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Music / Magma

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Magma, circa 1976 (l-r: Gabriel Federow, Jannick Top, Klaus Blasquiz, Michel Graillier, Christian Vander, Didier Lockwood).

Magma is a Progressive Rock band from Paris who are the Trope Makers for the subgenre of Zeuhl. Classically trained drummer Christian Vander formed the band in 1969 after he had a "vision of humanity's spiritual and ecological future" that severely disturbed him. The band has made a series of science-fiction Concept Albums that tell the story of an alien world called Kobaïa. The band's first album tells the story of people fleeing a doomed Earth to settle on Kobaïa, while later albums tell of conflict between the Kobaïans and other Earth refugees.

One fairly unique trait of Magma's music is use of a Conlang (Kobaïan, naturally) for most of their lyrics, derived in part from Slavonic and Germanic languages and in part from avant-garde jazz singer Leon Thomas' "scat-yodeling" vocal style (most famously heard on "The Creator Has a Master Plan" from Pharoah Sanders' seminal 1969 album Karma). Vander and the other band members invented the language because they felt French was not expressive enough for the story they wanted to tell, and it also enabled their music to have a more alien sound. Another benefit was that having the lyrics in Conlang prevented people from over-scrutinising the lyrics (although unofficial Kobaïan-French and Kobaïan-English lexicons have been constructed, and Vander eventually revealed the meanings of some words).

Musically, Magma have few obvious influences, but their biggest influence is John Coltrane, with Carl Orff, Otis Redding, Igor Stravinsky, and Richard Wagner being other notable influences (alongside the aforementioned Thomas and Sanders, the latter himself a Coltrane alumnus). African-American spiritual music has also been a notable inspiration on the band, and they have also cited Motown as an influence. Magma's compositions are complex, frequently running thirty minutes or more, with copious time signature and key signature changes. They also feature complex choral arrangements with both male and female vocals, and Soprano and Gravel is not an unheard of trope.

Amongst the band's big-name fans are John Lydon, Jello Biafra, Kristoffer Rygg, Steven Wilson, Mikael Åkerfeldt, Travis Ryan, Deathspell Omega, and Alejandro Jodorowsky (who wanted Magma and Pink Floyd to score his unfilmed adaptation of Dune). World champion snooker player Steve Davis has been a passionate follower of the band since his youth and used some of his winnings to promote a series of concerts by the band; magician Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller) also numbers among the band's fans. We also mustn't forget Japanese drummer Tatsuya Yoshida, whose project Koenjihyakkei is an unusually faithful Spiritual Successor.

The band also has a huge number of offshoots. Former and current members such as Jannick Top and Christian Vander have gone onto successful solo careers, while spinoff bands include Offering, Weidorje, and Zao.

More information, as usual, can be found on That Other Wiki here.

Discography (main albums are in bold, live albums are in italics)

