(Translated from my old Italian text by Nicholas Green) |
Aphrodite's Child came into being around 1968 in Paris as the project of three young Greeks: Vangelis Papathanassiou (keyboards), Demis Roussos (guitar and vocals), and Loukas Sideras (drums). For a couple of years they were one of the hottest bands in Europe, at the forefront of a commercial style of classic rock that was all the rage at the time (Rain And Tears, 1968, a repurposing of Pachelbel's "Canon in D" with baroque orchestration and Ennio Morricone-esque counterpoint)
After the band broke up, a double album came out, 666 (Vertigo, 1970), a mysterious work that was a de facto solo album by the leader. This raving repertoire of curses, spells, invocations, exorcisms, and magic words soon became one of the cornerstones of occult rock, a chthonic Sgt. Pepper of sorts. At the same time, the album is a sonic chasm that swallows up the most variegated styles, from the psychedelic blues-rock jams of The Four Horsemen and Break to the unbridled tribalism of Babylon and Capture Of The Beast , from the Zappaesque bandsmanship of Altamont to the free jazz of Do It , from the music hall of The Beast to the cacophonies of The Wakening Beast. Ceremonial music ( The Lamb , Wedding Of The Lamb ) and gothic evocations ( Aegian Sea ) brim with exoticism. Muezzin prayers ( Lament ), demonic frenzies (∞) and all manner of macabre invocations rage throughout the "black mass."
More than a rock opera, this is a catalogue of dark magic: the images flow quickly as if in a carnival of horror until the gargantuan suite of All The Seats Were Occupied, in which the ultimate ritual is consummated.
(Translated from my old Italian text by DeepL)
Vangelis had actually already launched his solo career. After a few preparatory discs, Fais Que Ton Reve Soit Plus Long Que La Nuit (WEA, 1968), Sex Power (Philips, 1970), Hypotheses (Byg, 1971), the first of his large instrumental suites, The Dragon (Charly, 1971), was released. The intent to represent the ceremonial Chinese New Year festivities is achieved through a chaotic, carnivalesque harmony that builds an atmosphere of mystery and fear, an exotic thriller atmosphere. The essence of the piece is nothing more than a deafening tribalism over which electric violins rave, but its very extended duration gives it a more metaphysical sense.
For a few years that remained a parenthesis. In fact, Vangelis established himself almost immediately as the electronic troubadour with the soundtrack to L'Apocalypse Des Animaux (Polydor, 1973), another instrumental album. The record's success was enshrined in some memorable motifs, starting with the tender and melancholy carillon refrain of La Petite Fille De La Mer and the beautiful jazz theme of Le Singe Bleu. Towering over these "wordless romances" was the long Creation Du Monde, a fresco of electronic languor that echoed the ideas of early Tangerine Dream. This soundtrack changed the course of his career forever, highlighting on the one hand his exceptional melodic talent, capable of a romanticism worthy of Tchaikovsky's ballets, and on the other hand his skillful orchestration skills on electronic keyboards.
Earth (Vertigo, 1973) marked a step backward, in that it recovered the grit of rock music, albeit in a symphonic context (Come On), and dipped into the mystical-Indian atmospheres of "hare krishna" (Sunny Earth).
That was, however, the last gasp of the singing Vangelis. From there on, Vangelis the arranger and conductor would triumph. Heaven And Hell (RCA, 1975) is the archetype of the presumptuous and magniloquent works that were to come. Structured as a kind of minimalist opera, that is, on the iteration of a few melodic phrases, it owes its grandeur to the orchestration, particularly the hellish choruses and angelic choirs unleashed in Beethovenian crescendos punctuated by armies of staccato organs. Vangelis had coined a new form of electronic music, echoing the classical form of "fantasia" with a more symphonic bent and an (almost "Tchaikovskian") emphasis on patheticism and songcraft. Each album added a slightly different element: Albedo 0.39 (RCA, 1975), La Fete Sauvage (Barclay, 1976), Ignacio (Egg 900531, 1977).
