This 1975 recording is one of Vangelis most important recorded works. It is the earliest example of his richly orchestral style of electronic music. There were earlier recordings, of course, some of which were complex, melodic works, but none demonstrated his ability to create the aural equivalent of an orchestra’s full force.
On Heaven and Hell, Vangelis creates a suite of pieces that contrast images of heaven and hell. He combines synthesizer, a full range of percussion and a chorus in a series of vignettes that create a huge variety of effects. The result is orchestral in scope, yet Vangelis plays nearly all the parts.
Vangelis’ trademarks are all here: his beautiful melodies, tendencies to be bombastic, and the incredible orchestration. The ‘hell” sections sound avant garde to this day. They are full of warbling vocals, shrieks and startling percussion. The “heaven” sections are tranquill and meditative.
One section of Heaven and Hell was used as one of the main themes for the TV show Cosmos. It starts out with a slow piano melody, then gradually builds as a chorus is added along with synthesized orchestrations.
One cut is a collaboration with Jon Anderson of Yes. “So Long Ago, So Clear”. It’s a love song, but it manages to fit within the context of the album because Vangelis orchestrates it similarly to the other pieces, and the lyrics are a spiritual reflection on love:
“Once, we did run
How we chased a million stars
and touched as only one can
Once, we did play
How the past delivered you
Amidst our youth we’d dream away, away
As if I knew the words I’m sure you’ll hear
Of how we met as you recall so clear”
This is one of the stronger collaborations between Vangelis and Anderson.
Heaven and Hell is one of the strongest Vangelis albums from the 70’s, and holds up very well, nearly 30 years later.