Attahk is the sound of a Magma allegedly more influenced by late ’70s pop trends such as disco, funk, contemporary R&B, with the caveat that such things (or at least their antecedents) might have played a role in shaping Magma’s initial signature sound. Does it mean anything that I can use to successfully interpret local musical developments? Not really, but it might be worth investigating if you have the resources to do so. I find that Attahk is structurally more accessible than most Magma recordings due to its shorter tracks, but otherwise doesn’t seem too out of field.
Magma does, however, end up more upbeat and manic than average. This is mostly a case of tempo; Attahk doesn’t peak as fast as some of the other tracks throughout Magma’s discography, but it’s more consistently rapid than their average album even when you allow for ballads. The condensed songs probably made it easier for the band to pull this off, but even then, the Magma of 1977 was an experienced band with a good deal of performing and gigging experience under their belts. Given that Magma spends a lot of this album exploring their “funky flow”, some velocity kind of comes in handy, although luckily for listeners this doesn’t prevent them from exploring a lot of the progressive rock ideas that permeate their discography. It does, however, mean that this album is rather less militant than something like Wurdah Itah.
That Attahk explores the excesses of the ’70s is with its ups and downs. At its worst, it results in abject filler like “Dondai”, which is a sugar-coated turd of a track for any band; I pity musicians whose entire output is in such a saccharine style. The rest of this album is better at employing some of the same elements, perhaps because they’re restrained a bit. It does result in a few particularly wacky excursions, but ironically, some of these tracks are strengthened by their oddities, like the goofy pseudo-disco of “Liriik Necronomicus Kanht”. That one has a strong rhythmic section backing it up and showcases yet another strength of this era of Magma – especially virtuoso bass, which backs up skilled play with a tone that’s actually influenced my ideas about how such an instrument should sound in my own work.
I’m definitely going to recommend this album, although some prognards (hurr) might have some issues with how it’s constructed, and how it’s admittedly less elaborate than most of Magma’s work. You won’t find this to be a problem, will you?
Highlights: “The Last Seven Minutes”, “Liriik Necronomicus Kanht”, “Maahnt”
Years spent in the Neal Stephenson fandom have taught me that the guy has two distinct modes as an author of fiction. His most famous voice is his philosophical one, dedicated more towards ideas than plot and notable in such works as Cryptnomicon, the Baroque Cycle, Anathem, etc. Stephenson does, however, have some action/suspense oriented writing to his name; Snow Crash and Reamde come to mind and don’t exactly read like philosophical fiction. Seveneves fits the latter, being slightly terse and markedly darker than average, and therefore presumably being a couple of notches downwick of the Hylaean theoric world.
A quick disclaimer: Seveneves is not canonically related to Anathem or its concepts beyond it sharing an author.
Anyways, Seveneves leads off with the shattering of Earth’s moon, which over the first half of the book or so disintegrates into a cloud of rocks that rain down on Earth and kill almost the entire population, with the exception of a few desperate survival schemes. Most of the book focuses on the development of the “Cloud Ark” – a huge collection of small space habitats centered around the International Space Station – and the people that come to inhabit it. Things go especially wrong for it considering that this is a Stephenson book – construction accidents and internecine political conflicts lead to all sorts of Ark-threatening events and make some of the terrible things Stephenson has put his characters through in previous works (Daniel Waterhouse’s kidney stones, Zula Forthrast’s kidnapping, etc.) seem light in comparison. That humanity pulls through such a crisis is part of the book’s marketing, but I spent much of the tense middle wondering how they would do so and/or shocked at how they were killed off.
The last third of the book is separated from this suffering and tribulation by 5,000 years, and depicts a society very different from ours; their culture derived from video recordings of the Cloud Ark, and their genetic material deliberately altered in the name of surviving the difficult conditions of space habitats. The species’ population has by then recovered enough for political fragmentation to alter how they deal with the revival of the Earth, which makes for refreshing reading after the doom and gloom of the first part. I personally would’ve liked to see more of the book set in this future; what I read about these people was fascinating, but in many ways only scratched the surface of what this sort of world was like. After all, this sort of world-building is one of my favorite aspects of science fiction literature.
If you’re already used to Neal Stephenson’s idiosyncrasies, there’s a good chance you’ve already read this book, and you probably should if you haven’t, since it hits most of the same notes while working in more action and drama than usual. For the rest of our species – this book is indeed fairly representative of his style, although the characterization seems more developed, perhaps due to some of the subjects this book deals with. It also stars Neil DeGrasse Tyson in all but name; if that doesn’t sway you, your mental defenses are stronger than perhaps desired by the corporate elites of society.
Still quite early in Queen’s career – Queen II is like Queen I, except more so, containing the same sort of glam rock with occasional excursions into heavy metal and progressive rock. The differences really just come down to a larger budget for recording and a year or so worth of extra experience, although there are some tracks here whose origins date back to the band’s early days (notably ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’, which was first hinted at on the last album). Never underestimate what money and experience can do for a band.
Queen II has a pretty sharp and acknowledged split between its two ‘sides’, even beyond that implied by the physical characteristics of the original vinyl. The first side (“White”) is more standard ’70s rock and proto-metal, while side two (“Black”) is more experimental and fantasy/mythology/prog flavored. Important elements of the band’s sound make the jump between halves – frequent guitar leads, tons of studio overdubbing, Freddie Mercury, and so forth, so it’s not like listening to two different bands. Side one does feature lead vocal contributions from guitarist Brian May and Roger Taylor, though, so it’d probably just barely win the variety competition if there was one. Either way, the slightly more normal first side and greater conceptual unity (and seguefaulting) of the second side make for markedly different listening experiences.
Ultimately, I think the shared elements are more important to understanding Queen, at least in this relatively early and formative era of their career. Typical of a lot of the prog bands of this era, Queen relies pretty heavily on dense instrumentation, although that’s mostly achieved by ornamenting with overdubs and doesn’t stop the occasional sparser and more conventional blues-rock number like “The Loser In The End” from ending the first side of the album. Compositions are also elaborate to a degree, even the shorter ones; this is especially important because Queen doesn’t write particularly long songs. 5-6 minutes seems to be, with admitted exceptions on other, later albums, their general upper limit. That Queen manages to keep their signatures intact in a sea of stylistic experimentation (That’s either the third or fourth sea of Rhye, I think), especially without extending their songs to enormous lengths is one of their strengths; not a great deal of bands can say they incorporate asides into their music without losing their own identity. Not even my go-to band for this sort of technique really pulls that off!
In the end, I kind of regret writing this article before remembering how important Queen was to forming my musical tastes. I may have written about the nostalgia angle (A Night At The Opera was the first independent, self-driven record acquisition I made), but I can hear hints of their approaches in so many of the albums I’ve written about for Invisible Blog. Not that Queen’s musical ideas on Queen II were entirely and utterly original, but they are worth a look.
Highlights: “Father to Son”, “Ogre Battle”, “The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke”