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You know, I rarely hear people talk about Holy Land, and songs from it rarely appear on Angra setlists nowadays. As the most difficult Angra album to locate on hardcopy, It took me a while to get a copy and understand why this album is so criminally unsung. This is more an album of indigenous Brazilian sounds and tonality than a metal album, and since much of the album follows this tendency (except perhaps opener “Nothing To Say”), it is generally less accessible to the metal public and indeed a rather singular entity in their discography and field.
While I generally have claimed not to be a great fan of André Matos and gave him some crap in my review of Fireworks, my feelings are not the same here. I think that his less substantial, somewhat airy voice serves the timeless feeling of Holy Land very well. That’s one thing that always jumps out at me about this album, it emits a feeling of antiquity and reverence. The instrumentation is rarely hyperactive, and much of the album moves at a relative trickle, with tribal-sounding percussion, soft piano, and swaying vocals. While the opener is fairly straightforward, “Silence And Distance” sweeps the listener in a decidedly equatorial direction, and by the opening of “Carolina IV”, it’s clear that home is far behind (unless, of course, you’re Brazilian!). This song deserves special mention, as it is the focal point of the album, and in my opinion, one of the finest that Angra has ever crafted. A tale of seafaring, dreams, and the miraculous beauty of the sea, it sprawls ten and a half minutes, from chanting verses and atmospheric interludes to a zippy power metal chorus.
After the majestic high point of the album, Angra mellows out quickly with the ancient and enchanting title track, with its distinctive sparse piano accompaniment and featuring of pipes. Angra has always been excellent at writing enjoyable and memorable softer material, and this nor “Make Believe” are any exception to that rule. The other better known track from this album is “Z.I.T.O.”, and while the significance of the song’s title is lost on me, the awed and innocent discovery of nature’s wonders, bundled up in the lyrics, is certainly not. “Pure”, is another good descriptor of the general theme and feeling of Holy Land. The music is almost reverent in its regard for its subject matter, be it the ocean, mother nature, or hopes and dreams. As such, this is an easy album for the ideological dreamer like myself to get absolutely lost in for its entire duration.
Instrumentally, this album is remarkable mainly for its stronger use of keyboards and certainly for native percussion. There are solos and guitar leads of course, but they are fewer and farther between than ever before, and many of the songs (“The Shaman”, “Carolina IV”) have a sense of wandering. For metal, there is an awful lot of fairly empty space that is filled with little but light keyboard and percussion, along with some ambient sounds. As mentioned, Matos’ voice excels in this setting, and he is a full asset to this work. While his strange, sometimes effeminate crooning might seem strange in some settings, the mystic element that is almost constantly present on this album makes it feel very natural.
Holy Land is essential for Angra fans, and anyone who enjoys strong elements of folk in their power metal, but it’s a bit of a grower and definitely not for every fan of heavy metal. I find it extremely refreshing and very engaging. Not always the most memorable, but it has its moments.
Originally written for Black Wind Metal (blackwindmetal.com)
Angra have always been a personal favorite band of mine, and their second full-length, 1996's Holy Land showed the world the potential of the Brazilian quintet. What always shocked me about Holy Land was the fact that this came out in 1996. 1996!? I think it is often understated how much Angra actually did for the power metal genre, as well as their special way of progressing it.
I wouldn't be surprised if the guys in Rhapsody had enjoyed a spot of Holy Land prior to their debut. This had a lot of the hallmarks that would later be almost standard for the genre in years to come - especially as far as the bigger bands were concerned. Hansen studios, Sascha Paeth, Charlie Bauerfeind, yeah that's the shit right there.
Holy Land was a concept album, fusing traditional Brazilian music into Angra's crafty blend of speed/progressive/power metal. The concept details of the conquest of Brazil, and as a bonus for those who have a hard copy of the album is that the booklet folds out into an old 15th century map. (Which is awesome, but I hate opening it out in fear of damaging it).
Anways, onto the actual music. As I said they fuse traditional Brazilian music with their tasty brand of metal and the result is a totally unique album. Angra never did another one like this, nor did any other band attempt it. This, my friends, is what I would call a piece of power metal history. In terms of arrangement, production, and of course the material on offer I think this is right up there with Land of the Free, Episode and Imaginations from the Other Side as far as influence, both on the power metal genre and its progressive off-shoot.
This predates quite a bit of the Italian power metal sound, which is funny, and in places here you can hear motifs, and inklings of what would later influence the Italian guard. But I digress, tracks such as storming opener "Nothing to Say" and the epic "Carolina IV" should be all you need to hear to see where I'm coming from.
