Album review: MAGMA – Mekanïk Destruktï? Kommandöh

MAGMA - Mekanïk Destruktï?

Seventh Records [Release date: 25.11.17]

When the album ‘Mekanïk Destruktï? Kommandöh’ hit the racks in UK and US record stores in 1973, it was assumed to be a debut because nobody had heard of the band, and – judging by the lyrics and phonetics – it was Krautrock: so that made them German. Only they weren’t and it wasn’t.

Already cults at home, Magma were from France, this was their third album, and it was actually being sung in Kobaïan. And it was part three of band founder and drummer’s Christian Vander visionary story of a group of people fleeing a doomed Earth to settle on the planet Kobaïa only to encounter conflict with the Kobaïans, descendants of the original colonists. And Vander made the Kobaïan language up. As you do.

Of course, every last head went out and bought it, got home, and dropped the stylus onto a singular science fiction, drawing musically on jazz (Coltrane, Vander’s muse), rock (Wagner becomes creative director of Amon Duul II) and classical (Carl Orff, notably in the choral parts) spread across both sides of the vinyl.

A sprawling percussive and brass blast chugged along by chanting choir and Vander’s stentorian percussion, it was simply unlike anything else out there.  ‘Mekanïk Destruktï?’, recorded earlier that year, is an acoustic take on the 30 minute plus composition and the original concept delivered to and rejected by the record company in favour of the full-on ‘Kommandöh’.

Has it lost anything of its drama, pacing or sheer theatricality by being so? Nope. Pared-back, losing the horns, it still retains a choir, Vander’s drumming and includes a lengthy, doom-laden and increasingly hysterical introduction by the man (in Kobaïan, of course). It also lays out more naked his vision of humanity’s spiritual and ecological future, and somehow its purity and unwavering self-belief shines even more brightly in these simpler settings.

Devotees will have this version (it finally got released in 1989), and by now have probably mastered Kobaïan, but for the rest, start with the monster bombast of ‘Mekanïk Destruktï? Kommandöh’ and then revert to this. It’s another world.  ****

Review by Peter Muir

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