(All Album Reviews by Chuck AzEee!)
Unbelievable from the opening chords, Magmaĺs Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh or MDK for short is progressive rock tour-de-force!
As the forerunners to the zheul movement, Magmaĺs imaginative genius and leader/drummer/vocals/composer Christian Vander, creates one of his finer moments and one the defining pieces in progressive musicĺs history with this unsung gem. Magmaĺs MDK, is nearly forty minutes of sheer tense filled avant-garde music with soul shearing operatic-like chanting, which become more complex as the album goes on.
Released in the heyday and most fruitful year of the progressive rock era, MDK does not get the notoriety that their British peers receive, but time would prove other wise as for the uses of electronics instruments was used in a tasteful way, which helped this album age gracefully.
Arguably their greatest achievement, MDK is highly recommended to the fans of progressive rock that would like to explore the zheul side of this vast genre.
(All Album Reviews by Reginod)
There was a much more innocent and ignorant time in the not-so distant past that I would hang out for long hours with my good and dear friends Bill and Frank, having fun a-drinkin' and a-smokin', acting in foolish and funny ways, and most importantly listening to lots of music, all the while debating its merits and faults. We three chaps were also rabid, ravenous and often ruthlessly competitive rekkid collectors, and on many Saturdays we would quaff a few and sojourn to THE RECORD HOLE, a respectable establishment dedicated to the plentiful provision of used vinyl manna for our persistent musical hunger. (It should be noted that the late, great John Swain of Raleigh, NC was the proprietor of the RECORD HOLE, and it was he that unknowingly introduced us to the humorous concept of the distorted word "rekkid." Many other wonderful stories and tales not to be told here are attributable to Mr. Swain and his establishment, may they rest in peace.)
Anyway, I think we'd heard about this French band Magma from some place or other, probably from a book or magazine (this was, of course, in pre-internet times), and we were vaguely curious, and one day Bill found Mekanik Desruktiw Kommandoh by Magma in a pile on the floor at the Record Hole. He might've paid $3 to take it out the door. A beautiful A&M Records promotional copy, complete with gatefold and lyric insert, it was a bargain for certain. I asked Bill later about his plunder at the Record Hole that day.
"Hey, man, how were the goodies you got at the Hole?"
"Well, I like the Yes and the Crimson and I like the Van Morrison, and that Bill Bruford rekkid has this guy on guitar that you need to hear."
I inquired further, "Well how about that Magma album? How was it?"
"Oh God, I hate it!" he puked. ôIt's the worst album I've ever heard! It's terrible! I couldn't even listen to it! Bleccchhhhh!" and so on and so forth.
"Dude, what was so bad about it?"
"It has all this weird singing, and," he crudely mimicked the Kobaian chorus, "'Wuuaaaaauuuughhh, whoooooo-ahhhhhh' and no guitar solos, and awful production, awful drums . . . . it sucks!" he proclaimed with an icy finality.
My curiosity was piqued. "Well could you at least put it on so I can hear it?"
"No way, man. It's terrible. It's the worst album ever made. I'll never play it again."
I pushed further on several occasions, and suggested that Bill should herewith provide aural exhibition of this product for our mutual musical edification. Each time he flatly refused. Mekanik Desruktiw Kommandoh by Magma, he was certain, was the worst album on the planet, and never again would it disgrace his turntable. I puffed my lower lip in petulant disappointment and huffed and muttered to myself as we proceeded to listen to other music, including stuff with that guy that played guitar on the Bill Bruford rekkid.
Eventually, it dawned on my addled mind that I should offer to purchase Mekanik Desruktiw Kommandoh, by Magma, from Bill. Or maybe make a trade for it. Frank would remind me of Bill's notorious miserliness concerning his beloved rekkids. "You know Bill ain't comin' up off none o'them rekkids, boyd," he would say. "I've tried time and time again, and he ain't sellin' or tradin' none of 'em, even if he hates it and never listens to it."
I persisted. I appealed to Bill's sense of logic: if he hated Mekanik Desruktiw Kommandoh by Magma so much, and would never play it again, why not sell it to a customer with a keen interest in hearing the mysterious sounds contained within its grooves? Namely me? For years, Bill obstinately continued to refuse my pleas and entreaties, until one day I finally came up with a trade he couldn't refuse (I recall it involving some highly-regarded Led Zeppelin bootleg material and several other very nice LP's, but I do not know exactly). I had finally managed to pry Mekanik Desruktiw Kommandoh by Magma from Bill's airtight grasp!
