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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Angra: Holy Land


ANGRA: HOLY LAND (1996)

1) Crossing; 2) Nothing To Say; 3) Silence And Distance; 4) Carolina IV; 5) Holy Land; 6) The Shaman; 7) Make Believe; 8) Z.I.T.O.; 9) Deep Blue; 10) Lullaby For Lucifer.

Angra's masterpiece — the album they are going to be remembered by if they are to be remem­bered at all — Holy Land is a conceptual creation, dedicated to the lives and fates of people in the Holy Land (which, for these Brazilian guys, has nothing to do with the one in the Torah) be­fore the latter became defiled by European invaders; think Neil Young's 'Cortez The Killer' ex­panded to the form of a symphonic metal opera.

Actually, my description is somewhat off, influenced by what is usually written about the album. Upon close inspection, it turns out that the record is not so much about the native people of Ame­rica as it is about the people arriving there — dealing with their own dreams, hopes, impressions and conclusions. This also explains why the Indian folk motives, whose incorporation into the record has been so much lauded by critics, are, in practice, limited to at most a couple songs, most notably the «tribal drumming» of 'Carolina IV': what else should one expect from an album about Europeans? After all, there is a reason why it does not begin with an Indian folk chant, but rather with a rearrangement of one of Palestrina's mass pieces ('Crossing' — quite likely, some­thing that a bunch of conquistadores may have actually been listening to on the eve of their jour­ney). It is not about Indians.

Nor is it about cruel, heartless, racist European guys slaughtering innocent, peaceful Children of Nature. That side of the business is altogether left alone. Instead, we have a dense musical land­scape trying to accompany, if not represent the mixed, bewildered feelings one experiences when clashing with a new, unpredictable, virginal world. This can be done in many different ways, and from an apriori position, I would think that power metal is hardly the best one. When you try to convey a complex, constantly shifting emotional state through speedy distorted guitars and a strong-throated guy per­manently screaming his lungs off, results are almost certainly bound to be catastrophic. Yet Holy Land somehow manages to make it.

On their own, the individual songs are decent; just as before, some of the riffs are memorable, some of the choruses are easy to sing along, and there is plenty of punch as the guitarists and the vocalist compete for your attention. But it is the concept that strings them together and brings a unifying meaning to the thrash patterns and ear-bursting wailing; the pathos and ecstasy are given a good reason, and the medieval and baroque classical influences are no longer there just because someone happened to like baroque music. A mystical journey, but grounded in reality, and justi­fied by well-handled musical planning.

The centerpiece is 'Carolina IV', a ten-minute epic illustrating the ships' majestic sailing through uncharted waters and their eventual arrival (or, perhaps, imaginary arrival; or, perhaps, no arrival, since there are also vague references to shipwreck throughout). In condensed form, it has it all: folk-influenced percussion beats, gorgeous dreamy vocal parts (the "So, won't you come with me my friend?.." bit is, as far as I can tell, the most beautiful moment in the band's entire catalog), the insane speed-metal part with catchy choruses, the keyboard-orchestral interlude, a finger-fla­shing solo that takes the dexterity of Iron Maiden for granted and proceeds to improve upon it, and a long pompous coda. One can hate each, or all, of these moments, but I feel a vision here — a brave, pretentious message from people who truly have something original to say.

In the overall context of the album, even songs that I would otherwise hate — the «power ballads» 'Make Believe' and 'Deep Blue' — play an integral part, and contribute to the overtly tra­gic feeling of it all. Why tragic? Because Matos leaves no space whatsoever for joy. There is fru­stration caused by a beautiful dream gone horrendously wrong ('Nothing To Say'); there is quiet amazement, mixed with fear and uncertainty, at realizing one's own role in changing history ('Ho­ly Land'); there is spiritual confusion brought on by an encounter with pagan religion ('The Sha­man') — but no joy. The closest thing to joy is the speed-rocker 'Z.I.T.O.', because the chorus says "Mother nature brings to me in fantastic purity everything I need... like a teenage discovery what's more delightful than this?", but coming as it does towards the end of the album, and loaded with hard-to-decipher ironic subtexts, it is not enough to shift the mood upwards.

In many ways, Holy Land is still a puzzle, which is terrific since there are few things more bor­ing and less adequate than «easily read» art-metal conceptual albums. It helps to swallow it toge­ther with its concept, but even if we knew nothing about the subject idea behind it, its somber tra­velog style could still come through. A perfectly constructed masterpiece of 1990s metal, and the only Angra album with the capacity of inflaming my usually metalproof heart — thumbs up by any possible account.

1 comment:

  1. I sincerely hope you remember which band was the first to combine tribal percussion with hardrock/metal back in 1971 .... clue: Osibisa provided the percussion.
    Caroline IV is excellent; Holy Land has some rather pedestrian guitar parts; The Shaman is great indeed.

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