also by Vangelis:
"Heaven and Hell" showcases a side of Vangelis that many who know him for his electronic film soundscapes will not be familiar with, that of the modern classical composer. Fat keyboard sounds play a big part in creating his big orchestral palette here, but the liberal use of percussion and choir place this closer to the arty prog / classical crossover. Not that it needs a genre, it's just plainly accomplished composing and arranging. Emerson, Lake and Palmer tried to make music as good as this a few times but exploded in a bloat of egos.
The suite on side one is unashamedly theatrical, opening with bombastic unison stabs from the synth and choir (Bacchanale). It continues with a savagely Germanic-sounding percussion-heavy bash-fest, like something out of "Carmina Burana". Or even, with the syllabic choral chanting, like a saner version of French prog nutters Magma. Piano plays a big part in the centre section (Symphony to the Powers B), no Rachmaninov slush but more of a spiky Prokofiev toccata feel. A simply beautiful moment on the album comes when the closing section (Movement 3) emerges from the quiet darkness, an elegant, restrained two-chord crescendo over a gentle cascade of strings. This piece is often labelled on compilations as the music from Carl Sagan's BBC TV series "Cosmos".
"So Long Ago So Clear" to me is an delicately attractive centrepiece, featuring Jon Anderson's distinctive stratospheric vocals, although it may be too saccharine for some. It's among the best of Jon and Vangelis's collaborations, distilling their joint talents for ethereal balladry into a perfectly-rounded song, with only the barest amount of sentimental cheese. The perfect pace and dynamics of Vangelis's instrumental middle section, leading back into a wistful reprise, brings to mind the section from Love Theme from Blade Runner.
The symphonic excesses of the first side are ingeniously coupled with some more abstract sound painting on the back. The colourful intro to part II, entitled "Intestinal Bat", evokes nocturnal wildlife much more than the digestive system. Its sinister squeaks bring to mind small fleeting shadows and pairs of glowing eyes. A percussively rattling "Needles and Bones" leads to a great piece of musical theatre "12 O'Clock". Here the placid choir successfully hold back a violent intrusion of percussion, concluded with a calm and triumphant aria from vocalist Vana Veroutis. And if you haven't had enough of the tribal savagery from Part One, there's a rousing march "Aries" to finish with, eventually washed away by the meditative "A Way".
Highly recommended to anyone interested in rich, colourful symphonic music.
December 14, 2004