Beyond a few tunes played on the radio, relatively few people are aware of Vangelis' extensive recorded legacy or his considerable influence on ambient, soundtrack and new age music. The Greek-born artist has always trodden his own path; idiosyncratic and restless, his recorded output varies widely in both style and quality.

artist:
Vangelis

country of origin:
Greece

style(s):
Ambient, cinematic, neo classical, ethno ambient, progressive rock

decades active:
70's - 00's

essential releases:

  • L’Apocalypse Des Animaux soundtrack (1973, Polygram)
  • Heaven And Hell (1975, Windham Hill)
  • Opera Sauvage soundtrack (1976, Polygram)
  • China (1979, Polygram)
  • Chariots Of Fire soundtrack (1981, Polygram)
  • Bladerunner: 25th Anniversary Edition (1982/1994/2007, WEA/Warner)
  • Antarctica soundtrack (1983, Polygram)
  • Direct (1988, BMG/Arista)
  • Themes (1989, Polygram)
  • The City (1990, WEA/Warner)
  • 1492: Conquest Of Paradise soundtrack (1992, WEA/Warner)

Reviewed by Mike G

Thanks to his Oscar-winning film score Chariots Of Fire (1981) and song collaborations with Yes vocalist Jon Anderson ("On My Way Home") Vangelis' name is widely recognised among Western audiences. But beyond a few tunes played on the radio, relatively few people are aware of his extensive recorded legacy or his considerable influence on ambient, soundtrack and new age music. The Greek-born artist has always trodden his own path; idiosyncratic and restless, his recorded output varies widely in both style and quality. He's recorded difficult, atonal avant-garde experiments, large scale orchestral works and neoclassical electronics, as well more conventionally-scored works in the rock-vein with touches of ethnic instrumentation.

His peak creative period spans 1970's to the early 1990's. Some of his film soundtracks are among his best albums overall and a good place to start, covering a lot of the musical ground he has trodden since the early 70’s.

The luminous L’Apocalypse Des Animaux (1974) marks a stunning debut into the world of film music with delicate, lush tapestries of electric piano, brass, percussion, guitar and strings. There's an aching lyricism here that's every bit the equal of Ennio Moriconne's timeless scores (such as The Good The Bad & The Ugly), and the 10 minute ambient-orchestral excursion “Creation Du Monde” is transcendent and awe-inspiring. The excellent Opera Sauvage (1976), another early soundtrack, also presents a subtle, reflective quality with the addition of a few exotic instruments to the mix.

As the 70's rolled on electronic music was changing rapidly and the boom in synthesiser and sequencer technology began to make its presence felt in Vangelis' work. Some early efforts in this vein (notably Spiral from 1979) show the rather all-too-obvious influence of German pioneers like Tangerine Dream with little re-invention, but by the time of Chariots Of Fire (1981) Vangelis had developed his own clean, sparkling synthesiser-based sound which would dominate his 80's film soundtracks. The main theme from Chariots was a huge hit single and it's a stately, rousing piece, but it shouldn't obscure the fact that rest of the album is also worthy, featuring several short reflective pieces like "Abraham's Theme" and a more effects-laden exploration of the main theme on the album's long title track.

After the success of Chariots Of Fire, Vangelis' creative roll in the medium of film continued with his peerless soundtrack for Ridley Scott's sci-fi masterpiece Bladerunner (1982). This is some of Vangelis’ most panoramic, awe-inspiring and emotional music. It's belated album release in 1994 - some 12 years after the actual film - gave us a beautiful but incomplete record of the film's score. Then in 2007 a fantastic 3-CD set appeared containing the 1994 album release on the first disc, a full second disc of more unreleased music composed for the film, and a third disc of brand new material inspired by the story.

Other notable soundtracks include the magnificent Antarctica (1983) which is by turns dramatic, expansive and serene. Drenched in lush, spacious electronic textures, it beautifully evokes one of the world’s last areas of pristine wilderness. 1492: Conquest Of Paradise (1992) is a grand orchestral work that splendidly captures the film’s themes of adventure and discovery.

Turning to his non-soundtrack albums from the 70's and 80's, Heaven & Hell (1975) is still amazing, a quite literal evocation of angelic bliss and horrifying infernos. The overall sound is quintessentially 70's and superficially dated: a rock ensemble, synthesisers and a choir, which on paper sounds like the most bloated style kind of progressive rock. But Vangelis makes it work, with chord progressions that are never less than enthralling and an arsenal of instruments that he puts to work in exactly the right combinations and never for too long. China (1979) is more restrained and strongly flavoured by traditional Asian sources, but it demonstrates a similar knack for dynamics, and his talent mixing and matching instrumental colours.

After the 70's, Vangelis' strengths were generally best displayed on his movie soundtracks, although the surprisingly rocking Direct (1988) and the exquisitely detailed and evocative The City (1990) showed that, up to the early 90's, he was still capable of producing intelligent, atmospheric instrumental music outside the medium of film. Since then, however, his album output has slowed and in general his releases have been pretty uninspiring. His tendency towards bombast is given full reign on insufferable outings like Mythodia (2001), while a steady procession of orchestral film soundtracks - sounding more or less the same - edge his music ever closer to generic Hollywood film scoring.

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