time(s).

November 20, 2009, 4:11pm

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