Recorded at Europasonar 1970.
X2 Gatefold Album.
Track List –
1. The System (0:23)
2. Babylon (2:47)
3. Loud, Loud, Loud (2:42)
4. The Four Horsemen (5:53)
5. The Lamb (4:34)
6. The Seventh Seal (1:30)
1. Aegian Sea (5:23)
2. Seven Bowls (1:28)
3. The Wakening Beast (1:11)
4. Lament (2:45)
5. The Marching Beast (2:00)
6. The Battle Of The Locusts (0:56)
7. Do It (1:44)
8. Tribulation (0:32)
9. The Beast (2:26)
10. Ofis (0:14)
1. Seven Trumpets (0:35)
2. Altamont (4:33)
3. The Wedding Of The Lamb (3:38)
4. The Capture Of The Beast (2:17)
5. ∞ (5:15)
6. Hic Et Nunc (2:55)
1. All The Seats Were Occupied (19:21)
2. Break (2:59)
Silver Koulouris – Guitars and percussion.
Vangelis Papathanassiou – Flute, organ, percussion, piano, producer, vibes and backing vocals.
Demis Roussos – Bass, backing vocals, lead vocals on ‘The Four Horsemen’, ‘Babylon’ and ‘Hic Et Nunc’.
Lucas Sideras – Drums, backing vocals and lead vocals on ‘The Beast’ and ‘Break’.
Gerard Fallec – Artwork.
Costas Ferris – Text and co-author of concept.
John Forst – Narration.
Harris Halktis – Bass, backing vocals, conga, tenor sax.
Irene Papas – Vocal on ∞.
Michel Ripoche – Tenor Sax and trombone on ‘Babylon’ and ‘Hic Et Nunc’.
Yannis Tsarouchis – Greek text.
By 1970 the relatively successful Greek psychedelic pop band Aphrodite’s Child, had all but fragmented and unraveled.
Originally relocating two years previously from their Mediterranean homeland, via a short hold-up in the student demonstration angst streets of Paris awaiting work permits, and where they were signed to Mercury records, they eventually settled down in London to produce commercially felicitous hits.
They didn’t have to hang around long before becoming an overnight success, their first single ‘Rain And Tears’ going on to become a million seller, followed quickly by a succession of well-received singles and two favourable psych-pop albums – much in the vain of both Nirvana and The Herd.
Only two years into the bands, somewhat successful career and tensions within the band threatened to end it their brief reign. Demis Roussos, who at the time was pretty far removed from the, literally, larger then life character he famously became, was already being groomed towards a solo pathway, whilst drummer/vocalist Lucas Sideras would find himself also contemplating going it alone (he would release his own solo album in 1972) – he evidently played drums on Roussos first solo single, ‘We Shall Dance’.
This left the bands prodigal composer and all-rounder, Vangelis partially boxed away like a proto Brian Wilson figure, working on producing soundtracks, isolated from the rest of his band, whilst they went out on tour without him.
The only founding member not going out on his own was the group’s guitarist Silver Koulouris, who’d missed most of his compatriots golden sojourn, stuck back in Greece finishing his compulsory military service.
He returned to the fold in 1970 only to find his former band mates at odds with each other, drifting apart.
Vangelis seemed to be the quartets driving force and spark, if anything could save the band from internal destruction it was going to be down to him. Right?
Well, he certainly had an idea, a concept, one that was wholly ambitious in scope if not totally outrageous and preposterous.
Hs fellow comrades however envisioned another pop classic, a charging sweeping dose of joyful and forlorn emotive abandon.
What they actually got was a progressive rock fuelled magnum opus, based on the Apocalypse, a dark sardonic theme, yet also celebratory reverential musical experience that would take up four albums worth of vinyl (this of course was pared down to just two in the end).
Vangelis conceived a challenging epic, a rock opera built around Johns Revelations in the New Testament, full of esoteric forebode and wonder. To say it took every fibre in his body to persuade both the label and his friends that he knew what he was doing, and that he hadn’t taken leave of his senses – spellbound by an exalted light on his own road to Damascus – is an understatement.
If the band hadn’t sold millions of records, then Mercury would probably have parted company with them there and then, as it was, Vangelis was at least bankable and extremely accomplished, so they allowed the odd indulgence.
