(All Album Reviews by maribor)
All songs written and arranged by Vangelis, except lyrics for “So Long Ago” by Jon Anderson
Vangelis – keyboards, percussion
Jon Anderson – lead vocals (So Long Ago, So Clear)
English Chamber Choir – vocals
Vana Veroutis – lead female vocal
Vangelis, the Greek composer and one of the originators of progressive music, is one of the musicians, who puts out consistently good records. But I never expected to be this surprised by a record as this. I’ve owned this album for quite a long time but I never really liked it. I took it out again after a year or so and suddenly it clicked with me. I don’t know why. Perhaps because I’ve discovered so many other sub-genres in progressive music that I wouldn’t care for several years back. Now that I’ve discovered “strange” bands (in a positive sense), like Magma, Univers Zero,… I was ready for this jewel in his repertoire. You didn’t expect to hear Vangelis mentioned with Magma, did you? But this album has more in common with the French band than just the occasional weirdness.
The album kicks off with an intense combination of fusion keyboards (electric piano) and symphonic elements (operatic choir and his trademark synthesizers). One could almost describe this opening passage as avant-garde or even zeuhl. There are many elements that would fit in the zeuhl genre: the repetitive electric piano melody, the crazy and almost dissonant operatic vocals, the percussion is also very well done considering Vangelis did all of it himself, the only element missing is the throbbing bass. So, Vangelis as a lost zeuhl artist? Well, the first part continues with that dark mystical atmosphere that is so often used in zeuhl. Some unusual synthesizer melodies are combined with typical Vangelis passages and this time a more harmonious sounding choir. Vangelis switches from the electric to the normal piano but it still continues with the same interesting zeuhl-like patterns. I think Vangelis wasn’t really consciously trying to sound like the zeuhl bands of the time. He simply combined his many interests: his love of contemporary and traditional classical music, jazz, his love of various different percussion instruments (such as the glockenspiel or xylophone, cymbals, various drums,…), symphonic rock, opera,… and it all turns out rather similar to that fringe genre of progressive rock that most people love to hate – zeuhl. I for one love it. And I am really fascinated by this album. It is quite different from any other Vangelis record. Towards the end of the first part, this Greek composer switches to pure symphonic with some nice piano and synthesizer work. He creates beautiful pictures with his many different sounds. Then at the very end this symphonic passage drifts into the beautiful “So long ago, so clear” sung by Jon Anderson, who also wrote the lyrics for it.
The second part opens with an eerie and dark segment, reminiscent perhaps of Univers Zero, though this was done before Univers Zero even existed. It seems like the song is at a standstill but it starts moving with a wonderful passage that combines elements of symphonic and Greek folk music. It’s a highly melodic segment, yet the ominous feeling still remains, perhaps even increases. It almost sounds like an infernal dance. Well, the album is called Heaven and Hell. But what parts are supposed to be Heaven and what Hell? Or are heaven and hell one and the same? I better leave these kinds of debates to theologians and philosophers - back to the music. After the infernal dance (or heavenly) finishes, the pace slows down again and the choir makes an appearance after a long time chanting a sad song. Then, there is a passage that resembles the chaotic “Waiting Room” from the Genesis album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. You can just feel the waste and despair oozing from this segment. The choir returns to its chant, as a sort of quiet after the storm. Vangelis incorporates bells and keyboards into the chant to create an almost church-like atmosphere. The female soloist Vana Veroutis sings a lament on top of the choir to add extra drama. After this somber part is over, there is a more typical Vangelis segment with lots of catchy melodies played on the synthesizer, there is again some very tasty percussion work playing a supporting role to the keyboards. Vangelis concludes this wonderful piece with another quiet lament, which rather unceremoniously fades out at the end.
Vangelis truly is a one-man orchestra. He uses exactly the right sounds at exactly the right moments. Although the synthesizers were still very limited at that time, it seems that Vangelis had more sounds at his disposal than any other keyboard player. He employed his many talent to the best of his abilities on this album. Some may find it strange. It is strange, and it is different from all his other work but it’s also his most original record to date, I think. For those of you who are more adventurous, I urge you to try this. I can’t pinpoint what style this album belongs to because there are so many different genres included, from zeuhl, avant-garde, symphonic, electronic. It’s an album that cannot be defined. Try it for yourself and see if you can define it. I defy anyone to define this great album
9 out of 10.