DRUMMER CHRISTIAN VANDER founded the French progressive rock outfit Magma in the late '60s, taking his inspiration from what he saw as the rapid degradation of the environment and, with it, man's spiritual connection to the planet. Through that lens, Vander and an assortment of other likeminded freaks and deposed jazzbos conjured up a multi-album science-fiction epic that spoke to class disparities and ecological breakdown. In their musical saga, the rich vacate Earth, leaving the lower classes to suffer the consequences—all to the tune of grinding King Crimson-esque jazz-rock capped with operatic vocals sung in Kobaïan, Vander's self-made phonetic language.
If that description doesn't scare you away from looking for an entry point into the world of Magma, your best bet is the group's 1978 album, Attahk. Known primarily for its distinctive H.R. Giger cover art, Attahk could be viewed as the most accessible record Magma ever made, with downright poppy tunes like the soulful "Dondaï (to an Eternal Love)" and a marked gospel influence. But through it all, Magma's vocalists (including Vander's wife, Stella) ululate and screech as if channeling Captain Howdy.
The band is currently celebrating its 45th anniversary and still has a sizeable fanbase throughout Europe, but Magma never achieved much more than cult success here in the States. They've played on this side of the Atlantic before—most notably at a stop at the Newport Jazz Festival in New York in 1973, backed up by jazz fusion artists Randy and Michael Brecker—but Magma's performance at the Aladdin Theater on Saturday will be their first time ever playing for a Portland audience.
This is the group that Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky had in mind to provide some of the music for his aborted film adaptation of Dune. If you're at all familiar with the cinematic mindfuck that was planned, that alone should pique your interest in seeing what sort of musical sorcery these wild and woolly French madmen have in store.