Angra - Secret GardenAngra needs no introduction. The band has been a power metal fixture since the early 1990s and are one of the biggest metal bands to ever breach the borders of their native Brazil. Still, the last decade(ish) has been rocky for these guys, and you might not be blamed for having thought they called it quits. Not only did half the band quit in the early-aughts to go and start Shaman, but they’ve had dust-ups with management and were put on hold—even having been mistakenly reported as split-up entirely. Hell, between 2010’s Aqua and the release of Secret Garden they lost both a singer—who was replaced by Rhapsody [of Fire]‘s Fabio Lione—and got a new 23 year-old drummer to boot. Consistency has been hard to come by for Angra of late.

But I’m gonna be frank here: instability isn’t necessary a problem in this case. I am not a fan of older Angra, and while I’ve never looked down my nose at them as I do with bands containing Jørn Lande, they have long suffered from a bad case of vocalistitis: the condition of being a talented band ruined by a (frequently douchey) singer that makes the music hard to enjoy1. Regardless of whether or not you agree with my dislike of previous singers Matos and Falaschi, it’s tough not to admit that it’s been a bit of a rocky ride for these Brazilian power-mongers and yet Secret Garden sounds very good; focused, tight, diverse and fun.

Secret Garden doesn’t start out sounding like it should be a wandering into anything other than run-of-the-mill power metal circa 2008 with its opening strains. Opener “Newborn Me” treads dangerously near to Amaranthe and Stratovarius‘ terrible tonality before Fabio jumps in. And while the song is a pretty good power opener, what kept me listening was the noodly breakdown around 3 minutes, followed by a truly inspired acoustic solo with Spanish guitar influences. On follow-up “Black Heartened Soul,” Secret Garden really takes off with its choral introduction, and Iron Maiden á la Helloween twin leads. Even later in the record when Secret Garden backs into its most “predictable” of straight power metal tracks—such as “Perfect Symmetry” or the chunky and mid-paced “Upper Levels”—the record shines with vigor and beauty.

But Secret Garden shines because it is anything but predictable or straight. First, while Fabio is Angra‘s primary vocalist in 2015, Simone Simons (Epica) steps in admirably on the title track, carrying the moody melodies and pseudo-swing admirably on her silky voice. And while Simons sounds great, she’s not even the best guest vocalist on the record. Doro Pesch absolutely crushes the Eurovision ready “Crushing Room,” where she does a duet with Rafael Bittencourt. This song is not only masterfully written, with an immensely hooky chorus, but the vocal performances are absolutely lights out. In fact, no disrespect meant to Fabio, Rafael nearly steals the show with his vocals on Secret Garden. The man has a truly epic metal voice evoking Dan Swanö’s best of times, and his performances on the aforementioned “Crushing Room,” “Violet Sky” and the final track “Silent Call” add a dimension to Secret Garden that has been missing from the previous Angra records I’ve heard.

Musically, too, Secret Garden runs the gamut of styles from straight, double-bass driven power metal, to Yes and Rushesque prog and Spanish guitar solo work—and takes a breather in the middle of the record to rock out a great cover of The Police‘s “Synchronicity II.” The use of ‘tribal’ drumming styles makes even the more traditional songs pop with energy, too, leaning on a sound that Angra hasn’t used a lot on past records. While the musicianship among power metal bands is ridiculous as a rule, the combination of an ensemble approach to vocal duties, and some heavy, emotional writing (“Crushing Room” and “Silent Call”), makes for a memorable listening experience. Secret Garden isn’t just well-performed, the songwriting is poignant and heavy and loaded with drama. And, surprisingly enough, Angra manages to do all this without sounding cheesy or overblown. Counter intuitively, Fabio’s vocal performance on Secret Garden may be simply one of the best he’s ever done. Rhapsody [of Fire]‘s own master of melodrama nails home a remarkably nuanced (if extremely well enunciated) performance on “Storm of Emotions,” and his duet with Bittencourt on that track is immense—and that’s not a fluke, but rather the rule.