The label would of course still get worked-up over it and hold back the release for two years, plus shove it onto their label subsidiary Vertigo – which evidently was never a bad thing.
Thankfully the album was recorded, the group pulling together joined by guest narrators, musicians and even the odd actor, to produce one the most powerful and grandiose albums of all time.
EXILE IN PARIS
The premise for the album that would be finally entitled ‘666’ began back in the 1970.
Aphrodite’s Child had released the successful LP It’s Five O’clock in the January of that same year, so were riding high you could so, only they weren’t getting on. Vangelis was already working on a soundtrack for the Henry Chapier ‘Sex Power’ movie in Paris, when he met fellow countryman (though born in Egypt) Costas Ferris, the proclaimed leader of new Greek cinema now exiled in France for upsetting the wrong people back home.
Ferris had written a treatment for a book based around the terrifying apocalyptic passages from Revelations that mixed up the biblical text with a more modern take, involving an all singing and dancing troupe of circus performers enacting the last days for an audience, whilst outside their circus tent the real Armageddon was taking place.
The audience would be oblivious to the raging battle between good and evil unfolding outside the arena, thinking it was all part of the theatrical act. An increasingly nervous and nigh-hysterical narrator would try to hold it all together, until the tent is ripped from its awnings and everyone is suddenly thrust into the carnage.
This diegesis appealed to Vangelis’s sensibilities, like a shot in the arm. He would take on the concept loosely, mixing the biblical and almost hippie like themes with his own soundtrack work to create a mind-blowing opus.
The book of Revelations itself speaks about a time of great tribulation, with war, floods, earthquakes and destructive events raining down on the populace. Stepping forward is a saviour, The Lamb or Jesus if you like, who saves the people, destroying all the so-called wickedness and ushering in an epoch of peace.
A second ripple of troubling knee-trembling turmoil puts a slight kaboosh on proceedings, until evil is finally resigned to the dustbin and a new heaven replaces the old model.
Somewhere amongst all this the four horsemen, the beast, the archangel Michael, the unfortunately labelled Whore of Babylon and a false prophet (that would be Simon Cowell) all playing pivotal roles.
Woven in between these arcane scriptures are moments of prime psychedelic funk and jazz-fusion, with flickers of an Aphrodite’s Child we are all familiar with – the doleful emotive love songs especially.
Of course the biblical story was also appealing for being entwined in Greek history. The author of Revelations was believed to have written the chosen texts on the island of Patmos in the Aegean, whilst in exile at the end of the 1st century.
The original title of the album ‘Apocalypse’ is itself a Greek word – the albums cover artist Gerad Fallec suggested that ‘666’ had much more of an impact.
Much of the music has a seriously strong Adriatic influence via the haunting and torrid soundscapes of a highly emotive holy land. There is throughout an air of Greek mystery and tragedy.
Vangelis’ only problem was how to sell this sprawling grand suite to the rest of the band.
Maybe he sold it off the back of The Who’s own highly acclaimed opus Tommy, which was especially influential on Vangelis – in fact Ferris was friends with the bands manager Kit Lambert – or the David Axlerod produced Electric Prunes classic Mass In F Minor; a real far-out psych treatment of the Catholic mass.
Perhaps with the recently returned Koulouris, both Roussos and Sideras felt compelled to make the effort, going along with this new flight of fantasy even though they wanted to continue down the more commercial route.
Thankfully a whole host of guests dropped in to lend a hand, or just visit – the buzz about this almost operatic epic travelling far and wide.
Swelling the ranks of the quartet were tenor sax, horn and conga players, the British actor John Forst and award winning Greek actress Irene Papas, all part of Vangelis’ aloof pretensions.
This would indeed be a serious venture.
One observer to these sessions remarked on how the band, once all playing together, soon bonded again like enthusiastic schoolboys, forgetting all their woes and letting their hair down.
Costing $80,000 to record and taking three months to complete, ‘666’ was finally finished by the beginning of 1971, which is where the problems begun.
Mercury took exception to a number of things, firstly the hysterical orgasmic performance piece ‘∞’, Irene Papas moaning panting mantras viewed as obscene to the ears of the label, who wished to omit it from the album. Perhaps the 19-minute unedited version, which is the one they were played, proved just a bit too unseemly, though a compromise was eventually met, Vangelis cutting the extended experimental piece down to a more tolerable five minutes.
