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"Time to believe in the dream that you've seen"

Class D

Main Category: Heavy Metal
Also applicable: Prog Rock, Arena Rock
Starting Period: From Grunge To The Present Day
Also active in: --------



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When I think of the somewhat unusual obsession Brazil has with heavy metal (Sepultura, anybody?), I don't have any obvious explanations for that connection. It is, however, definite that in Brazil there are at least two things that might have heavily influenced the situation: the country's fervent Catholicism, on one hand, and its being steeped in pagan mysticism, on the other. For, unless you actually listen to all these dumb TV preachers, heavy metal is an extremely religious genre, which attracts not only Satanists but also people with a fervent positively attuned religious temper. Religion is power and ecstasy, and so is heavy metal - when you know how to play it properly, that is.

As you probably know, I'm not much of a "power metal" lover. If it's metal we're talking of, I prefer my metal crisp, raw, ass-kickin' and as tongue-in-cheek as possible, be it Judas Priest, late period AC/DC or Accept. Since Iron Maiden firmly established that genre in the early Eighties, there have been very few bands that actually managed to do something interesting with it without actually venturing outside the basic paradigm. The very term "progressive metal", which was sort of the next step of the evolution of "power metal" (or the same thing, if you're not much into detailed categorizing), is fairly contradictory - "progressive" means "constantly evolving", while "metal" means "constantly adhering to the same basic techniques". And a lot of progressive metal is downright awful - especially when bands start heaping up lots of pretentious-sounding bullshit in order to cover the lack of interesting melodies.

This is why this particular bunch of Brazilians got me so interested. The prime period of this band did not last too long - in fact, it barely covered three years - but in these three years they did manage to come up with a very interesting and genuinely unusual debut album and a more than worthy, almost revolutionary in its own little way follow-up. They weren't completely original; their evolution is easily traceable down to influences like Helloween (from whom they took the pretentiousness) and Slayer (from whom they took the speed) and from there on, to Iron Maiden, of course. But, unlike so many others, for these three years they did manage to stay within the basic metal paradigm and yet develop a fairly unique sound, thus justifying any potential pretentiousness.

The group's main creative influence was, without any doubt, keyboard player and lead vocalist Andre Matos. With his untrivial, whiny voice (which definitely is not for everyone, but at least this ensures that he is well distinguishable from The Average Metal Screamer), his excellent classical training, and his - yes, imagine that - artistic vision he certainly embodies everything that was special about Angra in those early years. Although, of course, fair mention must also be given to the band's guitar duo, Rafael Bittencourt and Kiko Loureiro, without whose inventive riffs the music would be, for the most part, just flat out dull or, at least, backbone-less.

In any case, in between 1993 and 1995 nothing could seemingly go wrong for these guys. First they tried out their own synthesis of metal with classical, based on "epic" mid-tempo melodies as much as on speedy thrash metal - with Andre picking upon the classical legacy or coming up with his own (quite well-written) classical passages, all the while not forgetting about song structure and an occasional catchy chorus or too. That said, this was hardly enough (after all, classical influences in heavy metal are nothing new, even if few people managed to merge the too with Angra's easiness), and pretty soon they came upon an idea that was way too obvious for a Brazilian band but, for some reason, hadn't really been well explored before: bringing in the ethnic element, merging their brand of symphonic metal with tribal rhythms and South American pipes and whatnot. The result was Holy Land - an album that will most likely go down as a classic in the annals of heavy metal, and Angra's main (if not sole) reason for existence. Musically innovative, spiritually uplifting, full of memorable tunes, it's really a minor masterpiece I would eagerly recommend even to non-metal fans.

Sadly, this state of euphoria did not last long. Angra had built up a good international reputation with these two albums, and either their newly found stardom got to their heads or they found themselves pressed by the record company or something, but the fact is, they never did anything truly worthwhile after Holy Land. Already on Fireworks, their 1998 album, they showed that they were all but ready to fling their newly-found identities in the toilet, and concentrate on generic, unassuming (and, as a result, gruesomely inadequate - pompous without really having a right to be pompous) power metal. And if anybody still held out any hopes for the future, these were eventually quelled by Matos' departure from the band. With a new frontman and a new rhythm section, the "band" returned to the fore in 2001 with the innocently called Rebirth, but essentially it was more of the same, only worse because there was no more Matos.

