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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.

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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. 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. African-American spiritual music has also been a notable inspiration on the band. 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.

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Amongst the band's Big Name Fans are John Lydon, Jello Biafra, Kristoffer Rygg, Steven Wilson, Mikael Åkerfeldt, and Alejandro Jodorowsky (who wanted Magma and Pink Floyd to score his unfilmed adaptation of Dune).

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.

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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 Destruktïw 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)
  • 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)
  • 2012: Félicité Thösz
  • 2013: Mythes et Légendes Epok 5 (live DVD)
  • 2014: Rïah Sahïltaahk (EP)
  • 2014: Zühn Wöhl Ünsai - Live 1974
  • 2015: Šlaǧ 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)

Tropes

  • 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 Destruktïw 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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 some songs (blasphemy!). 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.
  • 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".
  • Heävy Mëtal Ümlaut: 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, Š 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, and any other musicians they feel like performing with.
  • 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 founder and main composer, the whole project is his brainchild.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: Their sound is so unique they had to invent a new word to describe it.
  • Progressive Rock: Trope Maker and Trope Namer for a new subgenre entitled Zeuhl.
  • Rearrange the Song: Köhntarkösz Anteria and Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré incorporate elements of previously released songs. The 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.
  • Re-release the Song: There are many releases containing a version of Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh.
  • Revolving Door Band: According to That Other Wiki, twenty people have been members of Magma at one point or another.
  • Rock Opera: Literally.
  • 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: Most of their vocals starting with Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh are choral harmonies, but several albums, especially Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh, also feature Harsh Vocals.
  • 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 .
  • 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.
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