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Vangelis - Heaven And Hell CD (album) cover

HEAVEN AND HELL

Vangelis

 

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3.83 | 216 ratings

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Frankingsteins
4 stars Evanghelos Odyssey Papathanassiou is an electronic composer, by which I mean he is a composer of synthesised music from keyboards, samplers and other circuitry-based instruments, and not a kind of android. Beginning his solo career with loose, lengthy jazz-influenced pieces, 1975 saw the shift to the bombastic synthesised grandeur for which he is most commonly known, with the classic album 'Heaven and Hell.'

Despite being a rather obvious concept, Vangelis' musical rendition of heaven and hell is unique, despite owing a large debt to classical composers such as Mussorgsky, Wanger, Holst and anyone else who attempted to orchestrate armageddon. Powerful and booming one moment and blissfully contented the next, 'Heaven and Hell' is presented as a two-part suite, a remnant of double-sided LPs, interrupted only by the first collaboration between Vangelis and Yes vocalist Jon Anderson.

HEAVEN AND HELL, PART ONE

i) Bacchanale (4:40) ii) Symphony to the Powers B (8:18) iii) Movement 3 (4:03) iv) So Long Ago, So Clear (5:00)

It's tempting to label part one 'Heaven' and part two 'Hell,' as the opening movements of each track seem to suggest this, but the shifts to melodies and orchestration that sound respectively sombre, regretful, ecstatic and crazy make such a distinction seem less likely. The first part opens with the English Chamber Choir chanting in tune with the keyboards before the music veers off at the wild, exciting tangent of 'Bacchanale.'

'Symphony to the Powers B' is a lengthy but progressive and involving track that makes full use of the choir, a synthesised organ and increasingly loud and powerful instrumentation before fading into silence for the gradual build-up of the relaxing, spacey and popular third movement, lifted with Vangelis' permission for the late seventies television series 'Cosmos.'

Led by a light, uplifting piano, this is the earliest origin of the tune Vangelis perfected/ruined (a decision usually based on whether one is a Vangelis acolyte or not) with his Oscar-winning score to 'Chariots of Fire.' This long-running experiment continued, to a lesser extent, with 'To the Unknown Man' from 1977's 'Spiral.' Memorable and instantly loveable, this song clearly shows the transition from chaos to paradise. 'So Long Ago, So Clear' is a bit of a departure, Anderson's androgynous vocals fitting the airy, light notes perfectly, but despite this being a high point of the album for many listeners I find it a little too out of place in the context.

HEAVEN AND HELL, PART TWO

i) Intestinal Bat (3:18) ii) Needles and Bones (3:22) iii) 12 O'Clock (8:48) iv) Aries (2:05) v) A Way (3:45)

Part two provides, as is common with lengthy, full-album musical ideas, a less ordered and seemingly more random collection of sounds and styles. The bizarre but brilliant 'Intestinal Bat' and the dingy 'Needles and Bones' are hellish as far as their uneasy lack of coherence goes, but don't convey any sense of pain or misery - Vangelis' squeaky refrains are actually quite fun.

'12 O'Clock' is often found on Vangelis collections, a return to the peaceful sound of Movement 3 but perhaps outstaying its welcome at nine minutes. The choir return for the final couple of tracks, but oddly the ending of the album disappoints somewhat; a piano fades out sweetly, but due to the limitations of the electronic, instrumental format it's difficult to see exactly what Vangelis is trying to show us.

Although the earlier 'Earth' and his work with Aphrodite's Child was important in defining electronic music as a genre, 'Heaven and Hell' marks an important step in Vangelis' music. This is epic stuff that demonstrates the versatility of synthesisers, but fans of classical and other traditional musical forms will probably be disappointed. 'Heaven and Hell' was the first and, for a while, last album of its type, as Vangelis tried a more restrained spacey style with more jazz influence in the following year's 'Albedo 0.39,' even seemingly sparring with fellow electronic composer Jean-Michel Jarre's sudden success by releasing the catchy but less accomplished 'Spiral' in '77.

Fans of the later 'Blade Runner' soundtrack, arguably Vangelis' best work, should admire this early attempt at depicting gloom and bliss, and unlike the work of Jarre there is a real emotion that can be felt behind all the clever sampler gizmos. Vangelis doesn't always impress, but his discography is fascinating and varied - those fond of complicated, multi-layered keyboard 'soundscapes' would also enjoy the later albums 'Mask' and 'The City' as well as his soundtracks to '1492 - Conquest of Paradise' and the afore-mentioned 'Blade Runner.'

Not to everyone's taste, but 'Heaven and Hell' balances a pretentious attempt to describe the afterlife with imperfect keyboard technology and a fun, mad, thoughtful forty-minute musical journey. Vangelis thankfully avoids specifics that could bog down the music, leading to the bizarre movement titles: this wouldn't be as enjoyable an album if it were labelled 'the River Styx,' 'God' etc.

Is this what Dante or Bosch would have done if they'd had a Moog? I suppose not.

Frankingsteins | 4/5 |

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