In the end, this might just be one of the most mysterious "collective musical suicides" I've ever witnessed. On the other hand, to be fair, it should be noted that I've read quite a few fan reviews of Angra's 1998-2001 output where people looked quite pleased with these albums. But you gotta understand - these people are metal fans. I'm not. My tolerance for this genre is low. If I want to really immerse myself in something generic and predictable, I'll take a decent pop album instead. Pretentious guys screaming out cliched romantic blubber to lightning-speed guitar riffs really does not get me off by itself - this has to be some bloody MARVELOUS romantic blubber to do that! And late period Angra sure as heck doesn't qualify. But those early records, hoo, whoohoo. Like I said - I eagerly recommend Holy Land to anybody who treasures good music outside of its direct genre connotations.

Lineup: Andre Matos - vocals, keyboards; Kiko Loureiro - guitars; Rafael Bittencourt - guitars; Luis Mariutti - bass; Ricardo Confessori - drums. All but the guitarists quit sometime around 2000 or so, with Matos replaced by Edu Falaschi.



Year Of Release: 1993

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

Andre Matos may not be an angel, but his cries go well with this Mahler-thrash stuff.

Best song: CARRY ON

Track listing: 1) Unfinished Allegro; 2) Carry On; 3) Time; 4) Angels Cry; 5) Stand Away; 6) Never Understand; 7) Wuthering Heights; 8) Streets Of Tomorrow; 9) Evil Warning; 10) Lasting Child.

Not being a huge expert on either power- or thrash-metal (and this record has elements of both), I can't really dare to tell you whether Angra's debut was truly groundbreaking when it came out in 1993; but I will have no qualms if it ever goes down in history as such, because so far this is definitely the best amalgamation of "fury" and "beauty" I've heard in that genre. It is not an easy task to make thrash metal an object of, er, well, aesthetic admiration, and you probably know the reasons; at best, it's just as hard to merge thrash with elements of classical music as it is to merge classical with punk - because isn't thrash, in a way, a cross between metal and punk itself?

Nevertheless, that's a task that Angra seem to be fully capable of performing. Angels Cry isn't their best album, but it's goshdarn impressive for a debut. And no, I don't merely mean that they can play well. If you come out with a thrash album, you're supposed to play fast, and if you come out with a power metal album, you're supposed to play complex, and if you come out with both, well, professionalism and technicality are understood. I mean that not only can they play real well, but they also know how to (a) write a song and (b) despite all the problems, make it not sound like a cheesy embarrassment - even if, of course, those with low tolerance for pretentiousness will hardly be able to sit through more than five seconds of this stuff.

What separates these guys from both the power metal and the thrash metal hordes is their unwillingness to fully conform to "metal imagery". Angels Cry isn't at all a 'dark' album, and its involvement with traditional D&D thematics is minimal. Instead, these guys are fuckin' romantics, and they're pretty serious about it. Just look at the album cover - where are the hairy skeletons with rotten teeth or the bull skulls or the bolts of thunder or, well, anything you'd expect to see on an Iron Maiden or a Sepultura album cover? Instead, you get a friggin' statue of an angel. Gee, how cute. These guys are SISSIES! Romantic sissies! Look at their lyrics. Well, don't spend too much time looking at their lyrics, because they aren't very good, but just take one overall look to see they're mostly lyrics of hope and deliverance - dammit, the very first song goes 'Carry on/There's a meaning to life/Which someday we might find'!

So it's hardly a surprise... well, it is a surprise, but hardly a shock that among the big bunch of originals we find them covering a song none other than Kate Bush's (sic!) own 'Wuthering Heights'!! And if it is a shock, then, after it passes, you will realize that the song actually fits the overall mood well. Angels Cry, just like Kate's early stuff, is escapism, but not into the expected world of knights and goblins, rather into a parallel, ethereal universe filled with high ideals, grace, and abstract beauty - and their tribute to The Mistress of Abstract Beauty is well at home. Is the cover good? It is. Very faithful to the original; the only serious "new" touches are in the guitar solo department. Which, of course, brings me to Andre Matos and his vocals and...

...and while we're at it, I have no idea why some people put Matos' screeching into the same paradigm with that guy's vocals in Queensryche. They're both pompous screamers, but they're different! Matos' pitch is a lot higher, which would make his singing much more annoying to some, but for me, makes it much more piquant, if you know what I mean. Both 'Wuthering Heights' and the absolute majority of the originals on here seem to be bursting apart with their grandiosity and pomp, but with Matos' shrill, ear-bursting yells it's almost impossible to take it too seriously. He's like a seriously "overwound" Geddy Lee, speeding along at 78 rpm. I don't mean to say this music isn't supposed to be taken seriously; when you have such an expert level of musicianship, you do have to take it seriously. But it doesn't convey an aura of bloated, overwhelming self-importance, like some Queensryche stuff I could name.

Turning back to the music, the important thing to note is that most songs have three things going for them: (a) sharp, often memorable, often speedy, sometimes both memorable and speedy riffs from either one of the band's two guitarists, (b) Matos' accompanying classical passages on the keyboards, and (c) Matos' vocal melodies. Perhaps the best example of all three would be the first song, 'Carry On' (it is technically the second track, being preceded by a short 'n' tasty 'Unfinished Allegro'). Disregarding the lyrics, I don't see any way not to count it as a highlight and one of the best "power-thrash" songs of the decade. When it comes to the keyboard break and Matos is playing this slightly Eastern European-tinged interlude while the guitars are mercilessly ripping away, I feel a freshness of approach and a general state of F-U-N - as if these guys weren't a bunch of unknown Brazilian speedfreaks playing in the sunset of the rock era, but the Brazilian equivalent of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, bravely squishing together the unsquishable out of a hungry lust for experimentation and pushing forward the boundaries. Not to mention the catchy, if puffed-up, chorus.

Similar, but also good, tracks would, first of all, include the title one - a rather lengthy suite that alternates between slower and faster bits every now and then, keeps coming up with tricky, but ass-kicking, riffs, untrivial drum patterns, and a breakneck speed classical interlude; in fact, probably my favourite moment on the record is when the furious Beethovenizing comes to an abrupt end and then the drums go "BOOM!" and we're back in the power metal world as if the classical passage never even happened at all. To me, this constitutes a slight element of musical humour, although calling this record "humorous" would definitely be a stretch.

The capacities of Matos' voice are well demonstrated on 'Never Understand', where some passages require him to be modulating his chords after the manner of a praying Mullah, and on the album's most bombastic piece, the closing two-part suite 'Lasting Child' (which, again, brings ELP to mind - its "royal" pomposity, for some reason, keeps reminding me of 'The Great Gates Of Kiev'); the second part there is purely instrumental, and although it's essentially one phrase repeated over and over in crescendo mode, it easily ranks up there with the best of "classic" prog-rock crescendos. Meanwhile, 'Evil Warning' and 'Streets Of Tomorrow' might impress you with their catchy choruses. Then again, they might not. Even the ballad 'Time', while easily the worst song on here - well, it's a ballad, after all - is so arrestingly over-the-top, with Matos practically squeezing his vocal cords out of his throat and playing them with guitar picks in front of the mike, that I get interested.

Their next album would be more inventive stylistically, but Angels Cry is dang impressive, nevertheless. It's not necessarily my own cup of tea, as the sameness of material is a bit too much for me to bear this in one sitting, but hey, I'm a guy who's really, really alergic to power metal, so if I'm recommending this, you better grab it fast, cuz it won't last.



Year Of Release: 1995

Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12

Apparently it helps to have Brazil as your homeland if you wanna expand your metal horizons.

Best song: CAROLINA IV

Track listing: 1) Crossing; 2) Nothing To Say; 3) Silence And Distance; 4) Carolina IV; 5) Holy Land; 6) The Shaman; 7) Make Believe; 8) Z.I.T.O.; 9) Deep Blue; 10) Lullaby For Lucifer.

The one thing that has always bugged me about "progressive metal" is the difficulty about making these two words actually connect in an interesting way. "Progressive", the way I see it, is not just about being complex and pretentious - it's also about being 'explorative' in as many ways as possible, which includes drawing in all kinds of influences, all kinds of instrumentation and all kinds of moods. 'Metal', on the other hand, is essentially about brutal, heavy guitar riffage, no matter how many different branches you split it into. So, when your style is basically limited to playing one instrument with one or two types of "atmospheres", how is it possible to make this stuff truly "progressive"?

Simple answer: it's not. So, in the end, it all comes down to the question of how much different stuff you can seamlessly incorporate into a basic metal framework to be able to proudly call your work "progressive metal" and not be embarrassed about it. (Not that even the shittiest prog metal bands are ever embarrassed about their stuff, of course - they leave this moral obligation to unfortunate reviewers like me. Sob.) Well, to finally get to the point, Holy Land is one of those - not very frequent - albums where this claim can indeed be made.