A second contention was the misconstrued inclusion of the statement, “This work was recorded under the influence of ‘Sahlep’”; seen as a drug reference, though in fact it was actually alluding to the Arabic derived hot sweet, and highly beneficial, drink, an alternative to Tea or Coffee, usually drank around the poorer communities of the Med.
Another gripe was the actual length of this expansive album, which was originally meant to stretch over four LPs. Again a begrudging compromise was made, Vangelis paring it down to the double album we are now familiar with, though it would have been something to have heard it in its envisioned entirety.
As it is, Mercury shifted the album onto their subsidiary Vertigo – no bad thing, a great label – and put the release date back almost two years, finally allowing the world to hear it in the summer of 1972, by which time the band had finally split.
666 was presented in a fiery red cover, stamped with the title in a number plate designed envelope shaped box, designed by Gerard Fallec. Inside the gatefold double cover, a sort of surreal painting of a car crashing into a wall leaps out, signed by M. Dubie, of which little is known. Fallec found the image, concocting a tenuous link to the number plate-esque graphics on the cover, the band dubiously agreeing to include it. The original concept was to have a black cover with 666 printed on it – very much like The Omen, this version did make it on to subsequent re-issues.
The album sold considerably well all things considered, garnering favourable reviews at the time and sporting a minor underground hit with ‘The Four Horsemen’ and a more commercial one with the single ‘Break’.
You could say it somehow captured the imagination, enthusing Dali to conceive a befitting lavish promotional performance event for the albums Barcelona premiere, which was unfortunately scrapped.
Even today it sounds just as startling innovative and beguiling, always creeping onto the best prog or underground rock music lists decades later.
It must be pointed out that ‘666’ doesn’t just fit neatly into the prog-rocking bracket, traversing classical, jazz-fusion, traditional and even German bands such as Popol Vuh and Amon Duul II.
An album that is part Hair, part The Exorcist and part Greek tragedy.
AT LAST THE MUSIC
666 – chilling sub-heading, “Anyone who has intelligence may interpret the number of the beast. It is a man’s number. This number is…” – is spread over four sides of vinyl, made-up of twenty-four tracks, that mix segue way vignettes, instrumentals and song based material together to form a loose oratorio.
Side one begins with the introductory ‘The System’, a rolling choral chant, building from faded-in hush to a final exalted “zooohhhh”.
Following the last chorus of the female/male psalm comes the Tommy inspired burst of worked-up acoustic guitar jangling on ‘Babylon’. Roussos plays a distinct, almost gargling bubbly rapid bassline, as a crowd or audience applaud. Talking of the Who, there’s a moaning efficacious horn reminiscent of the kind found on ‘Armenia City In The Sky’, which constantly swoops in and out like a heralded siren.
Our man Roussos is given command of the vocals, harking aloud the fateful downfall of Babylon in almost joyful abandon to stomping drums – played by Vangelis.
Bringing the tempo down to a more serene gentle, if not still haunted and esoteric, passage of narration, ‘Loud, Loud, Loud’ is a sparse piano led hymn with an unidentified American sounding resigned female voice, dolefully reading out an apt prose.
“The day the walls of the city’s,
will crumble away
uncovering our naked souls,
We’ll all start singing,
loud, loud, loud”.
She goes on to paint a descriptive picture of impending doom and ‘end of day’s’ scenario, yet there is a glimmer of hope for the chosen few who survive the oncoming battle between good and evil.
This short intervening song is merely setting us up for the holy behemoth that is ‘The Four Horsemen’, a prog-rocking psychedelic triumphant anthem. The lyrics adhere to the Lamb character opening a series of important scrolls that will beckon forth the Apocalypse’s outriders (pestilence, war, famine and death) upon the Earth.
The track begins with a creepy jangling of percussion and tinkley bells, Roussos serenades in his customary high falsetto before a booming round of toms and bass drum herald in the heavy chorus of-
“The leading horse is white,
the second horse is red,
the third one is a black,
the last one is a green.”
Increasingly the beats break out into an epic Tour De Force, infused with Clapton-esque guitar solos, funky taut bass and repetitive “ohhhing” and “argghhhing”. Guzzling wah-wah and cyclonic imposing effects turn this inferno of a track into a frenzied, yet extremely tight, celebration, the band perfectly in-step and in unison.