Characteristic of his style is the festive and exuberant (as well as jazzy) electronica of Beauborg (RCA, 1978), one of his most immense suites, and To The Unknown Man, on Spiral (RCA, 1977), tempered in the pompous Pulstar-esque star poems and progression melodies of Spiral and Hymne, the latter on the soundtrack of Opera Sauvage (Polydor, 1979), creative only in the sci-fi noise of Bacchanale (from Opera Sauvage). More coruscating, however, were China (Polydor, 1979) and See You Later (Polydor, 1980), while Odes (Polydor, 1980) is a collaboration with stage actress Irene Papas.
Another soundtrack brought him another moment of great popularity and propelled him to the top of the sales charts-Frederic Rossif's Chariots Of Fire (Polydor, 1981). The theme of this record is the quintessence of his romantic symphonism. Another soundtrack, Antarctica (Polydor, 1985), on the other hand, represents the artist's spiritual peak, with its radiant harmony by layers of synthesizers, harps, and violins.
Blade Runner (Atlantic, 1994), which will see the light of day in the author's version only twelve years later (the 1982 soundtrack does not contain Vangelis's original music but rather versions arranged and orchestrated by other composers), returns to the romantic spirit of Apocalypse, with a more jazzy, ballad-oriented substrate.
Invisible Connections (Deutsche Grammophone, 1985), a disc of atonal music recorded for a prestigious classical music label, highlighted his experimental ambitions, as had already been suggested by the two discs divided into "movements": Soil Festivities (Polydor, 1984) and especially The Mask (Polydor, 1985). And by his third symphony (unpublished).
Mask is emblematic of the polyphonic style of this phase. Four themes alternate in the first movement: a synthesizer undercurrent, a cluster of magniloquent symphonic cries, a chorus of "Verdian" intensity, and the soprano's collected solfeggio. Now in sequence now overlapping, they are used as building blocks to construct a spectacle of tragic grandeur.
The most striking moments come, however, when Vangelis moderates his vice of pomposity: in the fourth movement, when suddenly the chorus intones a Gregorian liturgy and the orchestra gives way to a trepidation of gamelan percussion, perlatro almost in a whisper; and in the fifth, with the synthesizer and percussion gone wild, and the chorus imitating Japanese psalmody.
By now Vangelis's music is composed of these choral, symphonic and electronic blocks hurled at the score with unprecedented violence. Towards the orchestra and chorus the electronics harbor some awe, remaining in the background, or on the sidelines, rarely able to sustain those high notes and decibel peaks.
Another pinnacle of his art would be Direct (BMG, 1988), a manneristically classical album.
Rapsodies (Polydor, 1986) and The City (East West, 1991) are albums by a mature composer. 1492 Conquest of Paradise (SPA, 1995) is another of his triumphant soundtracks. Voices (EastWest, 1995) and Oceanic (Atlantic, 1996) do not add anything that Vangelis has not already said, but they do so with great suggestiveness.
In parallel with his major activity Vangelis also wrote more conventional songs for Yes singer Jon Anderson: I Hear You Now on Short Stories (Polydor, 1979) and I'll Find My Way Home on The Friends Of Mr. Cairo (Polydor, 1981). The collaboration would continue on Private Collection (Polydor, 1983), He Is Sailing (Polydor, 1983), Three Ships (Polydor, 1985), Page Of Life (Omtown, 1991). The latter is typical of their easy-listening based on simple melodies, which, all in all, simply echoes that of the old Aphrodite's Child: Change We Must, an Enya-esque lullaby, the tear-jerking ballads Anyone Can Light A Candle and Shine For Me, the syncopated Peter Gabriel-esque synth-funk of Money, the long Wisdom Chain that only serves to fill the album, etc.
The naive charm of Vangelis' suites represented both the end point of the commercialization of German "cosmic" music and one of the starting points for American new age.
Aphrodite Child's singer Demis Roussos died in 2015.
Vangelis died in 2022.