Holy Land is a not-so-loose concept album which seemingly is dedicated to the discovery of the New World but mostly deals with the "sacral" aspect of the business, presenting the guys' native country and its whereabouts as sort of a mythical Eldorado and focusing on the old "holy" pagan ways of the country. It's hard to say whether it's more like a personal religious fantasy draped in pseudo-historical colours or a lament for the fictitious "Golden Age" of yore (sort of like an expanded and over-pompous variant of Neil Young's 'Cortez The Killer'), but it's obvious that there are bits of both in the final product, that is, Andre Matos' religious feelings (fake or sincere, I don't care) and Brazilian rituals all form a part of it.

As such, the music is heavily influenced by "native" Brazilian sounds. Maybe not nearly as heavily as some would have you believe - a large part of the album is still straightforward metal or balladry - but it's obvious that the ethnic element here is much more than just an occasional gimmick. Tribal percussion, South American pipes, and other local stuff I might not have immediately recognized are used effectively throughout and feel perfectly at ease with the heavy riffs. Which, by the way, aren't nearly all that heavy: overall, I would say that keyboards, vocals, and extra instrumentation are so important here that these crushing guitar riffs are about the last thing about the record I actually remember! The impression is that of a passionate religious statement rather than that of a ferocious debacle.

The album's centerpiece is, of course, the ten-minute ultra-serious epic 'Carolina IV', so recklessly daring in its approach it keeps me entertained and intrigued for all of its duration - a rare treat from a prog metal epic. Never staying too long in the same groove, yet always having time to build right up to the necessary atmosphere, combining complexity with catchiness, it should rightfully be considered the "pinnacle of all things Angra". It's got a circular structure, beginning and ending with the same "tribal dance" part, while the middle parts are essentially a big "power-thrash" marathon, and at the very "pith" they place yet another, slightly more aggressive, tribal music part, a classical interlude, and a speed metal solo - woohoo! You might say it's a pointless mixture of ideas, and it is - in the sense that it's hard to tell what each and every one of these sections is supposed to mean, but somehow they still manage to form a cohesive whole. Actually, my favourite part is the beginning/ending: effortlessly anthemic and memorable, with nice use of non-irritating backing vocals, pipes, and a heavy, but inobtrusive guitar melody. Apart from ethnic influences, I detect a strong whiff of Yes worshipping here - correct me if I'm wrong - but influence it is, not lame direct ripping-off. Also, the moment where Matos sings 'so, won't you come with me my friend' is achingly beautiful - much as I usually hate to admit these things about pretentious operatic metal singers.

There's plenty of other highlights as well, naturally. Straightforward metal is represented by 'Nothing To Say', which essentially fulfills the functions of a 'Carry On' here, i.e. the introductory classical-soaked lightning-speed thrasher to give that starting kick. Later on, the same approach returns on 'Z.I.T.O.', another thrasher with, this time, an almost nursery-rhyme-simple chorus (which actually makes it fun!), but perhaps somewhat less impact; my suspicion is they just really needed something speedy and ass-kicking towards the end when things were already starting to get seriously slowed down. Special mention must, however, be made about the codas to both these songs: both the longer one on 'Nothing To Say' and the shorter one on 'Z.I.T.O.' gotta rank among the best tension-bursting conclusions to any heavy metal tunes I've heard (particularly the symphonic explosion of the latter).

Elsewhere, you get your balladry - nominally pretty, like 'Silence And Distance', or flauntingly power-style, like 'Deep Blue'; I'm not much of a fan of either, but they're really well made, and as much as I hate power balladry, I have to admit that 'Deep Blue' mostly evades the style's cliches - and then there's the really weird stuff: the title track and 'The Shaman', easily the two most 'Brazil-sounding' tunes on the record, and, along with 'Carolina IV', its "conceptual meat". The title track isn't actually heavy at all; it mixes yet another native dance melody with a pretty piano ballad part to good effect - the idea of lament for the lost Golden Age is carried across pretty well. Granted, I can't get rid of cheesy images of Indian spirits dancing 'round the fire in the demented dreams of Walker, Texas Ranger, while listening to that music, but blame this on the murky influence of mass culture, not my own perverted subconscious. As for 'The Shaman', apart from featuring a 'mystical interlude' of sorts (more Walker, Texas Ranger - hey, what can I do? I've seen more episodes of that than is recommendable for one's health), it has easily the catchiest chorus on record, the one that goes 'Oh boys it's all so easy/Warm up the soul/While the body's freezing!'.