Of course, by then it was the 1990's and Magma was no longer such a mystery to me. I'd found a $3 copy of Magma Live on another day, in another town, at another rekkid . . . uh, CD store, in another bargain bin, and had started my own personal Magma collection. Since then the music of Christian Vander and his crew has become a spiritual experience for me. I still don't believe Bill will ever become a huge Magma fan, but I think that by now even he, longtime bass player that he is, would speak with some reverence to the awesomeness of Jannick Top's performance on Udu Wudu.
So, Mekanik Desruktiw Kommandoh by Magma sometimes might ought not to be laid bare upon the tender ears of symphonic, Big 5-weaned prog initiates. When somebody came up with the jocular notion that Klingon Opera was based on Magma, Mekanik Desruktiw Kommandoh was probably the album they had in mind. Where other albums (an obvious example is Kohntarkosz) offer more in the way of expounded instrumental passages, MDK is a more fully realized, Wagnerian celebration of Kobaian choral music. Fantastic as a stand-alone album and as an integrated part of Theusz Hamtaahk, it is a central component of the Magma canon, and priceless as such.
I ne'er knew true beauty 'till this...
Magma's third release, three years since their first, is stamped with those three recognizable letters: .M.D.K. Perhaps that's why it is the most popular of Magma's releases. All others, except for '84's Merci (and a few live outputs), where Magma were, by their own standards and not those set by other progressive rock artists, "selling out"; all these albums are branded with a complex, long, and umlaut-ridden Koba´an name. Indeed, this albumĺs proper name is a complex, long, and umlaut-ridden Koba´an name, and to make things worse, there are two accepted spellings. Mekan´k Destrukt´w Kommand÷h it is called; or, if you'd like, you can spell it MŰkan´k, with an additional umlaut above the first E. Why is it so? Well, on the CD's cover, rear, and spine, it is spelled without the additional umlaut, but within the booklet (and it has also been commonly referred to in this manner) it has the additional umlaut admitted. Is this a fault on the Koba´an proofreaders? Is it a joke Vander is having? We will probably never find out. So, to the ease of the speller, it is most commonly referred to as .M.D.K. And, much to the liking of the Magma ignorant, the title is easy to remember! Who wants to memorize something long like Kh÷ntark÷sz, or to figure out how to pronounce ▄dŘ WŘdŘ?
But the reason for Mekan´k Destrukt´w Kommand÷h's popularity (as far as the zeuhl genre can offer) has nothing (or very little) to do with the name. It has more to do with the product within. Magma's two previous releases were much different than the territory they had landed in this time around. Their debut, Koba´a, was a very quick paced avant-garde jazz extravaganza. The sophomore effort, 1001║ Centigrades, dropped a lot of the avant-garde-isms, and developed the jazzy feel andůsomething new. This second quality wasn't near fully developed, and maybe the band members weren't ready for it yet. (Indeed then, the legendary bassist Jannick Top hadn't joined Magma's ranks, so perhaps it was a good thing they didn't go all out with this quality until now.) In short, this second quality is zeuhl. And zeuhl is a very, very unique thing. Ever had the feeling that musical ingenuity has run itself into a dead end? Ever felt that musical fruitlessness, that sense of everything being futile and unoriginal? Well Vander clearly did, and decided to do something about it. This new genre will first be seen as a branch of the avant-garde seen, but a first listening of MŰkan´k Destrukt´w Kommand÷h will show that the only thing avant-garde about it is the vocals. The rest of the music is extremely symphonic and clear. In short, zeuhl is jazz that has been taken by Igor Stravinsky, Carl Orff, BÚla Bartˇk, and whoever else, and re-arranged to fit their liking.
Zeuhl has many faces, but this form of it is the most recognizable: the extremely complex compositions, the very 20th Century Classical structures, the marching and operatic themes, and the spiritual core to it all. A number of bands from France and Japan followed Magma's lead into zeuhl territory (many formed by former Magma members). Many of them (most notably Japan's Koenjihyakkei and Ruins) focused more on the quick, complex, jazzy zeuhl, which Magma developed more with their two initial albums. Many other bands focused on the spacey, hypnotic, and still jazzy zeuhl of '76's ▄dŘ WŘdŘ. But when we hear 'zeuhl', we think Mekan´k Destrukt´w Kommand÷h. Musically, it has virtually nothing to do with the prog scene of the early 70s. Vander clearly expressed in interviews that he felt no connection to those bands. Anyone who has heard this album will undoubtedly agree. Horns and reeds, along with a choir, are an integral part of the sound. They donĺt just appear on a few songs, but they are a part of the foundation of it all. That's something you wouldn't see Genesis doing (not while the Gabe was still in, anyway).