  • 1970: Magma (reissued as Kobaïa)
  • 1971: 1001° Centigrades (rerecorded as Rïah Sahïltaahk in 2014)
  • 1972: The Unnamables (studio album released under the alias 'Univeria Zekt')
  • 1973: Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh (part 3 of Theusz Hamtaahk trilogy)
  • 1974: Ẁurdah Ïtah (part 2 of Theusz Hamtaahk trilogy, originally released as a Christian Vander album called Tristan Et Yseult)
  • 1974: Köhntarkösz (part 1 of Köhntarkösz trilogy)
  • 1975: Live/Hhaï
  • 1976: Üdü Ẁüdü
  • 1977: Inédits (live)
  • 1978: Attahk
  • 1981: Retrospektïẁ (Parts I+II) (live) (includes a live version of part 1 of the Theusz Hamtaahk trilogy)
  • 1981: Retrospektïẁ (Part III) (live)
  • 1984: Merci
  • 1989: Akt X: Mekanïk Kommandöh (earlier studio recording of Mekanïk Destruktïẁ Kommandöh from 1973)
  • 1992: Akt I: Les Voix de Magma (from August 2, 1992 at Douarnenez)
  • 1992: Akt II: Sons: Document 1973 (recorded in 1973 at Le Manor, featuring a scaled-back line-up of Christian Vander, Klaus Blasquiz, Jannick Top and René Garber)
  • 1994: Akt IV: Theatre Du Taur Concert, 1975 (live, from September 27, 1975)
  • 1995: Akt V: Concert Bobino 1981 (live, from May 16, 1981)
  • 1995: Akt VI: Concert Bobino 1981 (live DVD)
  • 1996: Akt VIII: Bruxelles 1971 (live, from November 12, 1971 at Theatre 140)
  • 1996: Akt IX: Opéra De Reims, 1976 (live, from March 2, 1976)
  • 1998: Floë Ëssi/Ëktah (EP)
  • 1998: Simples (compilation)
  • 1999: Akt XIII: BBC 1974 Londres (live, from March 14, 1974 at the London BBC studios)
  • 2001: Trilogie Theusz Hamtaahk (Concert du Trianon) (live), CD + DVD
  • 2004: K.A. (Köhntarkösz Anteria) (part 2 of Köhntarkösz trilogy, though it is actually a prequel)
  • 2006: Mythes et Légendes Epok 1 (live DVD)
  • 2006: Mythes et Légendes Epok 2 (live DVD)
  • 2007: Mythes et Légendes Epok 3 (live DVD)
  • 2008: Mythes et Légendes Epok 4 (live DVD)
  • 2008: Studio Zünd: 40 Ans d'Evolution (12-disc box set, includes Kobaïa to K.A. plus compilation of rare material entitled Archiẁ I & II)
  • 2008: Akt XV: Bourges, 1979 (live from April 17, 1979)
  • 2009: Live in Tokyo 2005
  • 2009: Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré (CD + DVD) (part 3 of Köhntarkösz trilogy, though most of its events take place before even K.A.)
  • 2012: Félicité Thösz
  • 2013: Mythes et Légendes Epok 5 (live DVD)
  • 2014: Rïah Sahïltaahk (EP)
  • 2014: Zühn Wöhl Ünsai - Live 1974
  • 2015: laǧ Tanƶ (EP)
  • 2015: Köhnzert Zünd (12-disc box set of live releases from Magma Live to Trilogie au Trianon, plus bonus material entitled Triton Zünd and Alhambra 2009. Unlike Studio Zünd, this box set features remastered and/or remixed versions of the reissued albums)
  • 2016: Nihao Hamtaï - Magma in China (live DVD)
  • 2017: Ëmëhntëhtt-Rê Trilogy (live DVD)
  • 2019: Zëss (Le Jour de néant) ("The Day of Nothing")
  • 2022: Krthl


