I came late to the wonder that is Magma, my musical tastes developing as I got older, looking for more challenging listening. Magma fitted the bill perfectly. I purchased a number of their albums and they really spoke to me. As my collection grew I was fortunate enough to get to see then live in their native France. My great friend Jez and I travelled to Saint Amand les Eaux near Lille – through some heavy snow – during January 2013 to witness the most astonishing gig in a lovely theatre. It was here that we finally got what Magma is all about, but asked to explain it, it is still very hard to put into words. From the feelings you experience, you just know.
This album is the remastered edition of Retrospektïw I & II and Retrospektïw III which were originally two separate releases, but have been brought together for this edition with a bonus unreleased track. These recordings document the tenth anniversary of Magma concerts that took place at the Olympia, Paris on the 9th, 10th and 11th June 1980, and were recorded across the three memorable evenings. It brought together most of the musicians who had been part of the group up to that point, an impressive list in breadth and skill alone, each one having their part to tell within the Magma story.
On the original 1981 releases, Retrospektïw I & II, with its black sleeve, contained two tracks, Theusz Hamtaahk (its first appearance on any recording at the time) and Mëkanik Dëstruktïw Kömmandöh (this version differing from the original as synths replace the horns), and Retrospecktïw III had a red sleeve and featured three tracks, Retrovision, Hhaï and La Dawotsin. The unreleased track added to this edition is Retrovision -Prima Materia-.
Now, I guess most readers of this review will be familiar with Magma’s work, so maybe the focus should be on what this new reissue offers in the way of sound quality over and above the original releases. To these aged ears there is a definite improvement in the overall sound. Space is given to all the instruments in the mix with excellent vocal balance also. A special note is needed for the clear and punchy sound of Vander’s drums. The excellent bass work shines through and demonstrates how important that instrument is to the Magma sound. We get controlled yet powerful performances that threaten to leapfrog your speakers and create mayhem, but all the time the band demonstrates their skill at holding it together, which allows these complex arrangements to shine through.
The band tears through the first three tracks, with wonderfully powerful renditions of Theusz Hamtaahk and Mëkanik Dëstruktïw Kömmandöh. Following Retrovision, the version of Hhaï is almost sublime, Vander’s wonderful and often underrated vocals shining through. There is great support from the bass and keyboards as the tension builds, adding to that a superb violin solo from Didier Lockwood plus a musical interchange with the keyboards to offer another standout track. La Dawotsin is full of energy and enthusiasm in its brief (in Magma terms) four minutes.
This brings us to the bonus track, Retrovision -Prima Materia-. There is no studio version of this song. The start contains the same structure as Retrovision and the similarities are there to hear, before the song begins to find its own way, guitar-led with some wonderful bass supporting Vander’s drums. The pace and tightness of the bass and drums from the eight minute mark is nothing short of astonishing, this is another song that shows what Magma do so well and is a worthy inclusion. Although I personally don’t think this track alone would be the selling point over the originals, it would have more to do with the overall quality of the music and the improved sound quality of the whole package.
This is a nicely improved package of two classic releases with much enhanced sound quality, which would – and should – appeal to fans and collectors, but there is also more than enough here to introduce new listers to the magnificence that is Magma.
01. Theusz Hamtaahk (36:05)
02. Mëkanik Dëstruktïw Kömmandöh (40:06)
03. Retrovision (18:13)
04. Hhaï (13:27)
05. La Dawotsïn (4:12)
~ Bonus Track:
06. Retrovision -Prima Materia- (15:23)
Total Time – 127:26
Christian Vander – Drums, Vocals
Klaus Blasquiz – Vocals
Stella Vander – Vocals
Liza Deluxe – Vocals
Maria Popkiewicz – Vocals
Claire Laborde – Vocals
Carol Rowley – vocals
Guy Khalifa – Vocals
René Garber – First Lieutenant
Benoit Widemann – Fender Piano, Keyboards
Patrick Gauthier – Fender Piano, Keyboards
Jean-Pierre Fouquey – Fender Piano
Andre Hervé – Fender Piano
Didier Lockwood – Violin
Jean-Luc Chevalier – Bass Guitar
Gabriel Federal – Guitar
Francois Haizeau – Percussion
Dominique Bertram – Bass
Michel Hervé – Bass
Bernard Paganotti – Bass
Record Label: Seventh Records
Country of Origin: France
Date of Release: 25th January 2021