It's also interesting that they prefer to end the record on an "anticlimactic" soft acoustic ballad ('Lullaby For Lucifer' - what a title!) instead of a grand coda or something; most bands would have probably begun the record with such a song rather than ended it on such a note. Just another argument convincing me of the specialness of the album (and, just so I get the chance to mention every song, let's not forget the heavy slide guitar solo on the obviously R'n'B-influenced 'Make Believe'!). No, it's not perfect (the ballads could have been better, and the straightforward metal tunes aren't much of an advance from the Angels Cry stage), but it's definitely unique in a way, and I'd advise anybody to at least get acquainted with the "core trio" of 'Carolina IV', 'Holy Land', and 'The Shaman' before mentally consigning me to the madhouse.



Year Of Release: 1998

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

If this was made according to the "we never tried this one" before principle, well, how 'bout somebody else having tried this one?..


Track listing: 1) Wings Of Reality; 2) Petrified Eyes; 3) Lisbon; 4) Metal Icarus; 5) Paradise; 6) Mystery Machine; 7) Fireworks; 8) Extreme Dream; 9) Gentle Change; 10) Speed.

Uh-oh. I like diversity as much as the next guy, but I don't think it would have been a great idea if a diverse band like, say, the Beatles, came together one morning and said: "Let's try something else! Let's record a Jimi Hendrix album!" I'm not sure it would have worked fine, and even if it would, I would still rather listen to a real Jimi Hendrix album instead. So it sort of stuns me that a band like Angra actually did behave that way, because what Fireworks is is yer basic average power metal very much in the classic Iron Maiden et al. style.

Now I'm no Maiden-hater and all, but after hearing Angra masterfully glue together thrash and classical and then even more masterfully marry "classical metal" to Brazilian tribal rhythms, I sure had a right to expect something special for their third offering. At the very least, a Holy Land Vol. 2 - surely there was more potential in that thing. Oops, no dice. Instead, what I get is an album full of power metal riffage and... uhh... well... more power metal riffage. It's not all that bad, and a few songs come close to classic Angra level, with good melodies and all, but it's not nice hearing them say 'Ride's over, pal. Now we're back in the usual corporation'. And for that - I punish you, Angra! I AM THE GOD OF HELLFIRE!

Seriously now, if you're a big power metal fan, feel free to raise the rating one, maybe two points. It's not atrocious, and complex enough to keep you interested - but I likes me my riffs better defined than something like 'Mystery Machine', whose introductory riff is a direct clone of some Iron Maiden tune I'm sure you remember and the rest is a stupid barrage of power chords and stuff. It's also rather nasty to hear Matos mostly abandon his shrill whistling and become more of a typical metal screamer, often emulating Bruce Dickinson. That said, we still have to be grateful, since the majority of good things I have to say about this effort is related to the guy's vocal hooks. Even 'Mystery Machine' has a couple of them - like the way he twists his voice on lines like 'master of fate you're the only one who kno-ows...'; that's ample indication of a real vocal talent, of somebody who's not content with merely getting the screamy message across but who wants to get playful with it as well.

Speaking of really good songs, there are two here, straight in the middle. 'Lisbon' might be called a power ballad, but I don't like power ballads, yet I like 'Lisbon' ==> 'Lisbon' ain't no power ballad. If you don't believe me, go ask Aristotle. What 'Lisbon' is (besides being the capital of Portugal) is a masterful medieval-styled prog-metal epic, with excellent keyboard parts (Matos uses his accessories as both harpsichords and strings, adding a few Moogish solos later on) and an anthemic memorable chorus. The only problem is that when I ask myself the question "What progressive rock band does this remind me of the most?" the first answer that comes to mind is "Fuckin' STYX!". And then I have to convince myself that this is much better than Styx - because the vocalist is better, the keyboards are more creative, the guitar solo is played by a first-rate metal musician, and the overall percentage of cheese is nowhere near as high. But it still reminds me of fuckin' Styx. So make your choice.

Fortunately, 'Metal Icarus' does not remind me of Styx. Because it's much more of a direct metal tune - fast as lightning and real heavy, despite the feeble "keyboard strings" in the background. Iron Maiden would have killed for a tune like this, but ha! nobody ever offered it to them, so there. It's particularly ass-kicking in the solo section (in the classic Iron Maiden principle, one of the guys is playing really really breathtakingly speedy and the other guy is playing relatively slow, but with more o' that feeling), but, of course, the main attraction is still the infectious 'time after time, night after night' chorus. Lyrically, by the way, they're still treading the same dark romance grounds, this time with a touch of Goth to them ('angel's dressed in black'), but that's certainly optional knowledge.

