Angra‘s Secret Garden was a surprise for me. It captured my heart by being extraordinary in its execution, not its novelty. The record was a solid group of songs that were well-written, well-performed, and fun to listen to. But let’s not kid ourselves, aside from having a spunky new 23-year-old drummer and slightly used 41-year-old singer, Angra wasn’t really doing anything unexpected. The record was graced by Jens Bogren’s Industry Standard Power Metal Production™, a guest appearance by scene matron Doro Pesch, and it was a straightforward affair. Secret Garden‘s directness was charming in its lack of pretense, and I’ve come back to it a lot since then. So, three years later, 2018 starts off with Angra‘s newest record entitled ØMNI. And this time, they’ve gone and written an orchestral, progressive metal concept album about the future. So, how’d that work out for them?1
Any record that spells “Omni” in all caps and with an “Ø” is going to have trouble being lauded for its lack of pretense, but my fondness for the album has increased with time. I must admit that I wasn’t particularly taken with ØMNI at first. The songs lacked some of the directness that made its predecessor fun, but neither were they replaced with something directly mind-blowing. Instead, Angra just seemed to have ratcheted up the prog a little. There were a few songs that struck me, but I wasn’t blown away. With time, though, and probably two dozen listens, ØMNI developed into something bigger than I thought, and stickier, too.
At its root, the record is good because of its songs, of course. Angra‘s writing has undoubtedly changed over the years, but ØMNI is built on two pillars. The first pillar is catchy, fun power metal. Tracks like the album’s openers—”Light of Transcendence” and “Travelers of Time”—show off their chops nicely. Both are fast, loaded with solid hooks and the double kick and 8th-note snare hits which the late ’90s power metal scene perfected. These tracks show off Rafael Bittencourt and Marcelo Barbosa’s virtuoso skills that we all take for granted and are the quintessential sound that drives the album forward2. These songs are hard getting wrong. Fabio’s broad vibrato and thick Italian accent lace these tracks with the confidence of a man who has done this for decades, and he works well for Angra‘s sound in 2018.
The other pillar of ØMNI is a sound that is distinctly more noodly and progressive. These tracks are mid-paced, proggy and dramatic. “Magic Mirror” blends slower, groovy riffs with an ’80s Yes breakdown; while “Caveman” features amazing bass and a gladprog breakdown.3 “Bottom of My Soul” is ØMNI‘s answer to “Crushing Room” and features Rafael Bittencourt’s gravely baritone in one of the highlights on the album. His voice also graces the album’s penultimate track “Silence Inside,” which sports a bass tone lovingly copped from Bakithi Kumalo. More than any other, the eight and a half minutes of “Silence Inside” see the band combining the two threads to define ØMNI‘s unique sound. Honestly, my only wish is that we could get more of Bittencourt’s voice throughout, as he has both great drama and fantastic power.
ØMNI was produced by Jens Bogren and mastered by Tony Lindgren, and sounds like it. The use of a genuine orchestra reminds me of Stand up and Fight, and they’re well-balanced in the mix. Rather than taking over—as orchestrations tended to do for Fabio’s last band—they’re subtly involved in making the sound more expansive. This comes with all the caveats filed under “loudness war, the” of course, but ØMNI is finally a new power-prog album that doesn’t feature all of the latest production tricks from 2002!4 ØMNI‘s sound isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good and it definitely meets the most basic standard of judging production: I didn’t think about it. It was only when I began comparing the album to Secret Garden that I truly noticed how different ØMNI sounds.
ØMNI is a solid album that may be part of a class of transitional albums that make way for greater things to come.5 I’ve understood that some of the more ardent fans of the band have expressed boredom or displeasure at ØMNI. Not for me, though. While not as immediate as its predecessor, I think it’s a deeper album. The flashes of Dream Theater prog and dipping toes into using real orchestra paves the way for a new, epic Angra sound on future albums. ØMNI appears to be a step in that direction, and it’s a great one.
- Sorry for being so late with this review. My illness that wouldn’t end, leveled me for about five weeks here, and I’ve been a complete mess. Eff me. I am back now, though. ↩
- check “War Horns,” though, for a sick Kiko Loureiro cameo. ↩
- What is “gladprog,” you ask? Here, listen to Kaipa. ↩
- For my rant about this sound, see my review of Sunburst‘s otherwise great album Fragments of Creation. ↩
- See the second paragraph of my Pale Communion review. ↩