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A More Streamlined Angra - 72%

Light13, May 10th, 2015

Angra have always been one of progressive power metal’s more enduring and innovating acts, always aiming to push the boundaries of progressive metal from release to release. However, on Secret Garden we see Angra streamlining their sound a bit. The incorporation of Brazilian-influenced music the band are well renowned for are only displayed on the odd occasion on Secret Garden, classic prog power is more embraced here and the album’s run time of 48 minutes sees the band pushing a more reined-in sound.

Chugging guitar rhythms, synth, keyboards and expressive shred guitar work form the sustenance of the album, and prog metal fans will have heard this a hundred times before. But Angra definitely do it as well as the majority of their peers here and the album’s more reined in approach doesn't necessarily mean this isn’t a fairly enjoyable listen. Performances are still accomplished across the board and the song writing is solid. Kikko Loureiro is one of metal’s finest guitarists and he still shows off his chops through the album’s run time, with complementary lead work and technical riff breaks. Angra aren’t afraid to get into the higher tempos on Secret Garden, which is a good thing as a lot of prog metal plods along at the same tempo from start to finish. The album’s second track ‘Black Hearted Soul’ hearkens back to the band’s power metal roots and is one of the tracks that can almost hold up to their best work, it almost wouldn't sound out of place on ‘Aurora Consurgens’. However, the band never matches up the works of their glory years here.

The title track was a nice surprise on Secret Garden, defying conventions for an album title track to an extent. The track is made up of pleasant orchestration and makes the use of the guest vocal appearances well to make the track one of the more memorable cuts on the album. Speaking of which, the band secured appearances from Simone Simons and Doro Pesch, both of whom should need no introduction to any fan of this style of metal. The use of the guests is done well and is a good addition to the album.

If you go into your first listen of Secret Garden expecting Rebirth or Temple of Shadows part two then you are going to be disappointed. However, if you go in with reduced expectations then Secret Garden should provide a fair amount of enjoyment for fans of this style. For people looking to get into progressive metal, this isn't the album that is going to do it. Secret Garden is a solid effort of prog power, but doesn't quite live up to the quality you would expect from the Angra name. In a genre that is home to some of metal’s mightiest acts (Anubis Gate, Dream Theater, Pagan’s Mind etc.), Angra find themselves slumping from sharing a spot in the top tier of this genre with these acts, and finding themselves on a similar level as aspiring band’s in this genre. Secret Garden is a solid and enjoyable release, but not a one I will be reaching out for much in the future.

Originally written for The Midlands Rocks

http://www.themidlandsrocks.com/angra-secret-garden/

The Darker side of Angra - 78%

Bruno Medeiros, May 9th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, earMUSIC

Brazilian progressive powerhouse Angra comes back 5 years after their last album with a small change in the lineup and an attempt at a big, pompous release. After the departure of vocalist Edu Falaschi and long-time drummer Ricardo Confessori (who left the band in the early 2000’s but returned in 2009, leaving again in 2014), Fabio Lione (Rhapsody of Fire, Vision Divine) and Bruno Valverde were added to the lineup, with the first raising some questions about whether he was going to succeed in achieving the high notes that Andre Matos and Edu Falaschi could.

The production of this album is top-notch and the lyrics are well written, but don’t expect the old Angra to blast into your speakers, as it appears that the band made the vocal and instrumental arrangements to suit Bittencourt’s voice, resulting in a mix between something from the newer Kamelot albums and Vision Divine (when Lione sings). With that being said, what we have here is obviously a different approach on the sound Angra is used to make, maybe to actually relieve Lione of the big shoes he has to fill. Instead of high pitched, up-tempo songs, the majority of the album consists in a tuned down, heavier sound, with Lione singing as he does with Vision Divine rather than with Rhapsody, and the addition of Rafael Bittencourt on vocals on almost half of the album. This is definitely the heaviest, darkest full-length that Angra has ever released, distancing themselves from their early works and changing a little bit of the prog/power uniqueness that makes them so well known. Songs like "Newborn Me", "Storm of Emotions" and "Upper Levels", and Bittencourt’s lower, tuned-down vocals on the songs "Violet Sky", "Crushing Room" and "Silent Call" illustrate well the new approach Angra made with their vocal lines. But fear not, Angra fans! Despite the darker lyrics, heavier sound and different approach, there are still classic Angra tunes in the album, such as "Black Hearted Soul" and "Final Light".

Overall, this is a solid album, with great songs and a few fillers, and an invitation for us to enter the more obscure side of Angra, with mature songwriting and technical creativity. Not a classic, but a good release for power metal fans in 2015 and even for those who don’t like the high-pitched vocals that power metal bands tend to use.


Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com

Best harvest in a decade - 82%

thrashtidote, February 11th, 2015

Angra first caught my attention with their masterful ''Temple of Shadows''. It felt at the time (and still does) like such a fulgent tribute power metal in its marriage to progressive elements that Dream Theater would have been more than proud of, complete with wondrous symphonic sounds, that it immediately became one of my favorite metal albums, ever. That said, the band's fortunes went pretty downhill from there, with a streak of lackluster records which didn't even more close to the brilliance of their masterwork. The numerous band changes and internal problems threw them off balance and the result wasn't very pretty. The existence of Shaman also did something to split the band's skill, I suppose. However, with their best record in a decade, fronted by Fabio Lione, the Brazilians feel not only aplomb enough to restore amends but also retain some of that oomph which made them the star of 21st century power metal in the first place.

I've said and I'll say it again and again: Angra is among the few power/progressive acts out there I'd pay lip service to, ''The Secret Garden'' helps clear some of the tarnish on their formerly renowned title. ''The Secret Garden'' which nearly like an artistic epiphany because, more than discovering new ground for the band - which at this stage might have produced some egregious results - there's a penchant to go over the pastiches of the past with the same skill with which they weaved an entire discography, polished with quality levels of production. In retrospect ''Temple of Shadows'' never possessed the kind of chrome-metal production you see so often in modern metal, but it fitted the texture and riffing patterns nicely, with plenty of majestic albeit intricate gloss buttered on a slew of excellent riffs, but ''The Secret Garden'' feels less charitable in the realms of complexity on more on the verge of a simplistic memorability, with crazy bulky guitar hooks and crystal clear wisps of melody played out in a professional, controlled level. That's not to say this record is boring, obviously, but that it's simply not as good ''Temple of Shadows'' which is something of an impossible nut to crack anyhow.

Of course the best sequences of the album is where it hooks me perfectly with a combination of progressive metal alacrity and climactic orchestral elements upon beautiful leads: parts that mete out such a level of rainbow goodness that for a brief moment they make me feel inside my beloved ''Temple of Shadows''. Hell, there's so much similarity going on between this record and other that one may think Angra just found re-inserting the formula of their best record might as well be the way to go, which worked damned fine, considering their fall from grace in recent years. The title track, with its nose deep in an orgy orgastic symphonies and ecstatically moving violin lines, feels like a commemoration of ''No Pain for the Dead'', notwithstanding the inclusion of beautiful, harmonious female vocals. Even the jiving Spanish guitars and gyrating pianos make occasional appearances here, with tracks like ''Upper Levels'', which bolster their memorability on the grounds of heavy, percussive riffwork, and anthemic choruses guided by the kind of space-y keyboards which Norway's Pagan's Mind love. Angra may not be at their technical or artistic peak here, but this album is clearly strong on both the memorability and songwriting departments, with enough electric guitar wankery to keep the music nerds in place and enough head-hanging/goosebumps action going on to please the uneducated plebeians (no offense intended).

I'd like to think that Fabio Lione is a good vocalist, to say the least. Sure, who wouldn't have preferred Edu Falaschi on this? Still, the man fills in the shoes pretty aptly. He is not so high pitched as, say, Halford, but reminds me somewhat of the Attacker album that came out in 2013, with a little more melodious grace. A song like ''Crushing Room'' may leave the genuine power metal aficionado a bit disoriented due to its heavy incorporation of double vocals and its mournful, atmospheric paste, but with a set of outstanding leads from the band's two prevailing guitar masterminds it still becomes something of a guilty pleasure. In addition to that songs like ''Perfect Symmetry'' and ''Newborn Me'', with their furious speed, feel more like a late 80's prog/power record with flashier guitar acrobatics and a tank-like wall of production, maybe something out of a Crimson Glory record if you want to stretch things up a notch; in either case Fabio rocks his vocals with unobtrusive clarity.

So evidently I ran short on things to dislike on this album, but there were still there. Namely, as a listener whose expectations of greatness never quite fell after the perfect ''Temple of Shadows'' (whose name I've already praised, what, more than half a dozen times?) the album seems to be lacking in depth and that colorful, irresistible pallet of instrumentation which I still think this aging monarchs of power metal can conjure. At some point, despite the glossy attractiveness of it all songs like ''Silent Call'' seem too, well, ballad-y and... modern. I admire these guys' sense of melody and songwriting but I never vied for something that should get them all too intimate with the bloated crappiness of a commercial country song for fuck's sake... not that they run low as that - thank the heavens - but they do scrape the edges at times which frankly feels a tad discomforting, even on such a modern basis. Despite the clear strength of this album, too much time and sonic energy is spent on a random grab-bag of vocal duties and puffed chorus sections - they could have trimmed up a few bis, basically. But this is nonetheless a jumpy yet passionate revival that puts the Brazilians back on my map, one that makes me feel I'm actually listening to Angra, and one whose transformation I hope won't attenuate the voracity of their drive and lock them up in music school detention for another decade. Godspeed.

Highlights:
Newborn Me
Upper Levels
Black Hearted Soul
Perfect Symmetry

http://laceratedthrashmetal.blogspot.com/