Mission Immersion 11.0 – 666 by Aphrodite’s Child

Vertigo 1972

I’m not quite sure how one ends up really liking progressive rock, but I know that when I first heard it, I wasn’t much of a fan. For instance, when I first tried listening to Rush, every bone in my body and every instinct I had told me to hate it. But, for some reason, I could never get enough of songs like “Freewill”, “The Spirit of Radio”, and “The Camera Eye”, and that list has grown substantially over time. Rush is an odd case, too, because it seems for every person who says they like Rush, about 15 say they hate them – which can’t really be true, since Rush is one of the biggest selling rock bands of all time. SOMEONE bought those records, and at this point in my life, I’m happy to say that I am one of those people.

Rush is a special case, though – they are the everyman’s prog rock band. Sure, they have some weird, geeky shit, but their best stuff also incorporates bits of pop and other more accessible types of music, which is one reason why they have been able to maintain such popularity over the years. The term “progressive rock” generally refers to the inaccessibly weird – stuff like Van Der Graaf Generator, Popol Vuh, Premiata Forneria Marconi, Can, and even the first few Yes records are good examples. Especially in the cases of Van Der Graaf Generator and Yes, this is abrasive and bloated music, usually most appreciated by scholars of music theory or just plain music nerds. There is no formula to these songs, only the state of mind that whoever wrote them was in at the time, and stream-of-consciousness composition takes precedence over any sort of pop rules.

Not to say they created the genre, but with 666, a Greek band called Aphrodite’s Child set a new standard as to how far the prog rock ideal could actually be taken. A concept album based on the book of Revelation, 666 is a monster. To call it intimidating is an understatement – this is a record for people who want a listening experience, not just some tunes to bob up and down to for half an hour. That’s not to say these guys can’t write hits, though – their first two albums were extremely successful in Europe (selling more than 20 million copies combined), and even 666 boasted a couple near-smashes. One minor hit called “The Four Horsemen” seems to be particularly influential even still. If there are any Beck fans reading this, they may remember a song from his last album (Modern Guilt) called “Chemtrails”, one of his best and darkest songs to date. I would advise these Beck fans to listen to “The Four Horsemen” and compare and contrast the two songs, just for fun.

Aphrodite’s Child came from the mind of Vangelis, a pioneer of electronic music who is probably best known for composing the Oscar-winning soundtrack to the 1981 film Chariots of Fire. Just hearing the title of that movie surely conjures its uplifting theme in the mind, but the fire pit awaiting listeners at the depths of 666 is a whole different ride. I’ve only listened to the 77-minute double album three times all the way through, and I’m still finding it incredibly difficult to keep this review short and sweet. I guess that’s never been a talent of mine (natch), but it’s pretty much impossible to even slightly convey the scope of this album in a few written words. Suffice it to say that 666 is a very faithful interpretation of the Apocalypse of John, but it’s not merely about the end of the world – it sounds like what the end of the world would probably sound like. The grandiose nature of the tunes and their sweeping, relentless sound effects and patchy editing all help to create a sense of an age-old tradition or long-established way of life or universe (which could also be seen as representing music in general) falling into complete chaos.

The intense musical exploration is woven together into what seems like 4 side-long songs, and at times, it can be a pretty grating listen. Originally, the album almost didn’t see the light of day. Vangelis engaged in a 2-yr long battle with the record label over its content, specifically the orgasm noises made by Greek actress Irene Papas in the song “Infinity”, which the label dubbed obscene. Obviously, the album was eventually released; though, ironically, “Infinity” is probably the first song most people would remove from 666 if given the choice. It’s not really so much a “song” as it is a collage of Papas’ sexual noises and her repeated screaming of the phrase “I was, I am, I am to come again” (which is kind of hot and all, but it also goes on for 5 minutes, which is a bit much). It may now be a piece of living free-speech history, but if one was listening to this album on CD, it would be far too easy and incredibly tempting to skip this track.

Alas, that is the way of the concept album – it’s almost guaranteed to be a pretentious experience, but this is something we weirdly and inexplicably like about them. It’s almost as if someone has to do it – most bands don’t want to tread in this territory, but in the interest of knowing whether it could ever work or not, someone has to wander that road. In the case of the difficult 666, and even with its holier-than-your-album attitude, I can’t help but be glad it was made. Granted, no one should EVER try to make something like it again, but if you’re in a band and feeling saucy and decide you want to make a biblical prog rock record, at least you have a damn good blueprint to build from. ***1/2

Listening again? Multiple listens are necessary.

…now, compare the original to this, the Beck song “Chemtrails” from his 2008 album Modern Guilt.

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