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Magma - K.A CD (album) cover





4.28 | 606 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
5 stars 'K.A' - Magma (96/100)

I wasn't aware of Magma when K.A (otherwise known as Kohntarkosz Anteria came out in 2006, and even had I been, I doubt I would have been able to appreciate the magnitude and significance of their comeback. The overlords of Zeuhl had remained silent for decades; the interregnum between K.A and the infamous pop attempt Merci in 1984 had seen the emergence of plenty of would-be Zeuhl and otherwise Magma-influenced bands, but suspicious little from Vander and co. It's been over a decade now since K.A came out, and it still strikes me with a bit of amazement that Magma were able to go so long without releasing anything of substance, and return with their most beautiful, energetic and impressive, yet undeniably accessible album to date. Ranking it within Magma's own accomplishments isn't enough to testify to its quality however; this is one of the greatest albums I have had the pleasure of hearing, in Zeuhl, in avant-garde and progressive rock, in adventurous music in general. The prospect of comeback albums usually entails something half-baked and dated. A surprise achievement like K.A is virtually unheard of.

Calling it a true comeback might not be entirely accurate; band mastermind Christian Vander had written most of the music in the midst of Magma's most prolific and successful years. Why he decided to sit on the music for half a lifetime is beyond me; needless to say, it's a good thing he finally decided to let the cat out of the bag. K.A is a considerably livelier album than Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh or Kohntarkosz. Where M.D.K was slow to start, K.A hits its full stride in less than a minute; following a soft entrance, Magma lets loose a surge of cosmic chamber rock, replete with the feminine choral arrangements and cerebral grooves the band have earned their reputation on. In many ways, K.A is a manifestation of Magma at their most accessible. Without having streamlined or cheapened the depth, they distilled some of the more jarring elements of their execution, namely the dissonant antics and caterwauling. The screechy parts of Magma's sound were a large part of why it took me so long to warm up to them, even when their talent was readily apparent to me. The band's signature blend of alien operatic fusion will still likely make for some uneasy digestion for newcomers, but given that Magma are-- if nothing else-- known for their eldritch and challenging material, that comes with the territory.

I'll offer a lapse of my authority as a reviewer by openly admitting I have little idea what the concept or 'story' of Magma's music is all about, much less this particular chapter. From what I understand, it's some apocalyptic saga of the planet Kobaia; the French have always had a cunning grasp of sci-fi pulp and space opera. While M.D.K gave the martial impression of a fleet preparing for war, K.A is much more optimistic, as if the planet Kobaia were celebrating some unlikely victory. Although there's not a lot of semantic sense to be made from the Kobaian language, there is an expanse of feeling in the voices. Magma's vocal arrangements tend to hum around a repeated choral motif, with a lead voice guiding things along. In many ways, the stars of the show are the female voices. Stella Vander, Isabelle Feuillebois and Himiko Paganotti are quick to grab my attention, not by the strength or 'hook' of their melodies, but the wealth they've invested in their harmonies.

Magma love to turn to repetition when they've got a good thing going on-- a focus on melody may have served to wear the ideas out, but close attention reveals that the harmonies are constantly in motion. There are several times throughout the three movements where I noticed the band returning to, and completely refreshing a past motif by the merit of an added voice, a shift in focus, an ever-so-slight change in the harmony. Part of what sets has long set Magma apart from so many of their contemporaries (and inevitably, has made their style that much more alienating) is the sense that they don't dissociate the vocals from the composition. Where most rock n' rollers see vocals as a guide above the sea of instruments, the vocals here are another instrument.

Zeuhl has been a tricky thing for me to get into over the years. If the way I've fumbled through this review is any indicator, the genre itself is pretty hard to pin down, and virtually any discussion of Magma and their acolytes should come with the caveat that their music is not for the faint of heart. Regardless, I am incredibly glad I finally managed to get into their music. While their appeal baffled me throughout high school, I do wonder if I would have had an easier time getting into them had I been introduced via K.A. Even beyond the album's context as a 'comeback', this is Magma at some of their most inspired and passionate. Where other albums of theirs have usually demanded at least a few listens before I start to appreciate them, this one was love at first listen. And unlike so much of the instantly gratifying art out there, this album has never seen fit to lose its magic for me. The connection has only grown with the passing of seasons and subsequent listens. To be honest, it's rare that an album hits me with the emotional force of K.A. The three movements flow together virtually seamlessly; although my cynical side might like to criticize the third act for being a little more longwinded, less compelling than the first two, the journey Magma takes with this album feels just about flawless, if not in the perfect technical sense, then certainly in an emotional one.

Conor Fynes | 5/5 |


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