Other than that, well, I guess the "focal centerpiece" of the opus is the diplodocally oriented 'Paradise', which is built upon a fantastic guitar line, I'll give you that. The song's most fabulous moment, I think, are its first fifteen seconds when it's just that guitar line and nothing else - not very complex-sounding to my ear (I mean, by real heavy metal standards, not KISS ones), but very moody and majestic at once, like a weird introduction to a metallic requiem: long, continuous, weepy, and meditative. Unfortunately, one minute into the song it goes away, and later on reappears only occasionally - until, finally, we get to hear it for what seems like ages in the coda. It's not a very good song in general, though, certainly no 'Carolina IV' when it comes to integrating its separate parts. But the guitar line is good.

My biggest problems are with the large final chunk of the album, starting with the title track: the songs are really non-descript. I mean, they're sort of okay when they're there, on the basic headbanging level, but leave way too much of a tasteless metal porridge in your head when they're over. Looking at the track entitled 'Speed', I sort of remember they really had this very very fast song to wind things up, a real thrash monster that ended with a great solo romp, but to tell you the truth, if it were entitled 'Metal In My Spleen' instead, I wouldn't be remembering that. The biggest disappointment is the title track - six minutes of wasted time (multiplied by four or five listens, aarggh!). Somebody tap me on the kneecap - maybe I've lost my reflexes, but I doubt it.

Basically, they're just feeding on others' glories here. I've never done any research on how the album was conceived, and have no idea why they dropped all of their individuality; considering that this would be the last Matos-led Angra album, there is a possibility of Fireworks actually being dominated by the rest of the band - but I repeat, I know nothing of it. All I say is they really should have placed the final product back to back with Holy Land and see the goddamn difference; why they never did, or, if they did, why they never took any action, is a mystery to me. Or maybe they just wanted to push Iron Maiden out of the business, especially considering Dickinson was out of the band at the time. No way, guys. Brazil ain't no place for serious competition. It's a great country, and it's got some respectable metal bands coming out of it, but hey, you got your corner of the market, you fuckin' stay there!

You know, sometimes I feel like a goddamn son of a bitch.



Year Of Release: 1998

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

The best thing about piling all the scraps together is they sometimes amount to a decent dinner!

Best song: CAROLINA IV (duh)

Track listing: 1) Freedom Call; 2) Queen Of The Night; 3) Reaching Horizons; 4) Stand Away; 5) Painkiller; 6) Deep Blue; 7) Crossing; 8) Nothing To Say; 9) Z.I.T.O.; 10) Carolina IV; 11) Unfinished Allegro; 12) Carry On.

Technically speaking, these are two absolutely different albums. Freedom Call, released in 1996, was an EP of "leftovers" - a collection of songs recorded by the band even before Angels Cry with a few oddities from different periods thrown in for good measure; and Holy Live, released in 1997, was, as the title directly suggests, a live EP from the Holy Land tour. However, while there is something to be said for both of these releases, it's certainly not enough for a full-fledged review - and thus I take this iggly-wiggly chance at discussing them both at the same time, considering that in 1998 they were released together on a single full-length CD. After all, it's quite easy to treat this as your regular "bits-and-pieces" collection - because it basically is one.

Freedom Call is rather underwhelming. It begins with three songs, apparently recorded really early and, frankly speaking, not very good. The band's classical influences are already there, with Matos' keyboards already sounding symphonic and all, but the songs are clumsy and unmemorable. 'Reaching Horizons', a power ballad beginning with a lengthy acoustic section, is probably the best one, but it is, after all, no more than just a power ballad; and both 'Freedom Call' and 'Queen Of The Night' make absolutely no impression upon me whatsoever, despite all the trademark Angra elements present. Nothing really clicks - no memorable chorus and the feeling of power is transmitted more through the very fact of screaming and thrashy playing than through anything actually discernible. Well, I guess somehow they just managed to seriously improve upon their songwriting before they got to release their first full-fledged LP.

