For the past 24 years, seven studio albums, countless shows, and more than a few shifts in the bands line-up, Angra has been a fixture in the world of progressive power metal, not only in their native Brazil, but to metal fans the world over.
Throughout the bands career the band has had three of the most talented and iconic frontmen in power metal the first and most well known being one of the bands founders, Andre Matos, who was replaced successfully by Edu Falaschi, who then left the band in 2012 to concentrate on his own band Almah. Enter Italian vocalist Fabio Lione of Rhapsody fame (also ex-Labyrinth, Vision Divine, Hollow Haze) to begin the bands third incarnation. Anyone who has seen Angra’s Angel Cry 20th Anniversary tour and subsequent live cd/dvd knows that Fabio is more than up to the task of performing the bands discography with showmanship and passion, but the question remained, what would Lione add to the legacy of Angra on their next studio effort.
The answer comes on Angra’s eighth studio album titled Secret Garden. The verdict is a strong, yet uneven album filled with Angra’s trademark power metal with more of an emphasis on progressive passages and Brazilian percussion courtesy of new drummer Bruno Valverde. Fabio’s vocal work is stellar as usual, although it may take long-time Angra fans a little time to get used to the Rhapsody of Fire singer fronting the band.
The album starts with a one-two punch of heavy melodic prog that Angra are so known for. Newborn Me has a heavy guitar rhythm courtesy of guitarists Kiko Laureiro and Rafael Bittencourt , new drummer Valverde shows off his considerable chops, and Fabio’s melodic tenor vocals fit the song perfectly. The chorus is uplifting and powerful with a great hook and a classical Spanish guitar breakdown mid-song followed by some shredding guitar leads. Black Hearted Soul keeps the powerful pace with a Gregorian chant symphonic intro and transforming into classic Angra power metal played fast and furiously with harmony guitars, double bass drums, and soaring vocals. The middle section of the song features an incredible display of lead guitar work from both Laureiro and Bittencourt. I would not only say that this is the best song on Secret Garden, but also ranks up there as one of the best power metal anthems Angra has ever recorded (although Angra fanboys may dispute this of course).
The mid-tempo rhythms and heavy chugging guitar permeate Final Light. Lione’s vocals are warm and inviting and the chorus is another winner with a memorable melody line. The more melodic prog side of Angra is on display on Storm of Emotions. Lione’s emotive vocal lines are a highlight during the songs slower moments as they build with intensity into a huge crescendo during the chorus. Bittencourt lends a hand with his own strong lead vocals.
The band experiments with a more modern style of metal with Bittencourt taking over on lead vocals on Violet Sky for some reason. Not that this is a bad thing, Rafael has a fine vocal style, however it is perplexing when you have a lead vocalist the caliber of Fabio Lione. The song ends with a vocal chorus chanting in Latin.
It’s with the next song that the album takes a disjointed turn, not necessarily a bad turn, but more of a curiosity as the first five songs on the album flow together.
The title track Secret Garden is sung by Epica lead vocalist Simone Simmons, this in itself is not a bad thing, as Simone is a phenomenal vocalist who sings with power and emotion. The song sounds like it was written specifically for Simone as a symphonic ballad. The only thing missing is Mark Jansen’s growling vocals and this could be an Epica song. Listening to this track I wonder why they didn’t explore the idea of a Fabio/Simone duet.
Drummer/percussionist Valverde gets his share of the spotlight on Upper Levels, a progressive metal monster of a song in which the bass work of bassist Felipe Andreoli is a highlight as he and Valverde are a well oiled machine. Fabio once again is in fine vocal form using his flair for the dramatic and vibrato to great effect. Musically there are nods to fellow prog rock masters Rush and Dream Theater in certain instrumental passages.
German metal legend Doro Pesch provides guest vocals on Crushing Room, a duet with Bittencourt. Despite the title, the song is more of a mid-tempo epic semi-ballad with chugging guitars, passionate vocals, and symphonic elements. Pesch and Bittencourt’s voices blend well together however it feels like Doro is being restrained from unleashing the full power of her voice on this slower paced song.
Perfect Symmetry is another hard-hitting power metal song that has classic power metal Angra written all over it. The vocals are flawless, harmony guitar leads, speedy double bass drums and progressive and symphonic touches only make the song that much better.
The albums final song is a piano driven ballad titled Silent Call and once again taking over the lead vocal reins is Bittencourt, a curious way to end the album, especially considering the last song on an album is the one that leaves the last impression on the listener. As a song it is executed well, I just question why Lione was left off this song.
As a whole, Secret Garden is an enjoyable listen (with a few hiccups), with Fabio doing an admirable job taking over the lead vocalist role from Falaschi. It stands up pretty well next to most of Angra’s extensive discography.