ANGRA: AQUA (2010)
1) Viderunt Te Aquae; 2) Arising Thunder; 3) Awake From Darkness; 4) Lease Of Life; 5) The Rage Of The Waters; 6) Spirit Of The Air; 7) Hollow; 8) A Monster In Her Eyes; 9) Weakness Of A Man; 10) Ashes; 11*) Lease Of Life (remixed version).
Hmm. Either I am finally getting used to this, or Aqua is an improvement over the band's last trio of power slabs — or, at least, reflects some changes that appeal to me, the non-power-metalhead who, nevertheless, has managed to enjoy large parts of the record.
So let us see what's new and what's old. The fact that Angra have adopted the Asia-style gimmick of naming their albums is new (unless you disregard the word Consurgens from their previous offering) — but certainly not encouraging. More encouraging is having their old drummer, Ricardo Confessori, make his prodigal son return after his co-project with Matos, Shaaman, had pretty much burnt down to the ground.
But the absolute best thing that has happened to this band on an objective scale is, I think, their saying goodbye to Dennis Ward, the producer behind all of their 2001-2006 output. Why? Just make yourself a random playlist from these three albums, throw in Aqua, and admire the difference. In comparison, the old sound is simply awful. The drums are drowned in hiss, the guitar riffs glue the notes together in a noisy roar, and the singer is almost reduced to the painful task of outshouting both. For Aqua, the band, instead of the hotly credited Ward, turned to lesser names (I have no idea who Branden Duffy and Adriano Daga are) and co-produced themselves — and the result is their best sound in ages, maybe ever (even Holy Land had its production problems, which were, of course, compensated by the amazing quality of the material).
Case in point: 'Arising Thunder', which bursts out of your speakers much like the title suggests, with a magnificent, juicy guitar sound in which the heavy rhythm work never overshadows the finger-flashing melodic scale playing, the insanely fast drums feel refreshingly humanoid, and Falaschi's pompous singing feels like singing, not shouting. It kicks ass, it's melodic, it's complex, and it never for once ruins the ears — what more is there to ask?
So the band, conceptually, is still deeply mired in their mystical shit. This particular concept is centered around — three guesses! — water and its, uh, general influence on the life of man. Not in the issue of sewer maintenance, of course, but rather the way it is hinted at in Shakespeare's Tempest, which, so we are told, forms the loose (very loose) basis of the album. Simply put, Aqua tells you that Water Is Important — in more ways than you normally imagine it to be. If you got that, we can now move on to the music.
Much of which is fine, although I still cannot always tell whether it is merely due to a combination of their refined production and my improved imagination, or if the band really sat down with a firm decision to write a bunch of better power metal tunes than usual. But I'll be damned if that opening one-two punch of 'Arising Thunder' and 'Awake From Darkness' is not recognized as the band's killing-est consecutive blast since the good old days of 'Nothing To Say'. Even when, midway through 'Awake', they cut out the metal and indulge in a brief piano-and-strings mid-section, it feels like an interesting gesture rather than a conventional gimmick. And I even get a chance to be amazed at some particular riffs — such as the awesome descending bumble-bee thing that cuts in around 2:32 into the song.
Third good song in a row, the piano epic 'Lease Of Life' threatens to become a rotten power ballad from time to time, but never capitalizes on that promise — instead, they just bring in denser layers of sound, such as dreamy female background vocals, diversify it with a rocking mid-section, and, overall, go for a more progressive stance of things than cheap-operatic. It works! Not on any tear-jerking level, of course, but there is a feel of overall solidity that never goes away.
For sure, once you get past the mid-album mark, they cannot help but start repeating themselves — the same speed-metal and prog-metal elements cast in only slightly changing ways. But with this crystal clear production and refined sense of taste, this is not a big problem. Even Falaschi's singing is not such a big bother: he is, after all, merely respecting the genre's conventions, and it is always easy to pass him by and just concentrate on the guitar melodies, or even on the monster rhythm section if you feel more like it.
As tempting as it would be to end this on a «Welcome back, Angra!» note, I would still refrain from too much excitement. For one thing, this constant insistance on Big Concept Statements is not a wise thing — it just keeps on interfering with concentrating on writing the riffs. For another thing, if the band's sound depends so much on the guy behind the mixing controls, it puts them into a state of constant jeopardy. For a third thing, it's frickin' power metal — Wagner for the 21st Century Lunkhead Man. Nevertheless, my internal lunkhead is still influential enough to lobby out a secure thumbs up for Aqua. Is yours influential enough to join in the fun?
Check "Aqua" (CD) on Amazon