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Vangelis - Spiral CD (album) cover




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3.73 | 165 ratings

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4 stars Another inspired offering from Vangelis, which shows the Greek composer gradual increase in control over his output. Not only is the music on this album entirely arranged, composed, performed and produced by Vangelis in his own recording studio, the sleeve artwork this time is also devised by the composer. The sound quality on this album is crisper and clearer. Vangelis had by this time, re- equipped his Nemo studios with a better mixing desk, and had also purchased some more up to date synthesizers. This is clearly evident from track one. While sequencers had been prevalent somewhat on Albedo 0.39, they are at the forefront on the opening title track, and also appear prominently on three of the remaining four tracks on the album. Vangelis had obviously got hold of an ARP2600 sequencer and was showing that he was more than capable of producing his own distinct interpretation of the kind of music being produced in Berlin more famously by the likes of Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, and Michael Hoenig.

But the synth that stands out the most on this album more than any other, is the Yamaha CS80 - possibly one of the greatest polyphonic synthesizers ever built, and it was to become Vangelis's trademark synthesizer; used prominently from now onwards on his albums, particularly on China and the Bladerunner soundtrack. The now archaic synth can still be heard on Vangelis's most recent offering; the new music CD on the 25th anniversary Bladerunner box set.

Both the CS80 and the heavy sequencers hit the listener immediately on the title track, which is a beautiful, frenetic and powerful slab of prog-inspired synth music. The sound is lusher than what Tangerine Dream was managing at the time - a more comparable sound might be Klaus Schulze/s Mirage album cut down into a seven minute track. Spiral again uses Vangelis's trademark technique of taking a simple theme and developing it over a period of time. What makes the music especially amazing is that it was probably completely improvised and later edited into a more structured shape - another one of Vangelis's famous techniques.

Ballad follows, and this piece is a showcase for the CS80 synthesizer, with its lush and beautiful arrangement. The sound here is fuller, and far warmer than any of the sounds achieved on his previous albums. Much of the melody is provided by a very unusual instrument for a Vangelis album - the composer's own singing voice; albeit distorted through a number of elaborate effects. Ballad is an apt descriptive title for the piece of music, but there is also a major jazz influence on what is going on in here.

Dervish D completes side one of the album with a strange mix of old and new style. The instrumentation at the time was cutting edge - again a mixture of the CS80 and sequencer-driven patterns underpinning the catchy and simple melodic figures. Vangelis's treated voice - this time possibly fed through a vocoder, but not the type of vocoder sounds that Kraftwerk were famously using at the time - again appears buried in the mix. But the music is simply an up-tempo rocky 12 bar blues! Yet the marriage of old rootsy music and modern technology works splendidly.

Side two is comprised of two lengthy ten minute compositions. To The Unknown Man is the most famous track on the album. Like Alpha and Pulsar before it, the piece starts simply, with a simple melodic figure on the CS80 backed by a pulsing 12/4 sequencer line. This gradually develops with more and more orchestrating synthesizers, before the piece crescendos as it reaches a new chord sequence. The drums kick in, and an excellent up-tempo long outro appears. The piece is purely magical.

The album ends with my favourite track - 3+3, titled due to the fact that the piece is in 3/4 time. I love this track - certainly the most progressive on the album - because of its lush sounds and the incredible driving energy of the very fast sequencer lines. Over the top of the ever changing backing sequences, is an extremely simple and memorable melody line. So the album almost comes full circle, ending in the same kind of territory that the album starts.

I bought this album in my early teens, on the same day I bought Heaven and Hell. While I don't think the record is quite as good as that masterpiece, I would still heartily recommend this album to all those unfamiliar with Vangelis's work. This album is certainly a great place to start for those in that position, and there is certainly plenty on the album to appeal to prog rock fans, thanks to its fast-paced and breathtaking sequencer lines. In the hands of anyone else, these sequencers would sound cold and robotic. Yet with Vangelis at the helm, there is warmth to them that makes them sound very human. Go out and buy this album!!!

UnearthlyChild | 4/5 |


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