Magma @ The Mod Club in Toronto, 20 August 2017

Sometimes progressive rock feels too limiting a label for an infinitely innovative collective credited with introducing unorthodox and challenging elements to music. One such act is cult legend Magma, formed in France in 1969 by the ambitious Christian Vander. Vander took Magma one step beyond other musicians at the time by creating his own language for his lyrics, Kobaïan, an amalgamation of Germanic and Slavic languages. Magma’s opulent music inspired the microgenre zeuhl (the Kobaïan word for ‘celestial’), adopted by bands that musically lace up Magma’s boots. Fans of these Parisians are lucky to see them return for a second show so rapidly, following their debut appearance live in Toronto just last year. Testament to the fact that they are more than just a band to see live and strike off your ‘seen live’ list, The Mod Club is bustling this Sunday evening.

Tonight’s show will not be the usual prog experience. Starting with 2009’s ‘Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré‘ release, Magma call forth their grandiose intergalactic rock opera. The most pertinent feature is the wholesome and dense sound of the three vocalists; punters distrust their ears as it sounds like there should be a whole gospel choir to match this quality. Vocalists Stella Vander and Isabelle Feuillebois in particular utilize their higher registers, entirely untouched by age and a distilled delight to listen to. Enriching this sound is a pair of colourful keyboards, a bass and a guitar scribbling their own rule book as they go along, and classically trained drummer Christian Vander holding the compositions together with heavy jazz-inspired drumming. The sum of these parts is a rare concoction of classical, jazz fusion, martial, soul, symphonic rock and beyond.

The concepts behind Magma’s albums begin with the eponymous debut (aka ‘Kobaïa’), developing around a sect of humanity who seek to colonize a new planet, Kobaïa, where they can coexist harmoniously with nature and advanced technology with the hopes of circumventing Earth’s inevitable Anthropocene demise. After rescuing a space craft from Earth, the Earth-bound beg the Kobaïans to save them from their man-made destruction. Their high concept sci-fi is reflected gorgeously in their compositions, filled with theatrical wonder, pensiveness and drama in a cosmic vessel. The music is so intricate with bipolar time signature changes, alternations between the repetitive and the unleashed, and imperial elegance. Individually, each instrumentation seems like it could not be built into a well-functioning song but Magma achieves the difficult. The only setback of the night is a technical issue that temporarily pauses the set but the band continues unhampered.

The set really gets juicy when they launch into their most popular album that truly introduced their iconic sound to the world, ‘Mëkanïk Dëstruktï? Kömmandöh‘. Blessed with flawless sound, these French men and women have the audience in the palm of their hands, with some attendees even dancing in the limited space they can claim in such a busy Mod Club. With little stage banter from the avant-gardists, the experience is immersive and transporting. The members are particularly dedicated to their performance, with an old school style of prudence and enthusiasm that is unreserved among many younger musicians. The final song tonight is a cover of Vander’s side project Offering’s ‘Ehn Deïss’, rounding off a night of influential, lavish and high-brow avant-prog that circumnavigates the universe for decades. Magma truly are one of a kind and anyone with a curiosity about music that spits in the face of boundaries and genres should investigate this stellar act.