  • Album Closure: Kohntarkosz ends with "Coltrane Sundia", a Celebrity Elegy to John Coltrane.
  • All There in the Manual: While many of the lyrics serve more of an artistic purpose than semantic content, it's still possible to deduce the plot of a few of the albums because of the band's liner notes (Mekanïk Destruktïẁ Kommandöh's first overseas release has an English gatefold describing the plot of the first three albums) in addition to vague interviews with Christian Vander.
  • Amicably Divorced: We can reasonably infer that Christian and Stella are, given... well, just try to untangle the complicated family relationships listed under Band of Relatives, and the fact that they all continue working together.
  • Apocalypse How: An unspecified ecological disaster is the primary cause of nearly everything that occurs afterward in Magma's Space Opera. It's not clear what the extent of it is, but it was bad enough to cause significant numbers of people to leave Earth. Taken up to eleven with Zëss, which is about the end of everything.
  • Band of Relatives: A particularly unusual case, with Christian Vander, his now ex-wife Stella, their daughter Julie, Stella's new husband Francis Linon, and Stella and Francis' son Marcus all either members of or sound engineers for the band (in Marcus' case, both).
  • Bilingual Bonus: Some of their lyrics and most of their liner notes are in French. And, of course, there's the whole Conlang thing.
  • Breather Episode: Several albums have these to prevent the music from getting unremittingly bleak.
  • Concept Album: Nearly all of Magma's albums. Really, they are best described as a concept band, since almost all of their music has a shared continuity.
  • Conlang: Nearly all of their lyrics are in a constructed language called Kobaïan. That Other Wiki has an article here.
  • Crapsack World: Vaguely described ecological disasters and general decay of Earth's societies are the reason a group of humans flees to Kobaïa and later declares war against Earth.
  • Death Song: Zëss takes this up to eleven, being about the death of everything. It opens with a dramatic narration in French apparently announcing the impending end of reality to a stadium full of listeners. (Someone who actually understands French may wish to elaborate further.)
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Their first two albums were recorded before Magma established their Signature Style and are rather atypical of zeuhl. There is more focus on wind instruments and less on choral vocals, and the jazz influence is also more overt.
  • Earth That Was: An unspecified ecological disaster is the impetus for nearly everything that happens in Magma albums afterward.
  • Epic Rocking: Many of their songs top thirty minutes in length. Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh and Ẁurdah Ïtah, when performed live, frequently top fifty, while the title tracks of Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré and Köhntarkösz Anteria approach it even in their studio versions. They're still at it with Zëss, which is a single thirty-eight-minute song divided into seven movements.
  • Everything Sounds More Expressive in Conlang: As mentioned above, Vander constructed Kobaïan because he felt "French just wasn't expressive enough. Either for the story or for the sound of the music." Some critics have felt Kobaïan enabled Magma's singers to express emotions more deeply than traditional lyrics would have allowed (see Large Ham below), so he may have been correct.
  • Genre Shift/New Sound Album: The aforementioned first two albums can be as dark, strange, aggressive and sophisticated as their more acclaimed works, but had a more jazzy streak to them and leaned more on horns than the choral style Magma is usually associated with.
    • In Merci, Magma takes a shot at R&B and Euro-disco (we kid you not). The music is more accessible (by Magma standards, anyway), some lyrics are in French or English, and Christian Vander spends more time on the mic than on the drum kit. In fact, he is replaced by a drum machine in "Call from the Dark". It goes without saying it was not very well received by their fans. At any rate, they returned to their more typical style in later albums.
  • Grand Finale: Zëss appears to be conceived as one for the band's career, being released for their fiftieth anniversary. Press releases surrounding the album imply that it may be the band's final studio album, though there's no explicit official word on this count yet.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: The closing of Zëss includes the choir repeating "Sanctus, sanctus Jesus Christos, Jesus Christos", which means "Holy, holy Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ" in Latin. (However, the lyrics apparently spell the latter name as "Ϊëzüsz krïstüsz", suggesting the Latin form of Jesus' name has made it over to Kobaïan.) Then it closes with "Om", which in Hinduism symbolises "the essence of the ultimate reality, consciousness or Atman. More broadly, it is a syllable that is chanted either independently or before a spiritual recitation in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism," per That Other Wiki. In context (again, this album is about the end of everything), this almost comes across as an Emergency Multifaith Prayer, or possibly the future religion of Kobaïan is simply a fusion of beliefs from settlers from Earth of several different religions - it's not entirely clear.
  • Green Aesop: Ecological concerns were a large portion of what spurred Vander to create the band in the first place.
  • Grief Song: "Coltrane Sündia" is one for John Coltrane. The title translates as "Coltrane Rest in Peace".
  • Hevy Mtal mlaut: Well, Magma is definitely not a metal band and has no umlaut in its name, but their music is aggressive, bleak and dark and most of their song and album titles have umlauts. (Though they border on metal sometimes, and at least one Allmusic critic seems to feel they are metal. Also, the umlauts and other accents seem to represent distinct phonemes in the Kobaïan language; , for instance, is pronounced like the English V, while W seems to be pronounced the same as in English. Similarly, seems to represent the Sh sound.)
  • Hope Spot: Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré discovers the secret of immortality, and is then murdered immediately afterward.
  • I Am the Band: Magma is at this point basically Christian Vander, his wife Stella (now ex, though they obviously remain on good terms considering she still remains a central part of the band), and any other musicians they feel like performing with.
    • Saxophonist Rene Garber was a constant member until the band's original breakup in 1983, but did not reunite with them when they reformed in the early 1990s.
  • Interfaith Smoothie: Judging from the prayer at the end of Zëss, elements of Christianity and one or more unspecified Indian religions (most likely Hinduism, Buddhism, or Jainism) have evidently both made it into the Kobaïan religion - or else they're simply offering up an Emergency Multifaith Prayer.
