“Olympus” is a concept album centered on ancient Greek mythology. It is a fascinating theme that has a long history in music. Gustav Holst may have called his collective work “The Planets” but it was more about the gods for whom those planets were named. Bill Chase did it with the album “Ennea” and Rick Wakeman did it with “A Suite of Gods.”
Beat Funktion, however, has brought along various voices and talents with great effect. Three vocalists are featured on three different tracks and each lends a particular slant to the interpretation.
Daniel Lantz is the composer, lyricist, keyboardist and musical director. His choices of collaborators are appropriate to each piece involved. American rapper Damon Elliot on “King Minos,” Sani Gamedze on “It’s About Time” and Rebecca Laakso on “Where’s the Sunshine?” all contribute uniquely and meaningfully.
The crossover ability of the six musicians is remarkable. The meet and conquer the challenge of adapting to such varied styles, often within the space of a single track.
“The Prologue” is the narrated introduction by British voice actor Ralph Erle and the instruments. Daniel Lantz wrote the introduction, giving a backdrop of mythology for the music to follow. The humorous end of the narration belies the serious cultural and sociological interpretations that follow.
“Game of the Gods” features Olle Thunström on tenor sax. The rhythm section thunder away whole the horns create a playful image of the Olympian gods toying with humanity, all menacing and merciless.
“King Minos” features seven-time Grammy winner Damon Elliot rapping the story of King Minos of Crete. Olandersson’s trumpet punctuates the funky groove and Lantz’s keyboards back up the vocals. Guitarist Johan Öijen adds some sweet soul interludes in the breaks.
As I said, the choice of Elliot to tell Minos’ story is perfect and sets up the move from Minos and his Minotaur to the “Chimera.”
The Chimera was another of the monstrous creatures that populate Greek mythology. The Chimera was a hybrid beast and is musically interpreted by Lantz through the use of multiple styles, motifs and times. Brilliant.
“It’s About Time” concerns Hera, Queen of the Olympians, wife of Zeus and arguably one of the most despised figures in Greek mythology. Lantz portrays a different aspect of the goddess who tried to kill Hercules and others. Sani Gamedze sings sadly of the decision to break away from a brutal relationship. “It’s time you pay for all of your wrongs, It’s time I start to make things right.”
It sounds like it could have come from late 1970s Gloria Gaynor. Maybe it’s more disco than funk but it works well and offers a sensitive reinterpretation of a well-known mythological figure. I had never been sympathetic to Hera (did I mention she tried to kill Hercules?) until now.
Thunström’s sax is hot and you’ve got to love the groove of the rhythm section.
“Waters of Thessaly” is an interlude carried mostly by Lantz’s Fender Rhodes. Thessaly saw a convergence of many waterways and bodies of water in the glory days of Greece. Odysseus had visited Thessaly and Jason and the Argonauts launched their expedition from there. Several rivers from the Pindus watershed flow throughout the region and met other rivers near Mount Olympus.
The waters were said by some to be purifying and were the source waters which Hercules diverted to clean the Aegean Stables during his 12 Labors.
Accompanied by flute, harp and strings, the piece incorporates elements from other tracks on the album as in the coming together of various waterways. In the liner notes, Daniel Lantz challenges listeners to determine which tracks are referenced.
It doesn’t require a lot of thinking to realize who is the mythological character used as the basis for “Viper Lady.” The trumpet and guitar get cool solos but there is a menacing hiss that sounds like what Medusa’s serpentine coif might make.
The Jazz-funk of this track is more fun than watching this Gorgon sister turn herself into stone.
“Don’t Look Back” is about the tragic mistake of Orpheus in his attempt to rescue his beloved Eurydice from the clutches of Hades (the god and the place) in the underworld. The only requirement to complete Eurydice’s salvation is simple—do not look back at her until they have both reached the surface. Orpheus can’t wait to see her and turns around only a few steps from the surface. He fails and loses her forever. It is one of the saddest tales in all of mythology.
Ollandersson’s trumpet is as plaintive as Orpheus’ lyre. It is melancholy and mournful. Orpheus must say goodbye to sweet Eurydice for a second time.
“The Hydra” was another chore of Hercules 12 Labors, imposed on him by who? Oh, yeah. Hera. The Hydra was a multi-headed dragon who regrows two heads for every one severed. And Hercules had to kill the beast.
The maneuvering, striking, slashing and biting are brilliantly recreated in the clash between the instruments. The ebb and flow of the conflict are brought excitingly to life. The Hydra seems to come alive in our own time thanks to Olle’s sax effects.
“Fallen Hero” is as much about modern life as it is about fallen Greek soldiers. It is sweet and sad, commemorating those who fall under the weight of life’s heavy struggles. The heavy bass and drum groove are the unrelenting pressures that every human must face.
“Where’s the Sunshine?” is about Medea, the priestess of Colchis, wooed and later abandoned by Jason on the quest for the Golden Fleece. Medea’s despair leads her to acts of heinous revenge. At last, she calls upon her grandfather Helios who drives the chariot of the Sun. Helios sends his chariot to rescue her.
Rebecca Laakso sings the despairing words of Medea to Helios. It comes across as another example of disco’s cry for female freedom. Again, Lantz has a way of making us give well-known characters a second look.
“Siren Song” was the enticing trap for mariners who passed too close to the island of the Sirens. In Homer’s “Odyssey,” the hero Odysseus is determined to hear the song for himself, so he has his crew tie him to the mast. The crew plugs their ears with bees’ wax so they can remain unaffected.
Odysseus gets to hear the song but is nearly driven mad. Lantz’s piece is written in a cyclical, layered form to simulate the intoxicating effect. Layer after layer is added with all of the instruments coming into play.
“Swords and Sandals” is a general look at the bloody history of Greece. The sax—then organ—solos are like the approach of two different armies—perhaps Athens and Sparta—while both sides share the sounds of clinking armor and the shuffling of sandals slogging through the sand.
The inexorable marches are what all ancient armies bore in common.
“Epilogue” is the penultimate piece. It bemoans fate or the lack of it and calls for celebration. Don’t worry about interference from gods (singular or plural). Instead, party with them.
“Mount Olympis” is that celebration. It is a celebration of life in harmony. Harmony with humanity, harmony with nature. The gods don’t get the last word.
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