The other three songs date from different periods. There is a very good orchestra-embellished reworking of 'Stand Away' from Angels Cry - I never took it for a highlight on the original album, but here the genuine symphonic arrangement gives it thrice as much power, or maybe it's just that it sounds so dang good after the preceding subpar material. The version of 'Deep Blue' isn't much different from the Holy Land original except for being shorter. And finally, there's the oddest one yet: a faithful cover of Judas Priest's 'Painkiller' (off their 1990 album of the same name)! Now I've never doubted the fact that 'Painkiller' is a prime example of macho metal, but golly gee, that sort of material should be done by Judas Priest and Judas Priest only. Only Rob Halford knows how to sing this kind of lyrics with enough self-irony so as not to come off as a complete idiot: wasting Matos' vocal talents on this stuff is just that, wasting. One thing that's obvious from listening to this song is that, from a purely technical point of view, Angra could outplay Judas Priest in their sleep - this ain't their usual style at all, and they show themselves as complete masters of it anyway. But then again, nobody in his right mind would ever call Judas Priest the epitome of technicality. It ain't difficult to outplay them. It sure is difficult to be as much fun as them, though.

Now the real meat of this Frankensteinish CD is, of course, the Holy Live part. I likes me some vintage live heavy metal, but the basic problem with it is that, unlike, say, classic Seventies hard rock, live metal albums tend to be bland carbon copies of studio originals. This is partially true in this case as well; most of the time, the numbers are played by the book, with every twist of the original melody rendered faithfully and accurately. It goes without saying that the playing is immaculate, and that you can't accuse the guitarists or the rhythm section of sloppiness, and that the energy level is at an all-time high, but to make a live album memorable, you need to do something more than that.

And in this respect, major congratulations go to Matos, who shows himself to be an entertaining and inventive frontman - he knows when exactly to insert an "extra" exhilarating battlecry to make the audience go completely gaga, not to mention that he demonstrates an uncannily solid knowledge of French (the entire album was recorded during a single show at Paris, or so I've concluded by listening to Andre's announcements) - way beyond the usual "bonsoir Paris, are you ready to rock?" tripe. At one point, he makes a really long, really well-crafted speech, with solid French pronunciation and all... considering that his native language is Portuguese and how well he sings in English, I can't help but express my sincere respect.

Add to this that they are willing to make slight modifications to original material, and the experience becomes unforgettable. The highlight of the show is, of course, 'Carolina IV'; a great live version that almost annihilates the original, with a lengthier intro and outro section (note particularly the outro section, with a great bluesy solo from one of the guitarists); and if you were worried that some of the more subtle Brazilian influences wouldn't survive the transition into a live setting, don't worry - both the tribal drumming stuff and the complex vocal harmonies are performed to perfection. I suppose I should also mention the excellent sound quality here, easily matching the already fine studio production.

The only obvious question here, of course, would be - why the hell is there only enough material for one small EP? This essentially only gives them enough space to perform three songs off Holy Land, plus 'Carry On' for the "encore". Was this their entire set? Were they opening for somebody else? If so, why would they actually bother recording it when they could have recorded a full-fledged set in their native country? And if not, what the hell prevented them from having more?

I have no idea whether I should recommend this stuff to anybody but Angra completists, but let me reiterate once more: the live stuff is really, really good, and if you're desperate to find out how Angra sound live, well, so far I guess this is your best bet (and considering that Matos is no longer a member of the band, so it will stay). As for the studio songs, well, 'Painkiller' is stupid, but still a hoot, and the pompous reworking of 'Stand Away' actually makes the song more adequate than it was, however paradoxal it might sound.



Year Of Release: 2001

Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 6

I can't accuse them of incompetence. Everything else, I can accuse them of. And will.


Track listing: 1) In Excelsis; 2) Nova Era; 3) Millennium Sun; 4) Acid Rain; 5) Heroes Of Sand; 6) Unholy Wars; 7) Rebirth; 8) Judgement Day; 9) Running Alone; 10) Visions Prelude.

The worst has happened. And the worst is not the fact that the band's most interesting member left it for good, taking the rhythm section with him - although that is pretty bad. And the worst is not even the fact that instead of going their own ways, the remaining guitarists preferred to hire a new frotnman - although that does suck. And the worst, if you can believe it, is not even that this new frontman doesn't have one tiny inch of Matos' personality, being a generic, completely forgettable metal screecher - although it really makes me hurt deep down inside every time I hear him open his Brazilian mouth. No. With all of that, I could still be tilling my rice field in reasonable peace. The worst is that, out of all the possible names in the world, they chose to name their new album Rebirth.

Well, maybe not even that. To be more correct, the worst is that they really thought of this album as a "rebirth" for the band, and to make matters even worse, they made the subject matter tie in with the arrival of a new millennium. Yes, simply that. A new millennium for humanity, a new millennium for Angra, who, of course, will be humanity's spiritual leader from now on. I mean, who else recorded an album named Rebirth in 2001? No one? In that case, spiritual leadership is assured.

