“Do seven versions of one piece border on overkill? Resolutely and resoundingly no”: Magma’s Une Histoire De Mekanïk - 50 Years Of Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh

Anniversary box set may not be cheap, but it’s immensely satisfying

Magma - Une Histoire de Mekanik
(Image: © Prophecy)

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When Magma’s third album Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh was released in May 1973, the UK charts were dominated by new titles from Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Gilbert O’Sullivan. That fact stands as a stark reminder of just how alien and experimental the French collective’s music was.

While their cult following may have broadened in the 50 years since its release, the album’s brooding strangeness remains defiantly undiminished. Both then and now, there’s still nothing beyond the sonic worlds created by drummer and founder Christian Vander that sounds quite like it.

This limited edition seven-LP box may not be cheap but it’s immensely satisfying, containing eight performances, six of which appear on vinyl for the first time. It’s packaged with a huge flag bearing the Magma logo and, more substantially, a 12-inch by 12-inch hardback book filled with archive photos, record company PR sheets and copious press clippings with a majority hailing from the French music papers. Without a doubt, it’s a thing of beauty and quality.

Magma - Une Histoire de Mekanik

(Image credit: Prophecy)

Away from a specially remastered edition of the studio version, Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh comes vividly to life as it assuredly moves from being a work in progress on the earliest live recording from 1972 to a mature opus in a previously unreleased recording from 2021, evidencing the music’s evolution as each incarnation performs it.

Perhaps the most extreme example comes on the fourth LP, given over to two different performances, the previously unreleased Les Voix De Magma from 1994 and 1995’s Babyaga La Sorcière. Side one has a choir backed only by Simon Goubert’s propulsive grand piano. Despite the stripped-back setting, the melodic and rhythmic fuel driving this work burns just as fiercely as on the flip side where a vast children’s choir, massed brass, wind and percussion sections combine to remarkable operatic effect.

Each LP stands as a testimony to Christian Vander’s inspired creativity

Eschewing the Wagnerian overtones, the fifth LP, recorded in 2000, leans more towards a jazz-rock vocabulary as bassist Phillipe Bussonnet and guitarist James Mac Gaw delight in some fretboard fireworks.

Each LP stands as a testimony to Christian Vander’s inspired creativity, ushering in a living, breathing composition whose mantric repetition runs through it like some rogue mutating code or magical incantation. With every single disc teeming with a cathartic jubilance, the answer to the question as to whether seven versions of one piece might border on overkill is resolutely and resoundingly no.

Une Histoire De Mekanïk – 50 Years Of Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh is available now via Prophecy Recordings.

Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.