  • Jazz: A major influence on the band. John Coltrane is admittedly Christian Vander's biggest musical influence, and the first two albums are straight-up jazz rock. The latter material isn't quite as overtly jazz-influenced, but it's still there if you know what to listen for. A strong case can be made that Zëss falls into the genre of third stream, which is a fusion of jazz and Classical Music (the orchestra is a pretty big tell on that part), and one could even argue for some of the band's earlier works as well. Given the list of influences above, that shouldn't surprise anyone. Additionally, by far the biggest influence on Vander's vocal style is jazz singer Leon Thomas (probably most famed for his work with Coltrane alum Pharoah Sanders). Their vocals could easily be mistaken for each other when they are at their most manic.
  • Large Ham: A particularly noteworthy musical example, particularly vocally, not that anyone's complaining. Music critic Michael Draine writes, "The abstraction provided by the Kobaïan verse seems to inspire Magma's singers to heights of emotional abandon rarely permitted by conventional lyrics."
  • Last Note Nightmare: Several songs have this. Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh is no doubt the band's most famous example.
  • Lead Drummer: Few drummers could fit this trope as Christian Vander does. As the band's founder and main composer, the whole project is his brainchild.
  • List Song: A good portion of "Da Zeuhl Ẁortz Dëhm Ẁrëhntt" from Zëss is dedicated to invoking the masters/elements of the universe, from Air to Time - and Magma, of course.
  • Loudness War: Some of their more recent recordings suffer from this. The worst offenders are probably Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré, Köhntarkösz Anteria, and Mythes et Légendes Epok 1, which are audibly clipped. Other recordings are still affected, but have higher dynamic ranges. Their 2019 studio record, Zëss, has a score of DR10, with no track scoring below DR8; 2022's Krthl is DR8, with no track scoring below DR7.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Zëss is one of the most beautiful albums in their discography, with exquisite choral and orchestral arrangements. But there are several references in the song to an apocalypse, and the final track's subtitle is "Glas ultime" ("Ultimate Death Knell"). Vander comments of the album: "Zëss is the story of the end of everything the end of time and of everything that has ever existed. Absolute oblivion, like a dreamless night. It feels like nothing has ever existed nor will it ever exist again all forms of consciousness have vanished."
  • Miniscule Rocking: "Sêhë" from Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré is a mere twenty-six seconds long.
  • Modulation: Copious amounts of key signature changes usually go hand-in-hand with Epic Rocking, and it is certainly the case here.
  • Progressive Rock: Trope Maker and Trope Namer for a new subgenre entitled Zeuhl.
  • Rearrange the Song: The first two parts of Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré are comprised of previously released songs - such as "Ëmëhntëht-Rê (Announcement)", "Rindë", "Ëmëhntëht-Rê (Extrait no. 2)", "Hhaï" and "Zombies"; Köhntarkösz Antheria, in turn, quotes a snippet of "De Zeuhl Ündazir"; both albums were mostly written in The '70s but not recorded until the Noughties.
    • Additionally, a new recording of "Rïah Sahïltaahk" from the band's second album saw release as an EP in 2014. Zëss has also been floating around for many years, and was given new orchestral backing for the 2019 studio release.
    • Moreover, sometimes live versions differ significantly from their album counterparts. For instance, much of the second half of "Mëkanïk Destruktiẁ Kömmandöh" is usually replaced by an extended section called "Mekanïk Zaïn". "Köhntarkösz" is an even more radical example: whereas the album version lacks the choral work one usually expects from Magma and ends in a somber mood, the live version has fully developed vocal parts and a soaring coda. At last, in "Live Hhaï" the band plays a very different rendition of "Kobaïa" called "Kobah".
  • Re-release the Song: There are many releases containing different versions of "Mekanïk Destruktïẁ Kommandöh". "Rïah Sahïltaahk" is also worthy of mention: it was first released in 1001º Centigrades in 1971 and once again in 2014 as an EP.
    • An acoustic version of "Call from the Dark" was released under the title "Love in the Darkness" by Christian Vander's side project Offering.
  • Revolving Door Band: According to That Other Wiki, twenty people have been members of Magma at one point or another.
  • Rock Opera: A much more literal example than most cases of this trope, containing actual operatic vocals (albeit usually in Conlang).
  • Siamese Twin Songs: If you consider the individual tracks of their albums to be separate songs rather than simply movements, then many of their tracks are this.
  • Soprano and Gravel: Since Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh, in which the band adopted choral harmonies, many of their songs feature both female and male singers.
  • Space Opera: Several years before Star Wars, Magma's tale was already set in a universe where space travel and interplanetary warfare took place.
  • Spell My Name with an S:
    • Song titles often change between releases. Part of this may because the Kobaïan language itself seems to evolve as the band writes new music; it's entirely possible that the language's orthography has changed throughout the years.
    • Beyond that, the accents cause constant tagging problems in the digital age. It doesn't help that a lot of players don't support certain characters commonly used in the Kobaïan language, such as .
  • Step Up to the Microphone: In some songs, such as "Hhaï", "Lïhns", "Slibenli Dëh Theusz", "Otis" and "Zëss", Christian Vander spares his drums and sings the lead vocals.
  • Surprisingly Gentle Song: They have a few. "Coltrane Sündia" is a good example, closing out an otherwise unrelentingly bleak album (though since it's an elegy for John Coltrane it's bleak in a different way). Félicité Thösz is a Surprisingly Gentle Album.
  • Trope Maker and Trope Namer: For zeuhl. (It means "Celestial" in Kobaïan, if you're wondering).
  • Uncommon Time: To a Your Head A-Splode extent on some songs.
  • Widget Series: With their militaristic Conlang chants, bizarre polyrhythms, and philosophical sci-fi underpinnings, Magma are easily one of the most notorious examples of musical WTF.
  • Working with the Ex: Christian and Stella have been divorced for quite some time, but have continued working together for basically the entire time. Taken to an even greater extent than usual in that her new husband also works with the band as a sound engineer and producer.