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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Aphrodite's Child: 666


666 (1972)

1) The System; 2) Babylon; 3) Loud, Loud, Loud; 4) The Four Horsemen; 5) The Lamb; 6) The Seventh Seal; 7) Aegean Sea; 8) Seven Bowls; 9) The Wakening Beast; 10) Lament; 11) The Marching Beast; 12) The Battle Of The Locusts; 13) Do It; 14) Tribulation; 15) The Beast; 16) Ofis; 17) Seven Trumpets; 18) Altamont; 19) The Wedding Of The Lamb; 20) The Capture Of The Beast; 21) ∞; 22) Hic And Nunc; 23) All The Seats Were Occupied; 24) Break.

Of all the albums recorded by Aphrodite's Child before it grew up and underwent ternary fission, 666 is clearly the most dated — but also the most tempting, because only a disillusioned Sa­tanist, way past his prime, would nonchalantly bypass a record that has the number of the Beast staring at the world so defiantly from its album sleeve. Of course, skepticism is not merely allowed, it is very welcome: «What can these guys tell us about the Apocalypse? Sure they're Greeks and all, but it's not as if they wrote The Book of Revelation!» But take away the superficial trappings, the way too overtly insistent references to the text of the New Testament, and the result is an ambiti­ous, extremely curious project that succeeds at least as often as it fails. Considering that what we have here is a double album, that makes up for at least fourty minutes of good music.

Conceptualism was the way to go in 1970, when Vangelis decided that the band had to grow up of its «three minute art-pop song» phase and join the army of progressive musical thinkers. I am not quite sure of how Demis Roussos, with his crooner aspirations, reacted to the idea, but, at the very least, he honestly participated in the project, doing his bass duties and singing where requi­red (many of the individual tracks are completely instrumental). In addition, work on the album saw the return of Silver Koulouris, fresh from the army and ready to do guitar battles now.

The flow of 666 is fairly straightforward: it takes relatively few liberties with The Revelation, for the most part just offering vivid musical images that accompany its happy tales of seven seals, lambs, beasts, trumpets, horsemen, and whores of Babylon. (One curious exception is a track na­med ʽAltamontʼ — apparently, Vangelis took the «apocalyptization» of the 1969 Altamont trage­dy by the rock press seriously, interpreting ʽAltamontʼ as a modern projection of the «mountain» in The Book: "This is the sight we had one day on The High Mountain"... etc.). Whether it works or does not work as a soundtrack to the book probably depends on everyone's pre-set ideas of how such a soundtrack should sound in the first place. Creepy? Scary? Overwhelming? Distur­bing? Loud/bombastic or quiet/subtle? Could we trust Miles Davis with playing the seventh trum­pet, etc., etc.? Another possibility is to simply forget about the Biblical connection and form your own idea of what the heck it is all supposed to mean.

Regardless of the choice, most people will probably agree that 666 is quite heavily «padded». Ap­parently, Vangelis insisted on a double album, because nothing less than a double album would have been appropriate for the subject. (Besides, double albums were all the rage by 1970). How­ever, he did not have enough original musical ideas to fill up four sides — hence, comes the spra­wling, 20-minute-long suite ʽAll The Seats Were Occupiedʼ, featuring a bit of loose jamming and then working as an «underture», rehashing and revolving all of the themes, sometimes more than once. Already upon the second listen, it becomes eminently skippable, except for the last minute of wild avant-jazz noise that follows the haughty enunciation of the title.

Another highly controversial bit, then and now, has been ʽ∞ʼ (ʽInfinityʼ). The basic premise is crudely funny — a sexual pun on the line "I am to come", which we are supposed to interpret in both of its meanings at the same time. The realization of the pun is a five-minute piece of percus­sion havoc, against whose background the guest-starring Greek actress Irene Papas is donated the line "I was, I am to come!" and instructed to pronounce it in a million different ways, as long as each of the ways is reminiscent of an orgasmic experience. That Vangelis actually won the long, hard battle against studio executives, who tried to keep this porno-scented stuff off the album, is a pleasant page in the history of the war for artistic and personal freedom. It would have been far nicer, though, if, upon finally gaining the studio executives' consent, he had immediately deleted the tapes. That way, freedom of art would be vindicated, and so would our ears, because having to listen to this crap for five minutes in a row is simply ridiculous. One would have been more than enough (it is rumored that the full take lasted for thirty-nine minutes).

