01. Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré I (6:53)
02. Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré II (22:25)
03. Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré III (13:06)
04. Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré IV (3:54)
05. Funëhrarïum Kanht (4:19)
06. Sêhë (0:27)
- Christian Vander / drums, voices, piano, Fender Rhodes, clavinet, percussions
- Stella Vander / voices, percussions
- Isabelle Feuillebois / voices
- Hervé Aknin / voices
- Benoît Alziary / vibraphone
- James Mac Gaw / guitar
- Bruno Ruder / Fender Rhodes
- Philippe Bussonnet / bass
- Emmanuel Borghi / piano
- Himiko Paganotti, Antoine Paganotti, Claude Lamamy, Marcus Linon and Pierre-- Michel Sivadier / voices
How a 70s band that broke up in the 80s can make such an album today impresses me. ËMËHNTËHTT-RÊ (E-Re) is not only the album of the year for me, but one of the strongest musical works of the decade.
For anyone not aware of the band, Magma is an unusual band that is an acquired taste. They mix jazz fusion, progressive rock, 20th century classical music, John Coltrane-style avant-garde jazz, and opera sang in a made up language. The lineup in the two reunion albums (K.A. and E-Re) is very impressive. Mastermind and classically trained drummer Christian Vander shines once again, possibly better than ever. All vocals, including Vander's, are impeccable. The bass guitar is always imaginative and virtuosic; some of the complex bass riffs during the dark sections really bring the evil enemies of the story to life. All other musicians are great at their respective instruments, the piano being an important element in the music.
They had a positive, semi-electric, and quirky sound on their previous album, the excellent K.A. On the other hand, the sound of E-Re is quite different and more to my taste. It is darker, cinematic, mostly acoustic (drums, bass, xylophone, piano, and a multitude of vocals) with the exception of Rhodes electric piano and one electric guitar riff in pt2. All these elements combine into an album of epic proportion that was overwhelming during my first listens: I simply was exhausted after each listen. The album clicked when I got used to the busy drumming and noticed the album's perfect coherence and arrangements.
Based on a couple album reviews, I learned a deeper appreciation by having a general feeling of what the music is about. While the way I interpret the story may not coincide with the band's interpretation, it helps me follow the music:
Part 1 - The song begins with the introduction of the king, being worshipped by the masses (and possibly feared). The swirling choir work brings that image perfectly. However, during the second half of part 1, there is a clear sadness emanating from him, something that drives him to the 'Land of the Dead' in search of something. I've read from Magma fans that it involves secrets of immortality, so I assume that his sadness involves a personal loss and he wants to bring that person to life. The music seems to have a loose yet carefully structured arrangement of piano, drums and operatic female vocals.
Part 2 - has a more positive mood as the protagonist gets excited at the idea of going to the Land of the Dead and the first 15 minutes is a buildup of his determination. The 20+ minute part 2 includes a section referred to as "Hhai" during the middle, which I was aware of due to a fantastic live performance available online. I thought it was one of the most spectacular jazz-fusion performances I have ever heard. This made it hard to get used to the studio version as the mesmerizing 4-note riff driving the piece is now played with a grand piano and the synthesizer and guitar solos are gone. I believe this is for the better as this acoustic interpretation not only fits the tone of the album better, but has a stronger emotional impact. The part that has the biggest emotional impact to me is when the music gets quieter and the choirs sing the English phrase "To Believe in God." The transition to the frantic "Zombies" piece ending part 2 is a stroke of genius and these last minutes I believe are about the protagonist encountering evil beings and facing them in battle. The rhythm section manages to be both darkness and danceable funkiness at the same time. There is one particular haunting motif that is played at minutes 16 and 18 that is hard to explain but the interaction of the bass guitar and the vocals show the superior songwriting skills of Magma.
Part 3 - The way I interpret this part is as a duel against the most fearsome foe. You hear the monster showing itself in the first brooding minutes and instilling fear on the protagonist. The battle is luckily not an excuse for synthesizer/guitar dueling. This song is full of twists and turns, showing that the battle is evenly matched with each adversary having some moments when they have the upper hand. This is probably the hardest part of the album to get used to but it rewards your patience. I am impressed how evil and twisted the music can be without bordering in cheesiness. The song ends with the hero being victorious, or is he?
Part 4 - A short, restrained piece with beautiful piano playing. The king seems like he won the battle but little does he know that something (possibly the foe he defeated) deals a death blow to his surprise and then another one, killing him instantly.
The album ends with a mournful funeral procession.