When you’ve been a band for as long as ANGRA has, line-up changes are inevitable. Now I’m no expert on this group, or some long-time die-hard, mind you. I’m just a guy who started listening to them last year. My friend Frank told me to check them out, so I did…and I was floored. So much so that I purchased their entire discography and immersed myself in it. Their brand of Progressive Power Metal was just what the doctor ordered. And while the departures of longtime vocalist Eduardo Falaschi and drummer Ricardo Confessori may have ruffled some feathers, I can assure you that new drummer Bruno Valverde and renowned vocalist Fabio Lione (RHAPSODY OF FIRE, AYREON, LABYRINTH) more than fill the big shoes left by their counterparts. Lione particularly shines across these tracks, most notably on the last song, but we’ll get to that.
This latest release Secret Garden (out now via earMUSIC) is a concept album that tells the fictional story of scientist Morten Vrolik who fights to restore his happiness after a tragic accident that took the life of his wife. Faced with the harsh new reality, Morten is forced to revise his atheistic beliefs and values in order to recover a sense of personal contentment that was taken away by fate. Opener “Newborn Me” may or may not be an autobiographical statement as well as the beginning of the story. Either way, it kicks the album off right. “Black Hearted Soul” is all speed and power, and Lione sounds fantastic meshed with the twin guitars of Rafael Bittencourt and Kiko Loureiro, while bassist Felipe Andreoli grooves along with Valverde. The Latin-flavored drums coupled with the dark, chugging riffs made “Final Light” one of the standouts for me from jump, and much like the opener there are shades of old DREAM THEATER all over the place.
From here things slow down just a tad for “Storm of Emotions” but the song is no less hard-hitting or emotionally powerful and once again Fabio soars to majestic heights. An elegant solo guides it home for one more sweeping chorus to end it, and then the band takes a break from the story to give us one MOTHERFUCKING-BADASS cover of THE POLICE’S “Synchronicity II” that I haven’t been able to stop playing in the car since I got the album on Monday! Some more sinister guitars open “Violet Sky” and the use of some off-times adds another dimension to the band’s sound that I rather enjoy. This Valverde kid on drums is no slouch, lemme tell ya. I love what he’s doing here. The first of two guest stars, Simone Simons of EPICA steps in to sing the title track, and it is a true thing of beauty. “Upper Levels” is an absolutely crushing track, made even more so by the complex rhythms of Valverde and incredible vocal harmonies about halfway through. There’s even a bit of FATES WARNING/DREAM THEATER in the second half.
Guest star number two is The Metal Queen herself, DORO who sings a gorgeous duet with Bittencourt on yet another favorite “Crushing Room”, already one of the best songs of the year and also on constant repeat. “Perfect Symmetry” returns to speed territory, Fabio taking charge and reminding everyone that there’s a new sheriff in town before closer “Silent Call” ends things simply, with acoustic guitars and piano. THIS is my absolute favorite song not only on Secret Garden, but quite possibly in the entire ANGRA catalog. In fact, whenever I fire up the album, I have to go to this one first; it is just that moving and exquisite. Overall ANGRA have delivered not only a monster of an album, but one that should be heralded for years to come. I can’t wait to finally see them at ProgPower XVI in September!
STANDOUT TRACKS: ALL OF THEM