The performances here are really quite special, Andre Matos' unique voice is at its finest on Holy Land, his range has always been his strong point and here proves no different, truly superb form. Kiko Loureiro and Rafael Bittencourt comprise one of my personal favorite guitar duos, and perform deftly. I always felt their guitar playing, as far as pre-Edu Falaschi era Angra went, was a little understated. Possibly due to their styles routed in various genres and techniques. The rhythm section is tight, and handled wonderfully, and not to forget a whole host of guest musicians who make this album that little bit more special.
In an attempt to close I will say that Holy Land was Angra's finest release with the Andre Matos line-up. In fact I think Holy Land is a masterpiece in its genre, and an album that can often be a little misunderstood. As far as power metal goes, this is a mandatory listen, and whilst I guess it could be considered a little fruity in places, is still completely worthy of attention. This one takes a little bit of time, especially if you're more familiar with Angra's work from Rebirth onwards. Despite that, this is a magical release that just has to be heard.
"Holy Land" is the most progressive album of the band and kind of unique in their discography. Though, cronologically speaking, "Holy Land" is the second album of the brazilian band Angra, the connection between this album and the following ones is... their first album, "Angels Cry". If "Angels Cry" is a mixture in equal shares of power and progressive metal, the next albums ("Fireworks" and so on) are power metal pieces. In between, there is this "Holy Land".
"Holy Land" follows the progressive side of "Angels Cry" and goes deeply in this area. The music is deffinitely "softer" than in their other releases. But that's not necessarily a week spot. Of course, for someone who would expect to hear some good power metal (because, generally speaking, Angra is a power metal band, with some progressive influences) this would be kind of annoying and unpleasant. The term "metal" is quite often eluded, big parts of the music being found at the not that "thin line" between metal and rock. On the other hand, I'm sure that many progressive metal/rock fans would love that the legendary Rush had gone on this way in the 90's.
The music of the "Holy Land" is omogenous, but not a levelled and boring one. Speaking of quality, there are no highs and lows - the tracks are on the same level. It is quite hard to decide which is the best. The album is one of those to listen from the beginning to the end. Which fits perfectly, as "Holy Land" is a concept album, about the discovery and the colonization of Brazil that took place in the sixteenth century.
As for the style, the songs vary from pure power songs (like "Nothing To Say") to softer but very complex ones (like "Holy Land" or "Carolina IV"), with spectacular and surprising arrangements, using various instruments and rhythms (traditional brazilian or classical).
A prog metal listener would be pretty pleased with this release, or even more. Yet, I would say that even the power metal fans could find some interresting parts on this album. Because I really think this is something to try. "Holy Land" is quite a special release in the metal area and deserves at least one listening.
I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about an album I know so well, and I do know Holy Land as the palm of my hand. I bought this CD like 8 years ago and I’m still able to listen to the whole thing.
What we find here is basically Brazilian music, even more than metal I should say, so, many complain about the ‘lightness’ of this release, but I consider it a heresy, this album is really good, with some strong and heavy moments indeed, like in ‘The Shaman’ (song which inspired Andre Matos future band Shaman).
Beyond that song, we have in this album some of Angra’s most famous songs like ‘Make Believe’, an almost entirely acoustic ballad, romantic but strong; ‘Nothing to Say’, a classic power song, bombastic and fast, nice chorus also; and ‘Carolina IV’, an epic track really well done. Yet, there is a song that is no classic, but is my favorite one: ‘Silence and Distance’, in which the vocalist Andre Matos shows how perfect and beautiful his voice is.
The lyrics are inspired in Brazilian history, about its discovery and exploration. It can already be noticed when you look at the booklet, the cover and all the artwork. You can see maps, boats, and other things that lead your mind right to the “Sea Expansion Times” (with metal, of course…)
There are many albums that I consider good, some that I consider great, but a very small number that I consider perfect.
Holy Land, however, does deserve this accolade. After Angra's stellar, but largely derivative debut album, "Angels Cry", "Holy Land" shows the band firmly establishing a sound of their own, which sadly would only last for one album. Despite the brevity of Angra's "glory days", this disk is a monumental achievement in not only metal, but in all of music.
The album is a concept album in that it has an overriding theme, the conquest of Latin America, specifically Brazil, by the Conquistadors, and the clash of cultures and swords that took place in the bloody struggle to control the New World. That being said, the concept does not always manifest itself in the form of lyrics, and even when it does, this remains secondary in comparison with the way it manifests itself in the instrumentation. Angra have chosen to depict the clash of cultures by employing a contrasting mix of European classical music and Brazilian tribal rhythms, and they succeeded with unimaginable aplomb.
"Crossing" sets up the mood of the album with the sounds of a church choir and thunder cracking, before launching into "Nothing to Say", a heavy, yet intricate and heavily-orchestrated piece that deals directly with the conflict between the two cultures. While "Nothing to Say" at first glance doesn't stray too much from the sound developed on "Angels Cry", "Silence and Distance" sees the band exploring some new territory, incorporating truly beautiful piano work with subtle Brazilian rhythms in what is possibly the band's best ballad.
