(All Album Reviews by maribor)
If Magma created the template for zeuhl with MDK, they decided on a new direction here. MDK has loads of rich, multi-layered chants, battle horns and manic drumming, while Köhntarkösz is a more laid back and meditative album. It's all done more simplistically and it's very basic, but it's just as effective. On this album, Vander gathered a smaller group of musicians round himself than on their previous effort. The musicians here play instruments that are fairly typical for rock music. This record is obviously hugely important to its creator, because Magma still plays the title piece at many a concert. For a long time, I couldn't see what the hype was about this effort, it didn't really do it for me, but as it happens with lots of albums that I now love, it really started to grow on me.
The album kicks off with some powerful chords on the organ, which are accompanied by some fine drumming. Blasquiz and Top soon join in on vocals and bass. The tempo is fairly slow and the melody goes around in circles. Slowly, there is some development, when some other instruments join in. The piano takes on the role of leading keyboard, while the organ is relegated to individual solos, which remind of the Canterbury style playing (Caravan, Soft Machine). To make things more interesting, Stella joins in on the vocals. There is a strong influence of minimalism felt, because the melodies are repetitive and pretty basic, but not simple because the time signatures and rhythms are quite complex. The music is compact and despite the apparent simplicity very challenging. Blasquiz's falsetto and Stella's sensual voice accompanied by the piano takes us into the second part, which begins with the same piano melody that finished off the first piece. In this part as well, it takes a while for things to get going, however once instruments start joining in and the melodies get developed. The organ again reminds me of Canterbury, although a darker version of it. Vander's playing is very competent, if a little restrained. It's as if he was simply waiting to explode. And at about six minutes into the second part, the explosion finally happens and Vander gets his chance for some jazz-rock drumming acrobatics. The composition becomes much livelier with this change in rhythm, however the melody stays the same, except that the drums are busier and the bass heavier. Towards the end, Vander even gets his only solo vocal spot on the album and how well he handles it. I've always been a big fan of his voice and he comes up trumps here. It's short but sweet! This epic finishes with Blasquiz's Buddhist chanting, which occasionally even reminds of a didgeridoo.
“Ork Alarm” is the only song on the album not written by Vander, that honour goes to Top. The song is about the attack of the people of Ork (?). Top develops a similar theme to that on “De Futura” (Üdü Wüdü), except that here he also plays a cello. There is basically just one melody in this song, which seems almost unfinished or just poorly done. On Üdü Wüdü, Top perfected his ideas more, here he only had one idea, and even that seems unfinished and too repetitive. “Ork Alarm” finishes with some manic laughter by Top (probably). “Coltrane Sundia” (Coltrane rest in peace) is a beautiful lament in honour of jazz legend John Coltrane, Vander's favourite composer. It's one of very few instrumentals by Magma (no vocals, imagine that) and sort of hints of the style that would follow on Ẁurdah Ïtah (acoustic piano in the forefront, similar chord sequences). The piano here is probably played by Vander himself, seeing as it's a personal and emotional piece.
The “Köhntarkösz” composition was originally split into two parts and put on different sides of the vinyl edition. This was due to time constraints of vinyl (similar to ELP's Brain Salad Surgery). On the CD, the running order is finally correct and the two pieces follow each other. Unfortunately they still don't segue into one another, as is the case with live versions, but no matter. The live versions may be more dynamic and forceful, but this rendition has a grace, calmness and transcendence that the live ones simply lack.
Köhntarkösz truly contains cosmic music from another planet. The album is more repetitive and spiritual than any other from this band. As far as complexity of playing goes, this isn't among their more difficult efforts (sometimes only a few chords are repeated on piano), but there are plenty of tempo, rhythm and time signature and arrangement changes. The record may not be versatile enough for every progressive rock fan, but it is definitely something new and different. To me this is a top-notch album, albeit not their best. As the translation of the name zeuhl says, this really is celestial music. More so than any other Magma record.