That said, once all the padding and questionable sonic experimentation have been removed as dated filler, the musical parts of 666 are just as strong as anything Aphrodite's Child had ever done, and in some ways, stronger. Genre diversity, in particular, continues to be held in high esteem. We have bombastic «arena-folk» (ʽBabylonʼ), moody art-pop dreamscapes crossed with hard-rocking guitar frenzy (ʽFour Horsemenʼ), dark Floydian panoramas (ʽAegean Seaʼ), jazz-fu­sion-style jamming (ʽDo Itʼ), honky piano-led blues-rock (ʽThe Beastʼ), and, of course, plenty of Eastern motives, sometimes with sitars (ʽThe Seventh Sealʼ), but more often with a closer-to-home Greek underbelly, I think (ʽThe Lambʼ, ʽThe Wedding Of The Lambʼ). And, for the most part, it all works. The hooks and moods are there.

ʽThe Four Horsemenʼ were loosed on the poor horrified little world as the lead single, and, al­though the piece itself hardly had any hit potential on its own, the decision is understandable — the track is a clear standout, with the catchiest, most sing-along style chorus on the album ("The leading horse is white..."), and then, several minutes into the song, followed with a brilliantly constructed wah-wah solo from Koulouris, which has not just the finest guitar playing on the al­bum, but simply happens to be one of the greatest guitar solos ever played — and I am not joking: no one would ever suspect Koulouris of being an unsurpassed technical virtuoso, but somehow he managed to properly pick up all the «epic» chords and come out with a flying monster that could easily stand its ground next to Dave Gilmour in terms of emotional impact.

Other personal favorites include ʽAegean Seaʼ, which not only has some more of that fantastic guitar work, but also introduces electronic textures that predict solo Vangelis, to a large extent; ʽThe Lambʼ, with its odd mix of baritone guitars, winds, and electronics — a fast-paced Greek dance beset with mystical vibes; and the final piano-led number ʽBreakʼ, the closest thing we have here to a «normal» Demis Roussos ballad, which is probably why it was the only number from 666 to remain in his solo stage repertoire. (Not that he kept the echo effects on the voice, the organ flourishes, and Kouloris' last wah-wah guitar solo, I believe — all the things that elevate the song above the state of a generic ballad).

Overall, it is clear that 666 never had a chance: not only did the world market care rather little about fearless prog-rockers that did not have permanent residence in the UK, but Vangelis and his temporarily obedient friends also made plenty of false moves, both during the planning of the al­bum and upon completion of the recording. In the end, 666 only came out as late as 1972, by which time Aphrodite's Child were effectively over as a band, and it never received the proper promotion, partly because there was no one left to promote, partly because the promoters must have still felt uneasy about promoting an album with such a title.

But in retrospect, despite all the flaws, 666 deserves proper recognition — let alone the high qua­lity of the melodic content, it is a bit more than simply «derivative second-generation prog». In fact, it is not only «first generation prog», but its synthesis of Western and Mediterranean stuff is, in a way, completely unique for the whole movement: if the guitar solo on ʽFour Horsemenʼ, no matter how overwhelming it is, essentially just follows the Hendrix/Clapton standards of guitar playing, tracks like ʽThe Lambʼ and ʽLamentʼ are in a class of their own — you won't hear any­thing like that from a Robert Fripp or an Ian Anderson, because on this sort of turf, they were at a heavy disadvantage next to Vangelis, a native Greek who had enough time and opportunity to as­similate the Western tradition as well. This is the only time, really, when «Greek progressive rock» came out loud and proud on the international market, and it is fully deserving of everyone's ears — and an impressive final twist to Aphrodite's Child's prematurely deceased career... out of the ruins of which came Vangelis, «The Electronic Guru», and Demis Roussos, «The Singing Kaftan» (feel the difference). Thumbs up — here's hoping for an eventual proper revival.


Check "666" (CD) on Amazon

5 comments:

  1. I listened to Aegean Sea for the first time just now and it seemed like it must have heavily inspired Ween for their song "Captain" (unless there is another link in between)

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  2. My favorite moment of this album is the segue from The Battle Of The Locusts to Do It; I've heard ferocious guitar solos before and after this time period in music, but the playing of Silver Koulouris is so ferocious it borders on profane. Too bad, he didn't do much after this album.

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  3. You forgot to label this under "Aphrodite's Child" like the other two albums...

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  4. I finally got around to listening to this monster a couple nights ago. For the most part, I like it, it's a modern take on a biblical text similar to JC Superstar, although much weirder (in a good way, of course). Love the Four Horsemen, I posted an actual video that was made around that time--Demis here, there, and everywhere! As much as I love that guitar solo--somebody needs to locate Mr. Silver and give him an award--that video makes me really wish for a single edit. http://youtu.be/3KCbqhJt16k

    Ever notice how Demis and Francesco DiGiacomo could be brothers? Or at least cousins?

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    1. Oh, and I totally thought that Infinity was Demis singing, moaning, breathing, screaming...should've read the review again, it's *slightly* less creepy with a girl singing.

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