The Vander Years: Magma?s drummer/composer revisits his prime.

The pioneering French experimentalists of Magma stumbled upon a novel method for churning out compelling, creative material 40 years after the group’s founding: They simply wrote so much material in their prime that they were never able to officially record all of it. Magma created an in-depth mythology that forms the basis of their music, including a made-up language (the oddly Germanic-sounding Kobaian) in which all their lyrics are written and sung. In the process, they created an entire subgenre of music, known as “zeuhl”—repetitive, highly rhythmic vocal music that sounds like Stravinsky’s Les Noces with a touch of jazz. Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré is one of many enormous compositions that Magma drummer and primary composer Christian Vander wrote during a period of phenomenal creativity in the 1970s; while the bulk of it has already appeared in fragments on various studio and live albums, this 2009 studio recording marks the first time the full composition has been released as Vander intended for it to be heard. As it was written alongside the rest of Magma’s classic works, Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré measures up quite well to zeuhl landmarks like Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh, although it falls short of the standard set by 2004’s K.A (another piece written in the 1970s but not recorded and released until some 30 years later). Even though he’s in his 60s, Vander is a physically dominating presence behind the drums, and Magma’s two basses—one in a typical electric bass register and one in a much higher range—contribute to a constant groove and a propulsive drive. The melodic elements of the music are dominated by a battery of vocalists, who largely sing in harmony, with a few solos here and there. What other melody instruments are present are subservient to the almighty voice: The electric guitar, for instance, merely doubles or accents the vocal lines throughout the composition. Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré is written in four movements, two long and frenetic sections sandwiched by a pair of shorter, calmer parts. Parts II and III comprise a half-hour of action-packed zeuhl: tons of bass, vocals that alternate between heavenly and militant, manic drumming in unpredictable and ever-shifting time signatures, and insistent repetition. Magma may still be recording music written decades ago, but it’s a beast at its core.