Magellan - Impending Ascension - 7/10
The lyrics are based on history, which I find annoying. The music is quite good, though, firmly in the heavy-progressive vein, with a full and contemporary sound.
Magma - Magma, a.k.a. Kobaia (70) - 10/10
This double album sounds very different from Magma's other records. Instead of the more "mechanic" zeuhl sound of their later records, this one sounds more like King Crimson's Lizard, being closer to a more conventional and slightly more accessible jazz/symphonic rock sound, sometimes with a tiny psychedelia feeling to it. Magma is also much less monotonous than for example Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh: The music often changes abruptly, but it is always going somewhere, and the compositions are immensely strong. Wonderful melodies suddenly change into amelodious parts, which just aren't given enough time to become tedious before another breathtaking melody comes forward again. Wind instruments such as clarinet, saxophone, trumpet and (especially) flute are used a lot, and in a brilliant manner, in addition to electric and acoustic guitar and piano. All these instruments are alternated between, and adds to the diversity of the music. And Christian Vander's drumming is impressive as always. The other member who stayed on to make their more well-known albums later, the vocalist Klaus Blasquiz, sings more like a rock vocalist than in the operatic style on this album - of course in the made-up-for-the-occasion language Kobaian. I think that this makes the vocals a little more - let's call it personal. Vander himself comes up with some of the classic "Magma screams" in this language, so this, uh, charming part of Magma's sound was already developed. However, the bass playing isn't as dominating as on their later albums, probably in part because of the smaller emphasis on long, slowly developing parts. Disc 1 is an immortal prog classic, not being short of anything. Disc 2 starts off a mellow and beautiful, but becomes a little directionless at times near the end. But overall, I cannot recommend this album enough. Even those who don't like Magma's other records that much should love this one until they... don't. KOBAIA ISS DE HUNDIIIIIN! (whatever it means).
Magma - 1001 Centigrades (71) - 8/10
I bought this record after Magma (see above) and MDK (see below), and you can probably imagine what my expectations were like. Musically, 1001 Centigrades lies somewhere between those two records: It has some of the quirky, crazy jazziness of Magma, but also some longer, more uniform parts that recall MDK. Moreover, the power is more evenly distributed than on Magma, and it has a dark and threatening sound all the way through. The way I see it, this makes it slightly less appealing, and it doesn't make up for it with the outrageous madness of MDK: This record in itself shouldn't qualify Magma's members for more than a mental hospital, while there probably is death sentence in several American states for making music as found on MDK. The bass has still not developed the typical zeuhl sound, but personally I like the extra flexibility that this allows. The overall sound is definitely closer to that of Magma, with lots of brass instruments. Side A is made up by the epic "Riah Sahiltaahk", composed by Christian Vander, which is nothing short of a freak-show, and the album's finest third of an hour. Blasquiz' and Vander's vocals are used a lot, and sometimes screamed on top of crazy cacophonies. Side B is composed by Teddy Lasry and Francois Cahen, and sounds more compromised, but still crazier than almost everything else out there. Overall, even if it doesn't reach the artistic level of the two albums mentioned earlier, 1001 Centigrades is an outstanding record, and close to essential.
Magma - Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh (73)- 9.5/10
Expecting some dark and very strange music, my first reaction to this record was disappointment. A female choir repetitively chanting some half-banal themes seemingly makes up much of the music of this record. This could had been boring to listen to if it were not for all the subtle arrangements going on at the same time, had it not been for the trance-inducing effect. It took me several years to appreciate this record, and it still gets better with every listen. The music is different from anything I have heard, with bass, piano and different brass instruments dominating the sound. The drums are amazing, but unfortunately a little too low in the mix. Several male vocalists can also be heard sometimes: Klaus Blasquiz is the "normal" vocalist, while the drummer Christian Vander sings/chants/screams at the very top of his voice quite often. The part which I like best is perhaps "Nebehr Gudahtt", in which Vander, both with the voice and the drums, at the climax of a long crescendo goes completely mad. I repeat: Completely mad. If you do not think that you ever can appreciate manic screaming, skip this track! Adding another dimension to the crazyness, the lyrics are in some language that Magma themselves invented; Kobaian. Overall, the music can be described as extremely powerful, dark and excellent. The closest comparison I can think of is the Italian band Il Balletto di Bronzo, though I consider Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh to be less accessible and much less conventional. And maybe even better.
