It was interesting to read that Christian Vander does not regard Magma as a prog act (The Prog Interview, issue 81). The French outfit’s place in music history as creators of zeuhl goes without saying. But like many who enjoy the music of Christian Vander and co, this writer has always been tempted to view zeuhl as a sub-genre of progressive music. Not that it matters, unless you subscribe to the “If he says it’s not prog, then I won’t listen to it” school of thought. Because Magma sound pretty damn proggy to us on these reissues. And my, have Southern Lord done a particularly grand job, releasing Retrospetïw on vinyl for the first time since its 1981 release on the RCA Victor label in France.
Recorded at a series of shows at Paris’ Olympia Theatre in June 1980 to celebrate the band’s tenth anniversary, Parts I & II have long been cited by hardcore fans as essential listening, containing, as they do, two parts of Vander’s epic triptych Theusz Hamtaahk, his space opera centred around the planet Kobaïa, which gave its name to the Kobaïan language in which Magma sing. In typical Magma style, you don’t get the whole thing here. It opens with a truncated Mëkanïk Dëstructïw Kömmandöh (the band’s 1973 album), misses out 1974’s Wurdah Ïtah entirely, but does include the previously only performed live opening segment, also titled Theusz Hamtaak, recorded here for the first time. Both feature Klaus Blasquiz, the material’s original vocalist, and are widely regarded as seminal versions of the material. Part III features the jazz funk of Retrovision, and both Hhai and La Dawotsin, both of which featured on a French single from 1981. The final track boasts a particularly fine, if somewhat understated, vocal from Vander himself.
True, much of this material appeared on 2015’s impressive Köhnzert Zünd box set, but having them back on vinyl format somehow seems all the more fitting, given the era in which Vander originally conceived his masterworks.