This is possibly the best and most accomplished tune on the entire album, one that everyone seems to remember vividly.
‘The Lamb’, Christ, is represented in a whirling Turkish/Egyptian flavoured instrumental on the following instrumental segue way. Snake charmers pungi, mysterious far-eastern ethereal voices, a strange mandolin sounding instrument and Koulouris’s Yes like fine acoustic guitar pickings describe the landscape, suggesting some kind of scene set in an antiquities filled desert location. A bass drum that sounds like the trap door on Hades being slammed shut, and dawdling cascading basslines stir up the sense of an eerie dark presence lingering in the air.
Closing side one is the mournful ‘The Seventh Seal’, narrated by the British actor Nick Forst, whose calculated coldness seems at odds with the original intended emotive commentary envisioned by Ferris.
More biblical text about the cataclysmic turn of events that plunge the world into a doomsday wasteland is read out in a dry cheerless and resigned manner –
“The sun was black,
the moon was red,
the stars were falling,
the earth was trembling.”
It continues to describe the martyrs and crowds pleading –
“How much longer will we suffer from hunger?
How much longer will we suffer from thirst?”
Not your average rock lyrics content of the time, especially with glam rock on the turn.
The doleful sweeping Greek arousing ambient backing and swooning male sighs on the introduction of ‘The Aegian Sea’, announce it’s now time for act two, or side two.
Inspired by the seas that surround Greece, exiled home it is believed to The Revelations author John, and synonymous with so much esoteric myth and mystique if not beauty, Aphrodite’s Child create a moving suite of lush diaphanous stimulated emotion.
A cross between Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac, swathes of effortlessly seraph kissed arching guitar and serene dream like backing, work their magic, Koulouris bending and straining notes over an ephemeral horizon.
After an initial build up Forst enters the frame carrying on from where he left off on from the last songs narration, though in a strange mogadon induced slurred state. Lyrics again conjure up a sorrowful tale of lost souls converging at a single spot to ash for some kind of forgiveness and answers, the narrator gives the impression that their prayers will soon be answered –
“They’ll no more suffer from hunger,
They’ll no more suffer from thirst.”
Following the now numerical theme of seven is the next track ‘Seven Bowls’, a far-out short soundscape vignette of oscillating creepy male/female whispery incantations that pronounce the arrival of the beast.
‘The Wakening Beast’ is another short piece filled with dreaded omnipresence and a soundtrack made up of unsettling shifting wallowing bass, jangling sets of keys, hums and scratching.
Carrying on with the gloomy disturbing atmosphere, ‘Lament’ sounds like the desert scene musical score from the beginning of ‘The Exorcist’, with added anguished warbling and what could be the distant tones of a call to prayers, all drifting along on a bleak wind.
Strident prowling bass notes are lost in a grieving haze as this unsettling brief interlude indolently creeps along.
The aforementioned beast rears its ugly seven heads again on ‘The Marching Beast’, this time though we are treated to an almost celebratory ceremonial number, bedecked with flutes, tambourine, brood piano strokes and run away basslines, that all lift the sombre mood.
‘The Battle Of The Locusts’ leaps into a funky sweating explosion, full of swanky guitar posing and jazz-fusion bass, which only lasts for a really short epoch before changing into ‘Do It’.
Really just the second part to the infectious ballsy intro of ‘TBOFL’, this series of Ginger Baker-esque launched thumping drum rolls set the group off into the direction of Santana. Hi-octane jamming begins, as the guitars battle it out, knocking around a wah-wah pedal just for the hell of it.
Interrupting the jazz enlivened odyssey is the short interlude ‘Tribulation’, a solitary quick chorus of George Clinton and Sun Ra imbued cacophonous horns fill the gap before the next song.
‘The Beast’ returns, this time to the accompaniment of some jaunty, schmoozing jazz breaks and The Beatles-esque guitars.
Mischievous vocals from Sideras trip over a melodic saunter which somewhat pokes a jeering finger at the monstrous protagonist.
The final word on Side 2 goes to some lunatic drugged orator, who delivers a near-unintelligible speech on ‘Ofis’. Sounding like some Martian dialect or arcane language, our perpetrator announces forth his wise words, which translate as –
“Come out cursed serpent,
because if you don’t come out you,
Act 3 so to speak, is brought in with the circus announcers enthusiastic –
the sound of thunder!
