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Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh (MDK) is an album released by French progressive rock band Magma in 1973. MDK is Magma’s most famous and stylistically acclaimed record; and although it has not become a commercial success, the band continues to present this ‘classic’ or ‘symphonic rock’ material to audiences. Magma’s original recording of MDK was refused by their record company at the time, it was later published as Mekanïk Kommandöh.
MDK is a song-cycle for small choir with baritone soloist accompanied by a jazz ensemble (including brass/woodwind choir) doubling on orchestral percussion. The sound of MDK is fantastically original- yet also ironically, even perversely traditional- because to a large degree MDK’s sound is aggressively Teutonic due in large part to the use of antecedents found in Carl Orff’s faux-antique Carmina Burana song cycle, particularly the extensive percussion resources. Further contributing to this powerful effect is MDK’s orchestral foundation contrasting a variety of separate choirs. The primary choir is ‘mixed voices’- primarily mezzos, sometimes subdivided- and a second choir of mixed horns and woodwinds. Above all is the arresting vocal sound- an almost unique blend of techniques from both the European operatic and Afro-gospel vocal traditions- which gives this music its dramatic ‘Heroic‘ character.
MDK incorporates the Carmina’s percussive orchestra with other rhythmic developments of 20th-century art-music (the use of piano as a percussion sound, syncopated rhythmic “phasing”) within the larger form of a song cycle, i.e., a suite of unified and seamless music sung attacca– without audible breaks between the named sections. The effect sculpts a complex, angular and at times ecstatically propulsive orchestral sound especially suited to the oppressive and militaristic storylines of what is a desperately dystopian tale. This martial sound even projects something of the essential aggression and savagery found in later “Black/Death Metal” styles. Consider MDK’s delirious falsettos and obsessive, growling repetitions of distorted rhythmic cells– as well the Middle-European mass of the composer’s synthetic Kobaian language as embodied by his choir- against any other music of alienation.
Throughout these novel riches and depths MDK remain essentially a cabaret piece, presentable onstage by less than a dozen people. European art-song elements fuse over light ‘electric-jazz’ textures, with crisp yet momentary energetic rock strophes. Composer Vander credits the “spiritual” aspect of John Coltrane‘s output as his primary inspiration, and the MDK choirs are nothing if not volcanic. Yet apart from a similarly essential, broad and quite idiosyncratic virtuosity, MDK’s sound is essentially a melodic one-and more reminiscent of some of Miles Davis’ “Bitches’ Brew” benedictions, than any of Coltrane’s celebratory catharses.
As with most of composer Christian Vander‘s apocalyptic music, Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh is sung completely in his synthetic language Kobaïan. MDK is story of the prophet ‘Nebehr Güdahtt’ who delivers to the people of the Earth this insight: If they want to be saved from themselves, they must morally cleanse themselves to worship of the Kobaïan supreme being, ‘Kreuhn Kohrmahn’, by learning sacred “Zeuhl Wortz” music (already wildly popular on Kobaïa, of course). In response to this blatant cultural imperialism the people of the Earth initially march against Güdahtt, but slowly like any true believer Güdahtt attracts enough of a base of adherents to survive, to sing the Kobaian music.
MDK is conceptually the last movement of the trilogy “Theusz Hamtaahk“, nevertheless it was the first of them to be released. The second, “Ẁurdah Ïtah” was released in 1974, and the first, “Theusz Hamtaahk” – which apparently translates to “Time Of Hatred” and narrates a period of fanatical demands between Kobaïa and Earth – has been part of Magma’s live repertoire since the 1970s and has so far only been released on live recordings, first on Retrospektiw (Parts I+II) in 1981.
This story follows a Kobaïan party sent to Earth in order to bring the enlightenment achieved on Kobaïa to the rest of Humanity. The reaction to the Kobaïans’ message is mixed, and Earth authorities arrest the party, causing Kobaïa to declare war and threaten to make use of their ultimate weapon (the Mekanïk Destruktïw Komandöh). The resolution of the trilogy remains cloudy. Some see evidence of all Earth joining in the Zeuhl Wortz, while others read evidence of Earth being destroyed. Vander’s special relationship to the Kobaian language and his unique access to the Kobaian ambassadors has not yet made the situation any more clear.