I have a great number of stories to tell about this album. It is the record which introduced me to progressive rock, defined half of the noughties for me and, to this day, equates summers spent in shaded rooms, playing records and reading, kept cool by shoddy fans in constant need of repair. It’s the album that made me really understand the importance of a proper sound system, the record I searched for the most when I was living in Germany, around the corner from a used record shop fronted by an old bass player named Detlev who would give me discounts, and his shaggy dog Schnulfi, the record I take pride in above all others and to which I owe much of my musical interests.
Back in ’72, Aphrodite’s Child was a band on the verge of break-up. Having had a very successful pop career and selling over 20 million records by that point, the direction in which Vangelis was trying to take their music did not sit well with Demis Roussos who, as we know, eventually decided to represent the unbelievably sappy ’70s pop song scene. Vangelis, on the other hand, will not be denied. He squeezed this album out of Demis Roussos and the others in the band whether they liked it or not, and how glad I am he did!… This is such a powerful experience, such a strange, expansive and yet personal sound that the first time I heard them I didn’t really get it. I had just met a guy who would become one of my closest friends. In a Romania where the Internet was still chocked by dial-up modems and quality record shops and movie rental places were still a pipe-dream, guys like him, with extensive cassette tape collections, bootlegged CDs and treasured records were priceless, acting like watering holes for avid newbies and seasoned veterans alike. As I was taken to him by a friend from school, in the pursuit of some ninja movie, I sat in his room, watched the mountains of tapes and CDs mounted on his walls, perfectly numbered and arranged, and started gasping at some of the names I recognized. Mike Oldfield, Vangelis, Jean-Michel Jarre… He had not expected that sort of excitement from a fat kid seven or eight years younger than him, and he started asking me some questions and getting me to listen to 666. I did, and it didn’t quite click.
Two weeks later I couldn’t stop thinking about that one song I had heard (it was “The Four Horsemen”), it was raging about in my head and I just had to give it another try. I went to his place again and we spent hours listening, talking about, copying and sharing music. Well, he was sharing with me, to be clear. I hadn’t, at that point, found anything he hadn’t already collected. Even now I can’t help but feel great pride every time I stumble across something he likes and hasn’t heard about yet. Just a bit of friendly competition…
Anyway, after that, 666 really grew on me, I listened to it obsessively, never ceasing to be amazed by the shifting layers and patterns, by the lush textures and harmonies and the great guitar work by Anargyros “Silver” Koulouris – groovy, warm, skilled and solar. Back then I took the music very seriously, the quaint “’70s cheesiness” of it escaping my perception completely. I guess I just didn’t have the pop culture background and references to detect it, to tune in to the humor in it, both voluntary (ironic) and involuntary (anachronistic). Now I have so many reasons to smile while listening to this… the warmth this sound holds, the unbelievable generosity of it, the wealth of memory, the clever superimposition of diverse genres, some of which are quite jolly in nature, on the often bleak themes in each song (it is, after all, a musical adaptation of John’s Book of Revelations, arguably one of the bleakest texts around), these things make it the seminal prog-rock album for me (sorry, King Crimson) and not only that, but the basis for all my future musical tastes and collection. I suppose I’ll always find myself detecting a tone, a note, a chord which reminds me of 666 in the stuff I discover now.
The music itself is a very complex mix of traditional instrumentation, sounding exotic and organic, with positively revolutionary synths, precise and really creative guitar work and vigorous percussion, providing a truly intricate medium for the lyrics (which are really quite good at conveying the drama of the Apocalyptic events). It’s very hard for me to chose just a couple of track from the album to represent it, since it’s such a diverse affair. This is why I’ll post four videos today. The first two are my selections. The second two are the entire album, cut into two parts. I really hope you enjoy this music – I feel I haven’t been able to convey just how amazing it is with words, getting lost in the story of how I came to discover it and how it later influenced me. But, in the end, it’s this very personal quality, this unexpected identification which the album allows which are the most moving aspects of it.