See alsoUniveria Zekt - Univeria Zekt (72)
Magma - BBC 1974 Londres (74) - 9/10
This record, apparently a studio recording at BBC, contains two works: "Kohntarkosz" and "Theusz Hamtaahk". The Kohntarkosz version is slightly different from the one on the later albums. It has some simply unforgettable parts, among others an incredible passage that's possible to find (in a lesser version) on the record Inedits (there it's called "Om Zanka"). While the other versions of "Kohntarkosz" need some patience to be fully appreciated (by me), this version just blows me away from the very beginning. There is some excellent guitar and keyboard playing here - and no female vocals, only Vander and Blasquiz. Some interesting lyrics at the ending, too. The way I see it, this performance is one of the very highest peaks of Magma's career. Whereas the "Kohntarkosz" version is full of energy, "Theusz Hamtaahk" is played very slowly. I think I prefer the version on Retrospektiw 1 & 2, but maybe only because that's the one I've become used to. I have a feeling that Magma didn't take out their full potential here, but the composition in itself is one of the best Vander ever made. The indispensible version of "Kohntarkosz" is the highlight of this record, but "Theusz Hamtaahk" is one of the most subtle pieces I know - don't underestimate it.
Magma - Kohntarkosz (74) - 8/10
Often hailed as Magma's masterpiece. I don't agree, but it's an excellent record anyway. The long track, "Kohntarkosz", is played in a similar fashion as on Live (see below), but with keyboards instead of violin. This is an exceptional piece, but as for all longer Magma compositions of this period it demands patience in order to be fully appreciated as the masterpiece it is. An example is the opening, where a couple of minutes pass with almost nothing happening. I prefer this version to the one on the Live record, if only just a little bit. There is better female chanting here, and I think the keyboard solos work out better than Live's violin. The by far best version of "Kohntarkosz", however, is found on BBC 1974 Londres. The two short tracks on Kohntarkosz are excellent too: "Ork Alarm" is a dramatic cello-based piece composed by Jannik Top. It would have fitted well on the record Udu Wudu, and is of the same class as the classic track "De Futura"! The remaining track, "Coltrane Sundia", is an almost ambient piece. Beautiful piano playing here. All in all, though maybe not the first Magma record newcomers to the band should pick up, fans can't miss it.
Magma - Live, a.k.a. Live Hhai and Live Kohntark (75) - 8/10
First of all, there are apparently different versions of this available. I own the slightly truncated one which is put on only one CD, but originally this is double. Musically, it's Magma, all right. The entire "Kohntark" suite from Kohntarkosz is here, and takes up 31 minutes of the record. As opposed to the studio recording, an electric violin is used, and used brilliantly. This, alongside the overall fusion sound, makes the parallel to Mahavishnu Orchestra's The Inner Mounting Flame obvious. But at the same time, this is highly original, with the manic bass playing of Bernard Paganotti and the operatic vocals of Klaus Blasquiz and Stella Vander as important features. As on Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh, patience is needed through the slow build-ups of the "Kohntark" track. But the furious climaxes are always worth waiting for, and there are also some mesmerising, mellow moments. After "Kohntark" comes three small pieces that could have fitted into the Udu Wudu record (see below). The first, "Kobah", is a 6-minute excerpt from the incredibly groovy and excellent "Kobaia" track on Magma's first, self-titled album. It has been quite modified, and contains some outstanding bass playing by Paganotti. Very good, but not as good as the studio version! The next track, "Lihns", lasting for five minutes, is a bright tune with some nice keyboard playing by Benoit Widemann. It's the simplest track on the record, but still more complex than most other prog. That should tell you a thing or two. "Hhai" lasts for nine minutes, and again shows some bright moments - relatively speaking, as most of Magma's music is dark and almost scary. The violin player goes mad at the end of the track and makes the audience happy. The last 18 minutes of the record is called "Mekanik Zain", and is really a redone version of the last part of Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh. It starts with some improvisation, which quickly turns into one of the famous MDK themes, played on keyboards in an insane tempo with the violin fiddling along for ten minutes or so. Then Stella Vander starts to sing, and does so until the track and this excellent album ends. Overall, I think that Magma's sound at this time was a little more polished than on MDK and not to mention their self-titled debut album. But as with MDK: The more I listen to it, the more I like it. Prog fans who have started to get a little bored with symphonic rock should definitely not stay away from this band.
Magma - Udu Wudu (76) - 7/10
A less demented album than Mekanik Destruktiv Kommandoh. Gone is the female choir, but Udu Wudu still contains strange and unique music, and the lyrics are still in Kobaia. The album consists of 7 tracks, 6 of which are about 4 minutes long. Most of the tracks build up very slowly to become more and more dramatic and crazy, like Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King", before being faded out. Before one becomes aware of this, the music might sound monotonous and a bit tedious - much like Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh. The track "De Futura", lasting for 18 minutes, doesn't follow this pattern, and has several climaxes and tempo changes, even if the same bass line and half-barked vocals are repeated over and over in different musical settings. Overall, Jannik Top's marvellous manic bass playing and Klaus Blasquiz's crazy vocals, alongside Patrick Gaulthier's delightfully ugly synthesizer sounds make this what must have been one of the most original releases of 1976.
Magma - Attahk (77) - 6/10
OK, the one Magma record I'm not going to recommend. The style here is much brighter and a bit more commercial than on Udu Wudu, and there is no epic track. Still, the style is still very much Magma's own. Some quite good tracks, some quite mediocre tracks, and I don't listen a lot to it. Go for their earlier stuff first, then get Attahk if you think you need more.
