Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Christian Vander—
Tristan Et Yseult


Released 1974 on Barclay
The Seth Man, September 2000ce
Although credited solely to Magma’s percussive high priest Christian Vander, this soundtrack from a film version of the tragic love and death myth of Tristan and Isolde is practically a Magma album as three other members of that mighty French ensemble appear alongside Vander: vocalist ‘Tauhd Zaia Uniweria Zekt’ (Stella Vander), vocalist and percussionist ‘Klotsz Zaspiaahk Uniweria Zekt’ (Klaus Blasquiz) and the tiny yet mighty ‘Wahrgenuhr Reugehlem Esteh’ (Jannick Top) on bass. Released between “Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh” and “Kohntarkosz,” “Tristan et Yseult” barely sounds like anything four mortals could ever create (let alone record) in three days time. It is a huge, euphoric and unassailable album, rendered with only one bass guitar, two pianos, percussion and a chorus of four voices into a sweeping epic, a master tapestry of ever-shifting rhythms and tempos whose highly charged intensity is matched only by karate-like precision that continues unabated, interrupted only by the limitations of its album sides. “Wurdah Itah” is the sprawling, umbrella-titled epic that holds a separate movement per side into a total of twelve linked songs. The entire album is a series of portals and passages that open up at both ends and freely discharge all manner of small yet intense vignettes stitched together and played with strenuously Spartan vigour. The battering of pianos, drums, and senses cascade in and out of freak storm wormholes into calming, airy stretches, but the album is so unpredictable, there’s no telling whether the sky will remain clear or suddenly downpour. This is probably some of the loudest and most strident trance music ever recorded, and the constant falling away and building of ever increasing and decreasing volumes, tempos and dynamics swirl near out of control like a full-tilt Wagnerian rollercoaster ride.

The incantation “Mala Welekaahm” is the first of six songs on side one where all tracks flow eternally into each other, guided only by the ever-watchful choral that operates as a compass over the tow-headed thunderclouds of rumbling pianos and zig-zagging bass that mesh together over the lightly attended percussion. Canticles are woven in and out into the entire piano and percussion dominated pieces, and there are as many builds as there are collapses. Suddenly, brutish tom toms beat out and march off to war against an army of raised fists, its Sturm und Drang underlined heavily in oversized red magic marker with a rousing chant. The lyrics would be totally alien if it were not the manner in which they are controlled, making a Kobaian/English phrasebook completely unnecessary. Drums and vocals then stab out in right angles, and the choral is harmonizing not so much in words, but with the spirits of ever-changing winds and the beating of their own hearts. It’s now a raging river, and it’s penetrating the deepest gullies and the highest rivulets, and “Fur Di Hel Kobaia” sees the four musicians singing praise to their eternal homeland of Kobaia after an ever-escalating choral that builds into a beautiful Goddess address euphony led by Stella Vander, the chorus finally assembled on the windy heights of “Wohl Dunt Mem Deweless” that concludes side one.

Side two opens to the flapdoodle of “WAINSAHT!!!” with Christian Vander’s blood vessel-bursting gibbering, punctuated by slams on the piano, drums and chains. “Wlasik Steuhn Kobaia” drifts by, all vertigo-inducing double piano segments with counterpoint yo-yoing bass lines from Jannik Top. “Sehnnteht Dros Wurdah Sums,” “Ciest La Vie Qui Les A Menes La!” and “Ek Sun Da Zess?” all merge into each others as call and response chorales, saber dancing drums and piano riffs all combined with a near Dervish zeal and whip into a froth that builds, falls away yet always returns. “De Undazir” is the final assault, a juggernauting regiment of Templar Knights on the move while little Jannick Top holds down all of their strategically, Pentagrammatically laid out fortresses with his understated yet ever-growling and pulsating heart bass ardently holds its ground as the choral weave all around him. His bass is all-squalling under the tempestuousness of this continually building track, punctuated only by a singularly struck bell accenting the approaching tragedies of star-crossed love. Unbelievably, the four people from Magma manage to land this gigantic piece safely pre- fade out, but they could have just as easily taken it beyond another mere album side and into the heavens back to their home base of Kobaia.