Many people fell for that trick, of course, and I wish them all the best. After a record five - count 'em, five - listens to this mountain of poisonous excrements (sorry, I need to vent myself before I take extra psychological damage) I can still remember only one song: 'Visions Prelude'. It is a very nice and even, in some way, moving piano ballad that makes a solid conclusion to the album, even if it does transform into a power ballad midway through. But you know why that is? Because it is actually based on a piano piece by Chopin, directly. It's not Angra playing out there, it's Chopin playing and the metal screecher singing along to the instrumental melody. Singing rubbish, by the way (what the heck is "holy lenient heart" supposed to mean? Not to mention I always end up hearing it as "holy metal heart"!), but that don't matter when the music is so wonderful in essence.

Maybe it would have been a good idea to extend this principle to the rest of the record. Let the band just play the classics and this Edu guy sing gibberish over the basic melody. But apparently, that would be one shitty "rebirth", or so they thought! No, "Rebirth" means writing very very very bad vocal melodies and singing them along to very very very generic thrash metal riffs and making the atmosphere thrice as "anthemic" as the most overblown track on Holy Land. WOO! Play 'Acid Rain' at max volume and prepare to be BLOWN AWAY by the Catholic chorus in the beginning! Play 'Running Alone' at max volume and prepare to be ANNIHILATED by the SPIRITUAL ECSTASY displayed by the band members! This is a REBIRTH and they want you to know it! LIKE CANDLES IN THE DARKNESS WE FIGHT AGAINST THE WIND! RIDE THE WINDS OF A BRAND NEW DAY!

I'll give them one thing, though. On 'Unholy Wars' there is an obvious attempt to recreate the vibe of Holy Land - by including tribal chanting and ethnic percussion. In fact, the way the song begins is an obvious tribute to 'Carolina IV', and the basic groove ain't half bad. However, it stops a minute and a half into the tune and is replaced by more generic trash; then, after four or five minutes or boredom, they revert to the opening section again and add a few pipes for good measure. Needless to say, taken as a whole, the song doesn't even qualify as 'Carolina IV's younger brother - maybe a younger brother already crippled with polyo at the moment of birth. One heck of a RE-birth, eh?

Altogether, this stuff makes me so sad I actually take their straightforward rockers, the ones that don't come loaded with hot balloons full of liquid shit just ready to blow, as brief moments of relief. Not that there's many of them, but the least compromised thrash stunners like 'Nova Era' are moderately listenable. In fact, it makes me really sad to think that Raphael and Kiko actually waste their obvious talents on this crap. Whenever any one of them takes lead, I temporarily forget about how bad this record is and just dig in to the tasty sounds they produce - oh sure, few of these solos possess any unique qualities, but it's always nice to see obvious talent on display. Heck, even this Edu guy has some talent; if only they actually gave him decent material to sing. As far as his keyboard playing goes, he's definitely no Matos: the record is heavily dependent upon keyboards, but for the most part, he plays relatively simple and unmemorable passages that are as removed from Matos' inspiring "metal symphonies" as Edu's strong, but ordinary voice is removed from Matos' cute "whining".

In short, a complete and utter catastrophe next to which even the disappointing Fireworks sounds like a masterpiece. Yes, there have been positive reviews for this album, and I've encountered people who like it and all, but for Chrissake, ladies and gentlemen, there's a TON of records like this one out there. I simply can't imagine how deep into metal one has to be in order to really like this stuff - and this IS stuff, stuff in the primary meaning of this word, stuff that cannot be dissected into a number of countable songs, stuff that gives power metal its (not undeservedly) bad name, stuff that actually prevents this genre from evolving in any way. And oh yuckie-yuck, the self-importance of it all. I can't imagine what they expect me to do with this self-importance. What, should I take this album to the mountains, dress in a bear skin and greet the rising sun of a new day with hands held high and mighty blasts of 'Millennium Sun' rocking the precipices around me? It sure feels too big for the humble confines of my living room, you know. Especially considering that my living room is also my study and my bedroom.

For some reason, the one analogy that springs to mind when I consider this travesty is with the Ray Wilson-led Genesis of Calling All Stations. If so, this is actually a good sign, meaning that, God be willing, this shall be the last piece of Angra product to tempt our poor souls. But something keeps telling me I'm being too optimistic here.


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