Magma - Retrospektiw I & II (81) - 9/10
First of all, don't pay any attention to the horrible year that this was released. Magma sound no more compromised here than six years earlier. In brief, this double album contains a live version of Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh (MDK) and a live version of the first part of the Theusz Hamtaahk trilogy, which was never released on a studio album. The sound quality is excellent. Not surprisingly, the version of MDK played here is inferior to the studio version. That is, except the first two minutes of bizarre screaming, which is some of the best music ("music"?) Magma have ever made! The next twenty minutes of chanting are a bit boring, but move into a freak-show where it sounds like UFO's and helicopters invade the stage and shoot everyone with machine guns. The remaining 14 minutes are rather similar to the "Mekanik Zain" track of the Live record from 1975: It has some ugly/beautiful violin and manic, repetitive keyboard, chanting and bass. Excellent, but the studio version of this part is some of the best music ever made, and this live version is not close to it at all. Still: Very good. When it comes to the Theusz Hamtaahk part 1 disc, seven minutes of it has already appeared on studio albums: The beginning is taken from the opening of Christian Vander's classic Tristan et Iseult, also known as Wurdah Itah. It contains some typical, monotonous Magma bass, and some even more typical monotonous Magma chanting. After a while, some el-piano (thankfully not with 80s sound) start to dominate the sound, and a trance-inducing, looong build-up, which is concluded by one of my "top five moments in music ever". Then comes a fantastic, amelodious vocal part. It is difficult not to sing along with with Blasquiz and Vander's "THEUSZ HAMTAAHK" chants here. After 33 minutes, the crowd thinks that the suite is over and goes mad, but two minutes of the strange UFO sounds also found on the MDK disc plus lots of screaming remains. Sounds like they killed the audience. This piece demands a lot of patience and concentration, but you'll be heavenly rewarded. ESSENTIAL, if only for the Theusz Hamtaahk disc.
Magma - Retrospektiw III (81) - 7/10
This is supposed to be from the same concert as Retrospektiw 1 & 2, but shows the band from a more accessible side. It starts with a side-long suite called "Retrovision". It's enjoyable, but beware: There are some soul/gospel(!) parts here where the lyrics go "OH BABY!". It could be ironic of course, but I doubt it since they perform similar stuff on Attakh and Merci. You may not believe me, but apart from this disgrace it's good stuff; more lighthearted than earlier Magma works, but it works fine with me. Also on the record is an excellent version of "Hhai", a slight bit extended from the version on Magma's Live record. Concluding the record is "La Dawotsin", four minutes of beautiful music with some nice Christian Vander vocals. Actually, this track alone could make the album worth getting. This is Magma for sunny days. Recommended!
Marillion - B'sides Themselves - 7/10
Contains Marillion's best track ever, the 18-minute "Grendel". I should point out that Marillion was the first prog band I got to know, so I could be biased...
Marillion - Clutching at Straws - 7/10
Quite simple music, but outstanding atmosphere and lyrics.
Marillion - Fugazi - 7/10
Marillion - Script for a Jester's Tear - 8/10
Metamorfosi - Inferno - 9/10
Another Italian masterpiece! This is, based on my rather poor knowledge of Italian, a concept album based on Dante's Divine Comedy, but apparently also carries a political message. The listener is pulled through the stages of hell, where the lowest is reserved for presidents... As for the music, the occasional vocals are semi-operatic and simply wonderful. The bass guitar and drum playing is great, but the sound is dominated by moog and hammond organ, giving them an ELP feel. Needless to say after this, the music is ambitious and pompous, but with good effect. There are absolutely no traces of mediocrity in the compositions, which will send your mind kilometres beneath the ground and centuries back in time - at least until they play the Soviet Union's anthem near the end of the record. A minor complaint is a lack of depth caused by the use of the same instruments all over the record, but it really doesn't matter much.
Mezquita - Recuerdos de mi Tierra - 10/10
Intense Spanish flamenco-rock. Never a boring second. "Speed-prog" describes this quite nicely. A tour-de-force from beginning to end.
Murple - Io Sono Murple (a. k. a. Murple)- 7/10
Typically symphonic Italian progressive, as always quite inspired by classical music. It is a concept album with only two tracks at 16 minutes each, with occasional, decent vocals in Italian. The keyboards is the most enjoyable part of the music, but there is more emphasis on the totality than on soloing. No harsh disharmonies are found here, but some nice, lighter prog a little similar to PFM, but there are few traces of jazz. Sometimes complex and very proggy, sometimes more straightforward, Genesis-like and vocal-dominated, the musical tale of the penguin Murple is a good purchase if you're into Italian progressive. Just don't expect them to be as exciting as the best bands from that country, and you will be pleased.
Museo Rosenbach - Zarathustra - 9/10
Often heavy and jazzy. Mellotrons are used a lot. Not innovative enough to be amongst the very best, but not far away either.