Despite being a very major band in their country, and really melodic metal in general, Brazilian group Angra has never been one of my favorites. I’ve always enjoyed their music, but aside from their masterpiece Temple of Shadows, I tend to like them but not love them. So when their newest incarnation was revealed, with a new drummer and vocalist, I was neither overly excited nor upset, instead just interested to see how much their sound would change, and whether or not they could come close to matching their one truly great album. Well, their 8th full length release Secret Garden is now here, and as usual with Angra, I enjoy the album, but still find myself thinking it could have been better.
Angra fans tend to be divided into two camps: Those who prefer their early releases, led by vocalist Andre Matos (Angels Cry and Holy Land are especially popular among these fans), and those who prefer their later albums, with Edu Falaschi. There are some who like both, but in general I find there to be somewhat of a divide between fans of either singer. As stated above, I can’t claim to be the biggest fan of either era, though technically I fall closer in line with the latter, in part due to my dislike of their first two albums, and because Temple of Shadows happens to be the second album from the Falaschi era.
As expected, Secret Garden is more in line with their later albums, especially their previous album Aqua, but if anything it goes even further with the more progressive direction, and for the most part their power metal elements have been left behind. This results in a surprisingly restrained and laid back album, with barely any heavy parts in the entire back half. The first half is mostly dominated by mid tempo melodic metal tracks with strong prog leanings, while the second half gives way to a whole lot of balladry, and while the songs are generally enjoyable, I find having so many of these songs thrown together causes a severe lack of energy. While I would have preferred more speed throughout, I enjoy the first half quite a bit, as new drummer Bruno Valverde does a great job during the more offbeat portions, and he also mixes in some of that unique Brilliance percussion found on most Angra albums, using it effectively on songs like “Newborn Me” and “Final Light”, plus I have to admit the musicianship is great all around, especially during the more progressive songs, which have some excellent instrumental portions. The middle portion of “Newborn Me” is especially good.
I found Edu Falaschi’s departure from the band somewhat refreshing, in that it seemed to have been completely his decision (he noted that his upper register wasn’t the same anymore, so he no longer felt comfortable singing some of their back catalogue,) but regardless, he had become an important part of the band over the years, and so replacing him was going to be difficult. Amazingly, the band managed to pull a fast one by bringing in none other than the always reliable (and extremely busy) Fabio Lione, a move that immeidately made me at least somewhat optimistic for the album. As expected, Fabio sounds great, though his vocals are largely dialed back compared to normal, showcasing more of his lower register. Of course, on the two speedier tracks he shows that he’s still one of the best power metal singers in the world. He’s far from being alone, though, as this album features guest appearances from Simone Simons and Doro Pesch, along with several vocal contributions from guitarist Rafael Bittencourt.
Album opener “Newborn Me” is one of the highlights, for sure, as mentioned above. It features great instrumental work, and also proves that Fabio Lione fits in great with the band. He sounds even better on the melodic, keyboard driven “Storm of Emotions”. My two favorite songs are unsurprisingly the two speedier, more power metal oriented tracks “Black Hearted Soul” and “Perfect Symmetry”, with the latter in particular being simply fantastic, and providing a nice change of pace during the at times dull and plodding second half of the album. The more complex, progressive track “Upper Levels” is a bit inconsistent, but it has enough memorable parts to make it enjoyable, and the percussion is particularly effective. One final highlight is the title track, a really nice ballad sung entirely by Simone Simons, who does an amazing job as always. Some editions of the album also feature a cover version of “Synchronicity II” by The Police, which is a surprisingly fun take on the song, giving it more of a modern sound white still staying fairly close to the original.
There’s really only one song I don’t like, and that is the duet “Crushing Room”. I like Rafael’s vocals on all the other tracks where he appears, but on this one I find he slightly over sings, which makes the already cheesy chorus sound even worse, and for some reason Doro’s voice sounds kinda awkward to me and just doesn’t seem to fit the song too well. This is likely a personal preference, but either way I simply don’t like the song much at all. Other slower tracks like “Final Light”,“Violet Sky” and the closer “Silent Call” are nice but not particularly memorable.
I’d say those last few words would make an accurate description for Secret Garden on the whole: It’s a solid album with excellent performances all around, flawless production and some great melodies, but aside from a few standout tracks, the songwriting is just not strong enough for it to be considered anything more than nice, but not particularly memorable. Existing Angra fans are sure to like at least some of it, though I suspect most will still prefer either the Matos albums or the Falaschi albums. As for me, I like this more than any of the Matos albums and I’d place it somewhere in the middle of the Falaschi albums, maybe slightly ahead of Aurora Consurgens, and behind Aqua, with Temple of Shadows still far ahead (I actually haven’t listened to Rebirth, yet.). For the record, I do prefer Lione over either of their previous singers, so I do hope he stays around, and that the band can do better work with him in the future.
(originally written for myglobalmind: http://myglobalmind.com/2015/05/26/angra-secret-garden-review/)