The threatening anger!”
Boiling under the surface of this interlude pronunciation is a brooding bassline, just waiting to spill over into the titan score ‘Altamont’.
Sounding like The Meters slogging it out with Deep Purple, and at times descending into a satanic version of The Temptations ‘Ball Of Confusion’, this ground shaking ritualistic swaying and droning anthem ‘Altamont’, uses the name of the infamous Rolling Stones gig, that is sometimes almost single-handily labelled as the point at which the innocent 60s drew to a stark end and realization that theirs some right horrible fuckers out there. The images of Meredith Hunter being knifed and beaten to death in full view of the crowds, a warning that brotherly love hadn’t quite worked out.
This apt moment in time, chimes with the sentiment of the hypnotic groove found in this tome, as Forst pontificates more passages from Revelations –
“We are the people
the rolling people
the why people
the waiting people
the wanting people
the tambourine people
the alternative people
the angel people.”
Rather chaotically ‘The Wedding Of The Lamb’ is mixed into the ending of ‘Altamont’, almost clumsily. A swirling and whirling Mediterranean cyclone brings in resonating cathartic choral voices that wash over a demonic tub-thumping beat, which make this sound more like a wake then a celebration.
‘The Capture Of The Beast’ succeeds this wedding party, bearing down upon the congregation, complete with booming drums, shuffling nuances of movement and those heavy keys jangling in the depths of reverb. Sideras launches his foot through the kick-drum, as though enacting the cutting out of some poor souls pounding heart.
Controversy reigns supreme on ‘∞’, or infinity if you like, as popular Greek actress Irene Papas (Guns of Navarone, Zobra the Greek fame) wails, flails, bemoans, pants and hysterically screams through a quite miasma performed ritual.
To all intents and purposes it sounds like Papas is in the deep throes of an indulgent and celestial orgasm, as she breathes heavily a animalistic chant repeatedly over a timpani drum, building, climaxing then tiredly switching between emotions.
Thankfully for us we got the 5-minute version, as the original 18 plus minutes might have just proved a tad hard going.
Drawing the curtains down on this third act is ‘Hic Et Nunc’ – that’s Latin that is, means here and now. A jazzy backing, very much in keeping with the usual fare that Aphrodite’s Child knock out, rolls over an joyful chorus, as a salon bar piano plays a delightful jaunty melody.
The air of despondent gloom is swept away by a slice of optimistic abandon.
The final act is upon us, as we slip on side four of this major magnum opus. Clocking in at over 19-minutes in length, ‘All The Seats Were Occupied’ works its way across a mountainous and cavernous landscape of peeks and troughs, from minimal gliding waves to moments of conga rallying rolling beats.
At times this sprawling instrumental sounds like the Soft Machine or Velvet Underground, at others it breaks out into Popol Vuh or Amon Duul II. The entire album up until this moment is reprised and fed into the vast sprawling cacophony, mixed in an often noisy and intruding fashion, that is sometimes radically alarming.
‘Break’ is the very last song, a perfect finale of harmonious resonating piano and sung by a troubled and soulful Sideras. Part Beatles and part proto Aphrodite’s Child balled, this closing swansong prompts a tearful response, the lyrics imbued with touching remorse, which seems now poignant after the band decided to break up and go their separate ways.
Stirringly empyreal and spiritual this starkly led piano lament encapsulates the sadness perfectly, drawing comparisons in some respect to the drawing to an end found on ‘Abby Road’.
Albums such as this arrive sparingly through time. OK, some would suggest or even bellow that they can’t stand all the pomp and circumstance, or drawn out conceptual themes, but I’d shout them down pointing out that ‘666’ was an exceptional achievement brought out by a band who could easily just follow the rest of the pack. Equal in stature to ‘Tommy’, this tome shows a group, or, individual, Vangelis, at the top of their game, unhappy at the restraint imposed on them. Sometimes egos need reining in, but this time it was overdue a cutting loose.
Let’s not mince words here but could you seriously see the equivalent successful band today go from million selling albums to avant-garde experimental aspirations in a stroke? A pop group taking on the apocalypse?
They should be commended and held aloft on our shoulders, carried through the streets in triumphant celebration.