IraklisSe Allous Kosmous
Released 1976 on EMI
Reviewed by aether, 31/05/2010ce
A while back I described Vangelis’ Earth (1973) LP (reviewed under past name: Gogmagog) as sounding like a third disc to Aphrodite’s Child’s “666.” Perhaps the real lineal successor to that particular leviathan, however, is this massive Greek bastard, made in 1976 by Iraklis Triantfyllidis (with whom I’m definitely staying on first name terms with for the remainder of this review!). A project like no other in Greek progressive rock, Se Allous Kosmous is a true titan of an album, one of those massive studio doubles the 70’s progressive scene seemed literally designed for. In terms of orchestral ambition of arrangement, this project dwarfs even the massive ‘666,’ as well as certain pretenders to the throne of Greek pomposity, such as Socrates Drank the Conium and Poll. For me, only the similarly special Akritas LP stands astride Iraklis and ‘Aphrodite’s Child,’ A veritable triumvirate of Olympian majesty!
Even a general run down of the line up (cf. Asbjornsen) talks of 80 instruments, 23 musicians, 7 lead singers, orchestra and choir!!! Iraklis was that adamant of obtaining prog kudos he credits/deploys no less that 5 moog synthesiser players on the LP. Something we know now - thanks to Ikaros Music’s fantastic vinyl reissue of Se Allous Kosmous (POL 70) – the original EMI issue being as rare as Hydra’s teeth – ha! [The LP was re-issued by EMI in 1988 but only as a single version that attacks the original cuts in a way that would make Jason Vorhees blush!].
So what’s it like? Well… big, bold, brassy and, at times, very beautiful, but by no means perfect. It’s a large-scale project that maybe outreaches itself. Of course, not knowing Greek I can only enjoy it on the purely musical level and, here, it performs, admirably at times, brilliantly, at others. In stylistic terms, the back cover speaks volumes, as three or four hippie types sit amidst a group of Greek pensioners in a bar, a visual enactment of the type of musical hybridisation that occurs inside – contemporary psychedelic/progressive merged with traditional Greek folk. But, to be fair, the album lives up to a lot more than that basic dichotomy, with moments of choral, classicism, electronic atmospheres and lots of intense solo piano. Importantly, like all good progressively-inclined studio doubles (666, Magma’s first, The Lamb Lies Down, Arco Iris’ Argentinian prog gem, Agitor Lucens), what you get with Se Allous Kosmous is the sense of a journey through different emotional atmospheres. Musical, as well as literal (if you can understand enough Greek to grasp the concept).
Iraklis began his career in the perfectly named (for a prog band) Lernia Hydra, who released a couple of singles in the early seventies. For the ambitious Iraklis and his orchestral/operatic pretensions, however, this was never gonna be enough and it seems like he spent the next couple of years putting together this four-sided, and many-headed, beast of an LP!
In a much more explicit way than, say, Aphrodite’s or Socrates, with Se Allous Kosmous, Iraklis proffered a complex merger of traditional Greek music forms and contemporary rock as well as classical forms. For lovers of acoustic instrumentation) there is a very complex acoustic mesh spreading itself (like a Greek fishing net) over the whole body of this incredibly well constructed double LP). Side opens with “Mia Filaki,” a mournful Greek lament, all mandolins, bazoukis and other sundry acoustic instruments interlaced with violins – until a solo flute intervenes momentarily – and the band kick in this time with drums to continue this ghostly lament – as spectral voices seem to beseech the God’s. Suddenly, as if someone has invaded the studio shouting, “Lets contemporise this fucker!” a great clipped bass line explodes in 6/4. Energised, the Greek folk contingent jump on it – laying down an incredibly complex intermeshing of acoustic instruments, violins snaking in out and out of any hole they can find, like a Mediterranean Fairport Convention possessed by St Vitus. It breaks into a mid-paced, Aphrodite’s-like ballad, very pastoral and psychedelic – trumpets parping away in the distance. A great choral vocal section provides a middle-eight of sorts, and its back into the last verse, which breaks into the first of many progressive hoe-downs – as if Fairport are back, this time with PFM, providing a joint cameo.
Next piece “To Dendro” is a solo piano piece that is one part Prokofiev modernist invention, one part Emerson-inspired demonstration piece, but adds a nice classical edge to the proceedings.
