ANGRA: SECRET GARDEN (2014)
1) Newborn Me; 2) Black Hearted Soul; 3) Final Light; 4) Storm Of Emotions; 5) Violet Sky; 6) Secret Garden; 7) Upper Levels; 8) Crushing Room; 9) Perfect Symmetry; 10) Silent Call.
Another four years, another «Angra» album, and again, the only remaining original members are the guitar duo of Loureiro and Bettencourt, and now they have even gone as far as to change the lead vocalist again — instead of Edu Falaschi, welcome Fabio Lione, a native of the fair town of Pisa who now shares lead vocalist duties in no less than three different prog-metal bands, including the Italian outfits Rhapsody Of Fire and Vision Divine, though, of course, Angra must be his biggest gambit so far. The guy must be in serious demand — frankly, however, I do not notice any crucial difference between his and Falaschi's singing. His pitch is a little shriller and higher, perhaps bringing the style a bit closer to the original Matos «lyricism», but do not take this as a nostalgic sing — Secret Garden ain't no Holy Land and never will be.
Instead, it continues the modest revival of Aqua, drifting a bit closer to «symphonic» and «progressive» metal, as is evident by the band's choice of producer (Jens Bogren, who has previously worked with everyone from Opeth to Symphony X) and additional guest vocalists. Excellent production values, inspired playing, serious care for melody and harmony, an emphasis on sheer power, as every second riff strives to imitate a minor earthquake — technically, Secret Garden is beyond reproach. Substantially, I have long since given up on Angra's possibility to amaze and delight anyone outside the regular heavy metal legion of fans, but as long as they keep up this level of energy and this high quality of sound, it will not make any sense whatsoever to condemn this music.
Once again, it seems as if there exists some sort of concept here — perhaps having to do with «the other world» and the passing from one plane of existence into the other, judging by the song titles and some of the lyrics — but do not waste your time trying to ascertain the details, it's not as if Bittencourt, who wrote most of the songs, could really enlighten you in this respect with any fascinating new insights. (The bonus track on some of the editions, by the way, is the band's cover of ʽSynchronicity IIʼ, which sort of upholds this idea of different worlds). More important is the fact that the heavy metal core of the album is now heavily interspersed with everything from flamenco to dark folk to progressive balladry (the title track, written by Finnish keyboardist Maria Ilmoniemi, is here sung by guest vocalist Simone Simons, normally with Dutch symph-metal band Epica — and it is sort of pretty, actually).
There is a jazzy touch every now and then, too — for instance, ʽUpper Levelsʼ starts out with some heavily busy basslines and scattered piano improvisations, before eventually gorging itself on these sounds so as to grow up into another power metal outing, and then, midway through, some of the guitar solos are played in a decidedly «fusion» manner, invoking memories of John McLaughlin and Allan Holdsworth more than any regular power metal stylistics. In brief, when Loureiro said that the new album «would be different», he wasn't merely bullshitting us like they all tend to do — they are really trying to explore different side alleys, though without losing the classic Angra flavor, of course.
I give the album a thumbs up without any second thoughts. Angra's attempts at scaring the daylights out of us with horrific sonic pictures (ʽCrushing Roomʼ, with Doro Pesch of Warlock featured as yet another guest star) or at inspiring me with optimistic power choruses (ʽStorm Of Emotionsʼ) do not work too well, relying as they do on well-tested musical methods, but they are handled with enough restraint, technicality, and respectable work ethics that even at its worst, Secret Garden may be tolerated, and at its best, shows that the pool of power metal ideas, even if you can now clearly see all the way to the bottom, is not yet completely exhausted. Well, something like that. Big thank you to producer Jens Bogren, too, for bringing out the best in these guys' guitar sound.