Saturday, February 7, 2015
Angra - The Secret Garden 
Angra first caught my attention with their masterful ''Temple of Shadows''. It felt at the time (and still does) like such a fulgent tribute power metal in its marriage to progressive elements that Dream Theater would have been more than proud of, complete with wondrous symphonic sounds, that it immediately became one of my favorite metal albums, ever. That said, the band's fortunes went pretty downhill from there, with a streak of lackluster records which didn't even more close to the brilliance of their masterwork. The numerous band changes and internal problems threw them off balance and the result wasn't very pretty. The existence of Shaman also did something to split the band's skill, I suppose. However, with their best record in a decade, fronted by Fabio Lione, the Brazilians feel not only aplomb enough to restore amends but also retain some of that oomph which made them the star of 21st century power metal in the first place.
I've said and I'll say it again and again: Angra is among the few power/progressive acts out there I'd pay lip service to, ''The Secret Garden'' helps clear some of the tarnish on their formerly renowned title. ''The Secret Garden'' which nearly like an artistic epiphany because, more than discovering new ground for the band - which at this stage might have produced some egregious results - there's a penchant to go over the pastiches of the past with the same skill with which they weaved an entire discography, polished with quality levels of production. In retrospect ''Temple of Shadows'' never possessed the kind of chrome-metal production you see so often in modern metal, but it fitted the texture and riffing patterns nicely, with plenty of majestic albeit intricate gloss buttered on a slew of excellent riffs, but ''The Secret Garden'' feels less charitable in the realms of complexity on more on the verge of a simplistic memorability, with crazy bulky guitar hooks and crystal clear wisps of melody played out in a professional, controlled level. That's not to say this record is boring, obviously, but that it's simply not as good ''Temple of Shadows'' which is something of an impossible nut to crack anyhow.
Of course the best sequences of the album is where it hooks me perfectly with a combination of progressive metal alacrity and climactic orchestral elements upon beautiful leads: parts that mete out such a level of rainbow goodness that for a brief moment they make me feel inside my beloved ''Temple of Shadows''. Hell, there's so much similarity going on between this record and other that one may think Angra just found re-inserting the formula of their best record might as well be the way to go, which worked damned fine, considering their fall from grace in recent years. The title track, with its nose deep in an orgy orgastic symphonies and ecstatically moving violin lines, feels like a commemoration of ''No Pain for the Dead'', notwithstanding the inclusion of beautiful, harmonious female vocals. Even the jiving Spanish guitars and gyrating pianos make occasional appearances here, with tracks like ''Upper Levels'', which bolster their memorability on the grounds of heavy, percussive riffwork, and anthemic choruses guided by the kind of space-y keyboards which Norway's Pagan's Mind love. Angra may not be at their technical or artistic peak here, but this album is clearly strong on both the memorability and songwriting departments, with enough electric guitar wankery to keep the music nerds in place and enough head-hanging/goosebumps action going on to please the uneducated plebeians (no offense intended).
I'd like to think that Fabio Lione is a good vocalist, to say the least. Sure, who wouldn't have preferred Edu Falaschi on this? Still, the man fills in the shoes pretty aptly. He is not so high pitched as, say, Halford, but reminds me somewhat of the Attacker album that came out in 2013, with a little more melodious grace. A song like ''Crushing Room'' may leave the genuine power metal aficionado a bit disoriented due to its heavy incorporation of double vocals and its mournful, atmospheric paste, but with a set of outstanding leads from the band's two prevailing guitar masterminds it still becomes something of a guilty pleasure. In addition to that songs like ''Perfect Symmetry'' and ''Newborn Me'', with their furious speed, feel more like a late 80's prog/power record with flashier guitar acrobatics and a tank-like wall of production, maybe something out of a Crimson Glory record if you want to stretch things up a notch; in either case Fabio rocks his vox with unobtrusive clarity.
So evidently I ran short on things to dislike on this album, but there were still there. Namely, as a listener whose expectations of greatness never quite fell after the perfect ''Temple of Shadows'' (whose name I've already praised, what, more than half a dozen times?) the album seems to be lacking in depth and that colorful, irresistible pallet of instrumentation which I still think this ageing monarchs of power metal can conjure. At some point, despite the glossy attractiveness of it all songs like ''Silent Call'' seem too, well, ballad-y and... modern. I admire these guys' sense of melody and songwriting but I never vied for something that should get them all too intimate with the bloated crappiness of a commercial country song for fuck's sake... not that they run low as that - thank the heavens - but they do scrape the edges at times which frankly feels a tad discomforting, even on such a modern basis. Despite the clear strength of this album, too much time and sonic energy is spent on a random grab-bag of vocal duties and puffed chorus sections - they could have trimmed up a few bis, basically. But this is nonetheless a jumpy yet passionate revival that puts the Brazilians back on my map, one that makes me feel I'm actually listening to Angra, and one whose transformation I hope won't attenuate the voracity of their drive and lock them up in music school detention for another decade. Godspeed.
Black Hearted Soul