Another great clipped bass line introduces “Thelo Na Taxidevo” where Iraklis sounds a little like Demetrio Stratos. His voice has a lovely grain to it and he’s joined on this number by a quartet of screeching Greek harpies that sound fantastic. It seems that things are getting a bit serious here as the vocal tones darken. Seemingly as if to spoil the traditional quality of proceedings, electronic swooshes and warbles appear from an ARP synthesiser, like flying saucers from the sky, but they’re soon shooed away by the violinist’s great PFM-like solo. The whole vocal chorus re-enters to repeat lyrics triumphantly as the song fades out to a gypsy-like, Songs from the Wood-era Tull-a-thon. But where not finsihed yet, as THE most heavenly Greek vocal chorus descends from Mount Olympus to usher out the first side of this fantastic LP. Over rolling guitars and lutes and a Back-like keyboard arpeggio, trumpets call out of the vocal mist – chorales really were Iraklis’ thang! Thus, the opening side ends peacefully amidst a lolling acoustic breeze.
Side Two opens with, “Naha Ftera” another electronic Bach-like ostinato – very briefly – but sounding like Germans electronicists, Tyndall, experiencing a power-surge. It stops, then begins again, this time accompanied by mellotron flutes and other woodwinds. “Taxidi” is the first of the albums big ballads – female vocals (and accompanying chorus), it bears similarities to, again Tull, but also Carmen or Curved Air, or even the great Fusion Orchestra - a sort of prolonged prog-folk celebration that wouldn’t sound out of place on Stormcock even. Iraklis’ vocal has taken over now as the trumpets and synth’s warble away over the seemingly constant acostic inter-weave. A chant has begun, as the song breaks into a great jazzy guitar solo, rhythm guitars wah-wah-ing away, to close the song. "To Panigiri" opens amidst triumphant trumpets – real and synthesised and breaks into another great gypsy dirge of a song, segueing into an ancient sounding violin/synthesiser/bagpipe scream, joined by wooden percussion. It sounds like The Third Ear’s band Macbeth LP has been doused in a sort of Mediterranean flavouring, then fed as sustenance to the Master Musicians of Jojouka. This then merges into a beautiful canticle of sorts that sounds almost Scottish (and spookily similar to some of Godspeed’s more pagan (burnt) offerings) which breaks into a full-on jig with a violin sprint closing the side.
Side Three is perhaps the most progressive and contemporary of the four and, as such, is my personal favourite. It begins with the title track, “Se Allous Kosmous” a massive 12-minute multi-layered piece. A wavering, funky moog synthesiser riff bounces around the opening bars of this song like a hyped-up pinball. A muscular propulsive bass line under pins some breathy flute rifforama that is then replaced with some equally spirited mandolin of some sort, a synth and, finally, a wonderfully restrained and moulded guitar solo. The song then breaks into a sort of middle section over which some Greek phrases are spoken/sung whilst a triumphant McCartney-esque trumpet sings away elegantly. Whatever it is they are singing, they express it with such human warmth and earnestness that it really is quite humbling. Synthesiser drones come next, fizzing and humming, until what seems like the whole of Greece bursts in for a restatement of the main theme – just fantastic! “Tharthi Vrohi” is a rock-n-roller, blues sing-a-along that must have been the requisite celebratory party track at Greek weddings (back then) and divorces (today)! It’s abysmal, but why the hell shouldn’t the Greeks be allowed some simplistic blues based hollering once in a while and this one does merge (rather bizarrely) into a quite moving string-synth backed piano stroll, over a fading crepuscular (mental) landscape.
Side 4’s “Pios Xeri” begins in operatic fashion, with a richly expressed female vocal and piano, joined by a very perfunctory sting quartet. It gradually increases in pomposity as various synths and brass parp’n’fart away until a moog solo of sorts introduces a multiple-part wordless chorus that finishes the track before its really asserted itself. A bit of a low point! Yet, immediately made up for by the opening of “Xekinisame” which is all Popol Vuh chromium guitars smoking and curling around each other. The track is a mid-paced progressive rocker for the most part, though, and ends in a rather pompous fashion. However, there is a fascinating coda introduced by some sinister sounding electronics – from which bursts forth a most beautiful vocal chorale, accompanied by piano and strident bass guitar which leaves the listener thoroughly transported. Where? Somewhere! That’s where!
Overall though, it’s a worthy listen – a little overreaching perhaps, but I’d rather have the full version than the bastardised 1988 one (which I also own). Fans of Mediterranean folk music(s) and progressive rock will be delighted – it has that certain Mediterranean warmth that only people of that region seem to be able to provide. Its traditional (Greek) folk charms are much more explicit than in, say, ‘666,’ and the whole LP has some rigorous acoustic instrumentation and playing, whilst not lacking contemporary sounds such as psychedelic guitar and layers of rampant analogue synthesiser. A worthy addition to the Mediterranean progressive spectrum! Now available to us all, thanks to Ikaros Music. www.ikarosmusic.gr