Angra 2015 by Henrique Grandi

The big drawback to Secret Garden, for me anyway, is really the tonality of the whole record. Secret Garden is a modern power metal record, and that means that it has that pristine (some might say sterile), condensed tonality that Sweden and Devin Townsend have foisted on an unsuspecting and innocent world. The guitars at the beginning of “Final Light” and “Newborn Me” reek of the plastic sound of Sonic Syndicate and Deadlock and while it’s heavy, I think there are other ways of producing this music (see: Turisas). Further, the industry standard DR6 production on Secret Garden is masterfully handled by Herr Bogren out of Örebro’s Fascination Street Studios, but the use of non-standard percussion instruments and classical guitars leaves a little bit to be desired in terms of the breadth and depth of the dynamics.

Even with these sonic drawbacks, though, I am genuinely enthusiastic about Secret Garden. Angra sound better to me in 2015 than they’ve sounded ever before, and they’ve made a lot of good decisions in recent years that seem to be paying off. While Secret Garden never pushes into truly novel territory, it executes Angra‘s brand of power/prog with alacrity and sounds truly inspired. From hardship often arises great artistic production and this album is just one more piece of totally non-verifiable statistical noise that confirms my bias that this is an undeniable truth. Regardless of where it comes from, Secret Garden is gonna get a ton of play in Casa de Angry Metal Guy this year.


Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format: 320 kb/s mp3 [CBR]
Label: EarMusic
Websites: angra.net | facebook.com/angraofficialpage
Release Dates: EU: 2015.01.16/19 | UK: 2015.02.02 | NA: 01.20.2015 [digitally]

Show 1 footnote

  1. As an aside: I’ve noticed that I have a nasty habit of taking shots at bands that I review before I even get past the introduction. Have you ever noticed that? Might this be why bands don’t even share my positive reviews?
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  • brutal_sushi

    So excited for this. Loads of great Power Metal starting the year off.

    • Yes! Been thinking the same thing.

    • brutal_sushi

      Now if we would only hear some news on a new Morton release!

  • Kryopsis

    I hope this gets Album Of The Month so we could be AngraMetalGuy just for a few weeks.

    • Why didn’t we think of that??

    • Grymm

      WE HAVE A WINNAH!!!

      *hands over a cigar*

    • Carlos Marrickvillian

      Guaranteed AOM now!

  • Feeblejocks

    If the embedded track is a good indication of the quality of the release overall, I’d say this could easily sail to an AotM spot. It’s certainly the best album sample I’v heard so far this month. And that’s really saying something for a review with an Amaranthe namedrop.

    • Amaranthe is cited for the tone of the production, not for the shitty writing.

    • The embedded track is certainly a good one, and on a lesser album, it would definitely be a highlight, but its definitely not one of the best songs on the album. “Newborn Me”, “Black Hearted Soul”, “Silent Call”, and the utterly amazing “Crushing Room” are definitely the album’s highlights. There is a LOT to like here.

  • HohenheimOL

    Oooh, Angra still exists? Music to my ears, no pun intended.

  • Andy_0

    Wow, I had no idea Fabio joined them. I just hope he doesn’t add vibrato to every fucking word like he does in Rhapsody.

    • Well, he certainly E-NUN-CEE-ATES.

    • Darren

      I remember someone describing it as “vibrato so wide you could drive a bus through it”. I kinda like it, in a narm charm kind of way, but I’m glad he began mixing up his vocals in later RoF albums (sans the latest as I haven’t heard it)

  • They did a very decent presentation at a metal fest over here last year, Fabio is a great adittion for them, I’m not really familiar with the band’s material but it was nice to see Fabio again having fun.

  • The drummer is using traditional grip which is rare for a metal drummer. That song wasn’t bad so I guess I’ll be checking out the album. :)

    • Tanuki

      rare in anything but jazz/fusion these days. and even there its on the slide.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Sounds good, maybe 2015 will be power metal year

  • Nice! I am excited to check this one out.

