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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Angra: Angels Cry


1) Unfinished Allegro; 2) Carry On; 3) Time; 4) Angels Cry; 5) Stand Away; 6) Never Understand; 7) Wuthering Heights; 8) Streets Of Tomorrow; 9) Evil Warning; 10) Lasting Child.

Getting into symphonic metal is comparable to adopting a ferret: there is little doubt that it can be done, but what exactly is to be gained, except for a vague feel of self-importance, and wouldn't you be easier off with a pussycat? Likewise, we are cool when it comes to symphonic music, and we are hot when it comes to metal, but can we be sure that putting them together will not throw the temperature off balance, for good?

Brazilian band Angra were only one out of a thousand groups formed with the purpose of proving the worth of this synthesis — but they succeeded better than most, and came pretty close to ma­king «power metal» sound inspiring instead of ridiculous. At the very least, their debut album, Angels Cry, is a textbook example on how this thing should be done; I cannot imagine a power metal fan not being overwhelmed by its music, and, conversely, if you do not dig it, classically influenced heavy metal music will never be your spoonful of tea.

First, Angra's music is not emotionally heavy; no matter how fast, metallic, and crunchy their gui­tar riffs may seem, these guys are hopeless romantics, and it shows on every track. Their classical cues are taken from Beethoven rather than Bach or Wagner (spot the 9th Symphony echoes at the start of 'Evil Warning') — and what proper metal band would be bizarre enough to cover Kate Bush's 'Wuthering Heights' on its debut album? Add to this the endless catchy power pop melo­dies in the chorus, and «metal» will only remain as the rhythmic guitar/bass backbone to the pro­ceedings. After all, the album's title is Angels Cry, not Demons Howl.

Second, at this stage — first and best in the band's career — the driving force is Andre Coelho Matos, who is responsible for more than half of the songwriting, for the band's keyboard sound, and for the singing. The guy's talents are not to be denied: he is a solid songwriter, an accompli­shed, if not virtuoso, pianist, and a highly competitive screamer with a good range. At the same time, he gets equally professional help from guitarist Raphael Bettencourt, supporting the occasi­onally corny lyrics (well, if you are such a straight-faced romantic, you have no choice but to tolerate that epithet) with complex ass-kicking riffs that dissolve wordy banality whenever the need arises. Finally, Bettencourt, with his classical training (he even has a degree in conducting), is perfectly complemented by the more rock-oriented Kiko Loureiro on second guitar. (Yes, they do know how to play all these things in Brazil.)

In short, all conditions are met for proving the validity of symphonic metal. Technically, the only complaint is that, on quite a few of these tracks, Matos' synthesizers sound somewhat cheap, and the songs could definitely benefit from some real strings rather than tinny imitations — but, I guess, due to budget limitations that was out of the question at the time. Another nagging prob­lem is that the songs tend to blend with each other; but this is really only a problem if you consi­der them from a «pop» perspective — in reality, Angels Cry is structured more like a true sym­phony, consisting of several different, but similar movements, and from that perspective, when 'Wuthering Heights' comes along, it does not so much bring in an element of refreshing diversity as oddly disrupts the general flow of the album. (Not to mention that there will always be some­thing ridiculous about the idea of a guy singing 'Heathcliff, it's me, Kathy!', regardless of how high his pitch manages to be).

And, what is that flow? Essentially, it is fifty-five minutes of energetic prayer to some sort of su­pernatural force (no specific presence of the Christian god, rather a vague shamanistic spiritual vibe instead that would be increased tenfold on the next album). Sometimes it speeds up, with Matos delivering as many baroque flourishes on his keyboards as the guitarists are offering speed metal solos (the album, by the way, is not a finger-flashing solo-fest: such passages are highly re­stricted); sometimes it slows down, with acoustic interludes and power ballad simulations; but it never bogs down in sleepy melancholia. By the time the last song comes along, the listener may be exhausted, not just from the heaviness (which, as I said, is only technical and superficial), but from the never-ending punchiness of it all, as in «don't these guys ever feel the need to relax for a small moment?» They do not — relax and you will lose the link to the Supernatural. Once you have started, you have to go all the way.

Catchy pop choruses grace speedfreak songs such as 'Carry On' and 'Evil Warning', as well as multipart cre­ations such as 'Streets Of Tomorrow' and the title track (which also gives you a little Paganini in the middle). But it is not the kind of choruses that one is likely to hum in the shower; in the general context of the album, they hide behind the puffed-up atmosphere. The atmosphere is worth describing and analyzing; the individual hooks are not.

It is hard for me to imagine people loving Angra's music to the point of tear-shedding; I cannot help but regard sympho­nic metal as a musical curio, entertaining and thought-provoking at best, pompous and moronic at worst. But Angels Cry is certainly one of the staunchest examples of «at best» I have ever wit­nessed from the genre. And if its romantically-spiritual aspect does not «get to» me, its kick-ass aspect most certainly does. Pure mathematical interest in how they go around constructing this vibe + sincere toe-tapping reaction = thumbs up.

1 comment:

  1. What Russian are you?! The first theme of Unfinished Allegro is taken from Swan Lake - Dance of the little swans, if I get my English right. And that's definitely not Beethoven, but certainly a lot of fun. Carry On is a good song. Thanks for bringing this band up. This is quite my cup tea, given all the classical influences incorporated by Lord and Blackmore.