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Vangelis - Heaven And Hell CD (album) cover




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3.84 | 208 ratings

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4 stars They don't make 'em like this anymore (thankfully, a cynic might say): textbook 1970s synth- rock from the Golden Age of analog Prog, composed and performed by one of the foremost keyboard wizards of the age. Never mind the casual thematic links to the afterlife suggested by the album title and artwork (in truth it could have been named anything else and worked just as well). Enjoy instead the music in all its grandiose, overblown, and altogether irresistible glory.

Keyboard-based epics were of course not uncommon in the middle 1970s. But here the expected classical trappings run deeper than usual. Besides employing a more or less typical pre-digital wall of towering electronics, Vangelis upped the symphonic ante by adding lots of orchestral percussion (playing all the drums himself, and competently too), plus a full choir, giving each of the two long suites a dramatic intensity worthy at times of Carl Orff (imagine the 'Carmina Burana', with synthesizers).

It's true the album may sound more than a little na´ve by 21st century standards of electronic music. But that distinctive Vangelis style was something new at the time, and fairly unique among his many competitors (more about that below). It gave the Greek keyboard maestro his earliest international success, thanks in part to a later association with the popular PBS TV series 'Cosmos', and also to the ballad 'So Long Ago, So Clear', his first collaboration with kindred spirit JON ANDERSON.

The song ends Part One of the album on a note of truly celestial beauty, in a manner apparently cut from the same romantic cloth as the Anderson melody 'Soon', from the current YES album 'Relayer'. It also provided a tantalizing hint to YES fans of what the band might have sounded like if Vangelis had accepted the invitation to replace RICK WAKEMAN.

A moot point, to be sure. But ardent Progheads can't resist playing the 'what-if' game of hindsight speculation, and with that in mind 'Heaven and Hell' makes a fascinating contrast to the contemporaneous efforts of the two primary YES keyboard players. The album is nowhere near as bizarre and uneven as 'The Story of i' (the first and best PATRICK MORAZ solo work, released the following year). And its neo-classical arrangements have aged a lot better than anything RICK WAKEMAN was then playing: compare the harsh ambient intro to 'Heaven and Hell, Part Two' with the godawful classical rock of 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' (1974), a strictly guilty pleasure to even the most forgiving fan.

When heard in retrospect after more than thirty years, 'Heaven and Hell' is clearly a product of its era. But unlike a lot of once-fashionable but now dated synth-Prog artifacts it doesn't require a pair of nostalgic rose-colored headphones to make it listenable today.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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