The two previous albums made the foundation of a long and complex story. In short, separatists of Earth left to travel to Koba´a, and there settled and started a new civilization, free from Earth's evil ways. Many years into the future, some Earthlings come to Koba´a, pleading for them to return to Earth and preach their ways to the Earthlings, in hopes they will see the foolishness of their ways and repent. They go, however Earth authorities are not too fond of the Koba´ans and instantly imprison them. After being threatening by Koba´aĺs 'Super Weapon', the Earthlings release the prisoners to their fellow Koba´ans. Now the Koba´ans are gone forever, and agree never to return, and the only hope left for Earth lies with those who heard the Koba´an story, those who spent time with the prisoners, and believed in what they said. These people were few, but chief of them was a man named NebŰhr Gudahtt. He was a very spiritual man, and is the main focus of .M.D.K.
The album's story begins with NebŰhr Gudahtt finally doing his best to show the people of Earth that their ways will ultimately bring them to their own destruction. He preaches the Koba´an message: the only hope of impeding this doom is through purification of the self, and the redemption of the individual. The people instantly reject this claim, and instead of simply ignoring him, they speak against his ways. Before going on, it is important to note that we are currently in a period called Theusz Hamtaahk, which translates to 'Time of Hatred'. This signifies the period of time between the Koba´an's departure and the end of .M.D.K.ĺs story. Seems odd, yes, to name a whole 'period of time' after what happened over the course of a single album? Well, this is in fact the third album in a cycle of three (the series being called Theusz Hamtaahk). The two previous movements in the series will not be recorded until later (and the first movement never being recorded in studio). It is unknown what Vander's goal was in recording the albums in reverse order, but it is not detrimental to the quality of the production. The main point I'm trying to make here is that a lot of time (who knows how long, perhaps ten years, maybe a hundred) has passed since the end of 1001║ Centigrades, and the Koba´an's departure. Maybe NebŰhr Gudahtt wasn't around when the Koba´ans came, maybe his grandfather was, and passed the teachings down through the family. Or maybe the guy is just a hundred years old. The story really reads as a mythology, and the finer details should not be worried over.
So, as the Earthlings preach against Gudahtt, and reject his invitation to march with him, they get the grand idea of marching against him. So they do: like an army, they assemble themselves and march. (I like to picture them in neat ranks, and stepping in time not unlike Nazis.) Gudahtt and his very, very few followers also make their proper march: their march to spiritual enlightenment, and towards communication with the divine being, Kreuhn Kohrman. As the fury boils within the wayward Earthlings, they begin to think about Gudahtt's message, and then begin to consider what they are doing in marching. Eventually, their thoughts turn to questioning their own existence and purpose, and slowly, one by one, they abandon their fellow Earthlings, and join in with Gudahtt's march to salvation. This continues until the very last of them are all together, marching. Thus ends Theusz Hamtaahk, the Time of Hatred, with this iconic event: the entire human race seeking purity together.
Such a titanic and potentially controversial topic would go to waste should the music be sub-par. Thankfully it is not! The melodies and arrangements are all mind-blowing, and still interesting after the hundredth listen. The atmosphere is consistently celestial and grandiose, and often sounds as if Stravinsky wrote it. It is as lasting as Mozartĺs music, and hopefully, one day, will be revered as such. Sadly, though, it is haunted by some of the worst sound quality I've ever heard on a remaster. The drums are mixed to a barely audible degree (which is a great shame, as Vander is one of the greatest) and bass sometimes is overcome by muddy sounds of everything else. The vocal work is still odd, but also operatic this time, and the quality doesn't sound too great either. However, with the singing, a new dimension is reached. Instead of just sounding experimental, they have a really aggressive healing power to them. On some moments, you can feel as if the words carry powers of exorcism, as Vander himself has expressed to feel. This is because the Koba´an language was not made, but it rather arose naturally for Vander, he states that he didn't form the words consciously, but rather they imposed themselves onto him.
But despite this all, despite the composition being one of the finest ever (for the album is truly a single composition), and despite the concept being extremely interesting, despite the phenomenal musicianship of all members, despite this: this album is no longer one of Magma's more popular. My assumption is that Magma fans expressed their love for .M.D.K., and non-Magma fans decided to give her a try, and being appalled by Magma in general (not necessarily by this album in particular) reviewed it lowly, or spoke against it. They claim it just isn't their type of thing. However, I can't help but feel that every human has the capability of getting this album. One must only approach it with a completely clear, and completely open mind. Have no prejudices, have no expectations, and certainly do not judge the thing until you've heard it a number of times.
Mekan´k Destrukt´w Kommand÷h is unarguably flawless. Enjoying it is only a matter of taste. In my case, according to my taste, it is the greatest album ever recorded. Five Stars.