Deep Dive: Magma

Hamtaï! Welcome back to Deep Dive, my series where I explore the extended studio discographies of the giants of progressive rock and metal. I’ve got a weird one for you today: Magma, the founders of zeuhl. 

For those who don’t feel like reading massive entries in their entirety, I’ve included a TL;DR and ranking of albums at the end of this piece. I’m opting to explore albums chronologically, as opposed to a ranked-list format. The context in which albums were made is important, and this contextual element is often overlooked in many ranked-lists.

Magma has always been a weird band. I’ll delve into what exactly zeuhl is below, but even beyond the structural strangeness of their music, the band’s composition has varied wildly over the years. At the time of writing, Wikipedia lists 12 current members and 22 former members; and Rate Your Music names 11 current members with a staggering 89 former members. Much of this can be attributed to their frequent shifts in sound, ranging from their very wind instrument-heavy first albums, to mid-career funk experiments, to later albums which prominently featured vibraphone. Multiple vocalists have always been a signature element of their sound as well.

Magma has been incredibly consistent across their career, in terms of the quality of their work. Even their worst album isn’t all that bad. I’ll also give a quick shout-out to their live performances. I saw Magma on their 2016 US tour, and that was one of the absolute best live shows I’ve ever seen, only seriously challenged by my experiences seeing Rush and Moonsorrow. This column only covers studio output in any depth, but the live albums Hhaï and Retrospektïẁ (I-III) are some of their best work. I’m a big enough fan that I personally own the 12-disc live box set Köhnzert Zünd.

Before we get going, though, I’m sure those of you unfamiliar with Magma are asking…

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Album Review: Bobby Shock – Street Angels

Artist: Bobby Shock | Album: Street Angels | Genre: Progressive rock | Year: 2021

From: New Jersey, USA | Label: Independent

For fans of: Chris Squire, Patrick Moraz, The Alan Parsons Project

Bandcamp

Bobby Shock is a New Jersey-based composer and multi-instrumentalist, whose last album—The Unforeseen—was a pleasant surprise for me last year. It was lush, diverse, and bass-forward. The compositions were unquestionably smart and progressive, but the music was still accessible.

Shock’s latest release continues with that general trend. The obvious focal point of this album is its 20-minute title track, but the other four songs are no less enjoyable.

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Odds & Ends – December 7, 2020

Band: Alustrium | Album: Insurmountable | Genre: Death metal, Progressive metal | Bandcamp

The music on this EP is played with incredible precision, and the density of riffs-per-minute is impressively high. However, it also feels like this band’s main goal was to play as fast as possible, and even across such a short EP, that gets exhausting. There’s also nothing particularly unique about this release; this is rather boilerplate tech-death.

Score: 68/100

Band: Esthesis | Album: The Awakening | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp

This band heavily channels Porcupine Tree in just about every regard. It’s a skillful facsimile, right down to the tones of the individual instruments, and the songs are well structured. There is also the occasional outside influence, such the odd jazzy lick here or there. On the downside, this album is pretty long-winded. Only one of the six songs comes in under eight minutes, and most cuts could have benefitted from some trimming.

Score: 70/100

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Album Review: That 1 Guy – Set the Controls for the Heart of the Buttnoggin

t1gArtist: That 1 Guy | Album: Set the Controls for the Heart of the Buttnoggin | Genre: Experimental rock, Electronic, “experimental ‘earthshaking future funk’ from the future maybe” (as per his Facebook) | Year: 2020

From: Las Vegas, USA | Label: Independent

For fans of: Buckethead, Primus

Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon

That 1 Guy is one of my favorite musical acts. I’ve seen him live over a dozen times since I first saw him open for Porcupine Tree in 2009. He tours relentlessly (or at least he did prior to this current COVID-related lockdown), and I would strongly recommend going to see him live if you get the opportunity. As his name implies, he’s a one-man musical project who plays the Magic Pipe, an instrument of his own invention. The Magic Pipe is depicted on this album cover, but here is some footage of it in action.

As much as I love That 1 Guy, I wouldn’t label him as progressive rock. He certainly has an experimental flair—what with the homemade instrument and all—but most of his songs are, structurally, pretty straightforward. His previous album, 2014’s Poseidon’s Deep Water Adventure Friends, was his most ambitious to date, featuring surprisingly complex compositions and highly varied textures. So, when he released this album, I saw how long the songs were and the fact that he had tagged himself as “progressive rock” on Bandcamp, and I decided to stretch my definition of the genre to write about this release. Continue reading “Album Review: That 1 Guy – Set the Controls for the Heart of the Buttnoggin”