Magma: Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh
Christian Vander – drums, vocals, organ, percussion
Jannik Top – bass
Klaus Blasquiz – vocals, percussion
Jean-Luc Manderlier – piano, organ
René Garber – bass clarinet, vocals
Claude Olmos – guitar
Stella Vander – choir organik Kommandeuhr
Muriel Streisfeld, Evelyn Razymovski, Michele Saulnier, Doris Reihnardt, Stella Vander / choir
Teddy Lasry – brass organik Kommandeuhr, flute
What is Zeuhl? That will be the main question from those not familiar with it. It is a musical style invented by French drummer Christian Vander, and the band Magma. An easy description is a bit more difficult. Most simply the music is a fusion of jazz, French theatric progressive rock, and opera, characterized by a thrumming bass line. However, there is more. Vander even created a story line, and his own language (called Kobaïan) for the lyrics (zeuhl itself meaning celestial). Not all Zuehl bands that followed used the language, but they took the musical cues directly from Magma.
“Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh” is not the first Magma album, but it is the quintessential zeuhl masterpiece. This is the barometer by which all others are judged. I could go into all of the back-story and what it’s supposed to mean, but I consider that more of an added curiosity. This album hit right away for me (which is unusual), without much foreknowledge. I was just curious. The music is enough of an experience on its own.
The album plays out like a Wagnerian opera. It is near impossible to just isolate one track. Right from the beginning, you know you are in for a big ride. “Hortz Fur Dën Stekëhn West” has one of the most foreboding intros ever heard, and the building tension pulls you right in. After that, it is operatic, fusion, orchestrated musical mayhem. The immediate thought is that this group must be from another planet, and that is precisely the intention. The format is almost pure opera. The musicianship is jazz / rock virtuosity. Jannik Top is a force to be reckoned with on bass. Christian Vander alone is one of the best drummers in the world (I know, I’ve seen Magma live). The vocals are … well … pretty out there. What it comes down to is that there just is nothing else like it.
Zeuhl is usually an acquired taste, and tends to be a bit too much on the first listen. Therefore, being that “Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh” is the gold standard, it may not be the best place to start. The live Magma “Retrospektïw III” or “Eros” by Dün might be a little easier. Just give it some time, and you may find zeuhl some of the most satisfying music you have ever heard.
Kobaïa Iss de Hündin!