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Vangelis - Heaven And Hell CD (album) cover




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3.84 | 222 ratings

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4 stars Best two bucks I ever spent? Probably.

Modern popular music has all but abandoned the synthesizer and it seems the only exposure most people get is only the pale cast offs of 1980s pop music. Over the last few years I like to think my musical knowledge has increased and my tastes matured. Recently, I watched Bladerunner. It was the first time in years and I could help but sit up and take notice of the powerful music. This wasn't a synthesizer which minced about in the background, but a forceful primadonna instead. With a little searching I found that the artist responsible for this work was Vangelis. A name which I had only heard previously in passing associated with the nebulous "New Age".

From there I decided I needed to hear some more, so it was off to the iTunes store to purchase the soundtrack. Out of frugality I settled for the much cheaper Heaven & Hell (~2$ Vs. 10$). A decision I absolutely do not regret.

After being trained by albums like Thick as a Brick and Tails from Topographic Oceans I often consider two tracks titled parts 1 & 2 clocking in near 40 minutes to be a good sign. There is only one problem, Heaven & Hell is not one seamless epic. It really should be divided up into its constituent sub-chapters rather than parts 1 & 2. The transitions are full stops, pauses and then resumption on something completely different. It also makes it very difficult to pick out certain pieces which you may want to listen to independently of the masterwork.

The first chapter of Heaven & Hell is in my opinion the best. It begins with a pulsating choral arrangement supplemented by a dissonant synthesizer. Then, with the drop of a hat things change to an extremely catchy drum, choral and synth melee. This will knock your socks off. If you think that's all Vangelis has the audacity to do it twice.

Next is the decidedly different Symphony to the Powers. This work is also enjoyable, but not quite to the extent of its predecessor or successor however. It is evocative of the dense and arcane angelology from which it derives its name. It scrapes the depths and reaches for the stars. Here, the synthesizer takes a back seat to a choir firing on all cylinders.

Movement 3, Wow! The inklings of a later very famous theme are found here as a triumphant conclusion to a slowly building mountain of sound. After Bacchanale this is my next favourite part of Heaven & Hell, and certainly the most heavenly.

The final act of part 1 is So Long Ago, So Clear. I am a huge fan of Jon Anderson and Yes. I am one of the few people however who just stop listening to Gates of Delirium after the sonic barrage and towering solos of the middle portion. Soon is just too boring for me and this piece is in the same vein. It is an appropriate way to climb down the mountain of movement 3, but who says I want to come down.

Leading off part two is the Intestinal Bat. This is a slow, dark troubled piece punctuated by the titular bat's frantic comings and goings. When I am a home owner later in life I think I'll scare children on Halloween with it. It shares some darker elements with another album I recently reviewed, Rubycon. The Intestinal bat is the doorway to Vangelis' Hell.

Once we pass through that door we are greeted Hell's jovial imps drumming with Needles and Bones. This is the liveliest track on side B and my favourite from the side. If you have ever seen the "Hell is other Robot's" episode of Futurama you get about the right visual of a dynamic Hell where to torturers take great pleasure in their work.

12 O'Clock is an utterly tormented Hell. An excellent work musically, but if the Intestinal Bat didn't scare children this will do the trick. The most striking feature of 12 O'Clock is the muffled ululations of suffering sinners. Dissonant keyboard strikes and heavy drumming also pierce the gloom early on. Burdened and repentant choirs take over with a female vocalist making for a glimpse of heaven in hell. 12 O'Clock is very good at times, but at others it does feel a bit dragged out. I often find myself loosing focus on the music and letting my thoughts wander instead of hearing out its conclusion.

Hell has no king, but a dark prince instead and no trip to hell would be complete without a visit. Ares is a heralded by regal trumpeting backed up by thumping drums. This piece is a little too formal and lacks the joy of the earlier Needles and Bones. Luckily Ares is short, but unfortunately has the album close on a bit of a sour note.

Part two of Heaven and Hell concludes with a soft rise from the Pit. A Way lets Heaven & Hell conclude softly. Not really a throw away, but certainly not a highlight either.

Heaven & Hell is a diverse album which leads it at times to be inconsistent. It does manage however to remain mostly faithful to its concept. Part 1 greatly surpasses Part 2. The work as a whole is certainly worth a listen however. I give it a four star rating based mostly on the incredible strengths of part 1. Incidentally, what a stunning album cover!

R-A-N-M-A | 4/5 |


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