The centerpiece of the album, however, comes after this, in the form of "Carolina IV", a long, epic piece, that is the defining moment of "Holy Land" (and perhaps Angra's career). It begins solely with tribal drums, eventually joined by guitars and the rest of the band, and takes the listener on an incredible journey as Angra's demi-god vocalist, Andre Matos (who unfortunately left the band), recounts the tales of traveling across the Atlantic to the new world. This is truly a moving piece, ranging from tribal sections to piano interludes and fast, harmonized guitar solos, and is undoubtedly the best song on the album.
"Carolina IV" is followed by the album's title track, "Holy Land", which coincidentally was the song that inspired the theme for the rest of the album. It's a very unusual song put up against the Angra catalog, and resembles metal in very few ways. It is however, excellent ,and incorporates more of the native instruments seen earlier on the album. After "Holy Land" comes another album highlight: "The Shaman". This song can be thought of as a cross between "Carolina IV" and "Nothing to Say", it's a heavy song, but displays a wide musical scope in a relatively short amount of time, with both classical and tribal influences. Afterwards comes the album's single "Make Believe", another ballad which leans more towards the style of classical music than the other songs on the album. Special mention goes again to Andre Matos, who gives perhaps his best vocal performance on this song, with some truly amazing moments.
Yet another peak comes in the form of "Z.I.T.O.", a fast song once again reminiscent of "Angels Cry", but with a distinctive "Holy Land" vibe. The song features a set of jaw-dropping solos from Kiko Loureiro and Rafael Bittencourt, which are impressive enough to be the highlight of the song. "Deep Blue" takes things down a notch, being the third ballad of the album, but is once again excellent with great vocal work from Matos and a beautiful guitar solo from Loureiro. "Lullaby For Lucifer" closes out the album afterwards, and is more of an ending than it is a song on its own, an acoustic passage that showcases a different side of Matos' voice. Like everything else on "Holy Land" though, it fits, and brings the album to a fitting close.
I cannot praise this album enough. It is a landmark release regardless of what genre you choose to associate it with, but it is however, not the best starting point in the Angra catalog. It is not your typical power metal, progressive metal, or any other sort of metal album, and will not please 'true metal' purists. It is however, an extraordinary piece of music, and should not be dismissed solely because it is different. If you're looking to become familiar with this band, start with "Angels Cry". It will get you hooked, but "Holy Land" will be the album that stays with you forever.
The very first time I listened Holy Land I felt disappointed, it was too soft, there were too many slow songs and ballads, in fact I got bored on track 3. After being left in the shelf for a long time and after listening to it more carefully I realized how magnificent this album is. It is the same Angra who brought us Angels Cry, still power metal, still the classical arrangements, but with a more mature sound. With Holy Land, Angra tries to make a tribute to their homeland. This could be a concept album, but don’t get upset about it, I know, concept albums seem to be the same in power metal, but this is no about the traditional knights and maidens story… have you ever listened to a concept album about sailors and explorers? Maybe there isn’t a solid tale throughout the album, but you can see the same line followed in the lyrics. And to introduce the listeners to the core of the songs and the album, Angra has explored new terrains by mixing metal with some Latin rhythms and instruments in a way that can be slightly noticed. I guess this is the strongest point in Holy Land, making it a special album in the catalogue of every metal fan.
Each song in Holy Land is different and has its moments. On the vocal side, Matos makes a greater job than in Angles Cry, while his compositions are one of the best. The guitars don’t sound like Carry On or Evil Warning, they are more rhythm-oriented, there are less melodic riffs but Kiko and Rafael have worked too hard on the solos, breaking in different forms and in the perfect moment of each song. One of the best solos of the album is the one on Z.I.T.O., although this and Nothing to Say are the only songs that follow the musical line of the past album. A special tune is Holy Land, slow song with a main piano melody so catchy and memorable. Make Believe is one of the ballads of the albums, but I would say that is more a classic rock ballad than a metal ballad, so it gives another taste to the album, closing with a powerful solo I like a lot. And I must mention the “epic” song of this album: Carolina IV, with an intro full of Latin percussions and with some kind of variations all over the song, including Latin sounds, metal lines and classical interludes. This is one of the songs that are worth to listen, and you must pay attention on the bass on this one.
It’s difficult to catalogue metal bands actually, and with Holy Land, Angra is one of those bands awaiting for that “style-label” because they have created they own style that can not be describes like Latin Metal (???) or just like Power Metal. For some people Holy Land can be perfect for listening to Angra for the first time, but I’d prefer listening to Angels Cry first, so you can appreciate the evolution of these guys and know why they are one of the most important bands on these days.