  • Antoine Roth

    I for one think Andre Matos is a great vocalist with a very unique voice, but I agree Angra’s discography is kind of a mess. Angel’s Cry was amazing, their next two records less so. And after the first split, I really enjoyed Temple of Shadows and Rebirth quite a lot too, even though both had several weak tracks. And the next two records were really meh.

    Anyway, I agree with this enthusiastic review, I didn’t expect so much from this record (although Fabio Leone’s participation was a very good omen), but was surprised by its quality and how much I enjoyed it. I’ll continue to spin it regularly.

    Now bring it on Blind Guardian! Please don’t disappoint…

    • Who shouldn’t disappoint? Blind Guardian? Or me?

      • Antoine Roth

        Why, Blind Guardian of course! I know you would never ;).

  • JeremyZero

    My favourite thing about AMG as a website is that the same place that gives Origin and Decapitated album of the month nods also digs shit like Angra. Because there is nothing fucking wrong with loving tech death AND power metal. NOTHING.

    • Carlos Marrickvillian

      Right on…Ive never understood people that only listen one genre of music let alone restricting themselves to a sub genre…

      • JeremyZero

        Seriously. I mean, I LOVE metal. Metal is my favourite kind of music hands down. But it’s metal I love, not a narrow, specific, type of metal. Sometimes I want the grimmest black, or the most brootal death, or the shiniest power, or the stonedest sludge, or the wankiest prog. Sure there’s some kinds I’m not super into, but sometimes all it takes is a stand out band to pique my interest and I’m in. I can’t imagine only listening to one kind of metal, it’d just limit the experience so much. And hell, I also dig all kinds of other music, from folk to bubblegum pop. I think it’s way more interesting that way.

        • Carlos Marrickvillian

          Hell yeah, I love the fire and brimstone. I love the excellence and OTT of good metal and as a cough musician cough songwriter cough myself, metal is a major influence on me but when I write, it just doesn’t come out like that.
          At the moment for me the two best things in the world are ‘absorbing black ignition’ by artificial brain and ‘Waiting around to die’ by Townes Van Zandt. If I could even get the tip of my toe in that dark well…Id be a happy (?!?) man

    • Damn straight.

  • Ernesto Aimar

    Liked the album, though I preffer the earlier records of both major eras (Matos and Falaschi). Fabio sounds toooo regular for Angra, I believe his voice does not fit well in Angra’s sound.

    Agreed on Rafa’s voice, he actually makes the difference (“Violent Sky” is awesome). Playing live he always get to sing “The voice commanding you” and performs it greatly.

    Anyway, much better than “Aqua” but still far from “Angel’s Cry”/”Temple of Shadows”, my personal favs.

    • Yeah, Temple of Shadows is a personal favorite of mine. I don’t specially care for the rest of Angra’s discography and yet that album is one of the most memorable power metal records I’ve heard. Maybe they overdid the classical speed/power track a tiny bit, but there’s some lovely variety in there.

      And while I can see why someone might find Matos’ voice kinda irritating (I too find it irritating), I always felt Falaschi’s voice is perfectly serviceable. Far from exceptional, but not nerve-grating or anything similar.

      The new album is pretty awesome. An earworm of sorts!

  • Wow, Im not only impressed that this got a 4.0, but the Angry Metal Guy himself personally did the review! Maybe, just maaaaybe, I had the tiniest bit of influence on this?! :)

    I had this on my Best of 2014 list ranked #8 simply because it came out overseas in December, but its still been in regular rotation since I wrote my article, and had I done my top 10 today, I probably would have ranked it higher. I agree with everything in this review. Both Doro and Raphael’s vocals on Crushing Room are top notch, the spanish guitar and tribal drums sprinkled throughout the album really work well. The album isnt perfect, there are a couple of songs that don’t live up to the rest of the album, but as a whole, this is the best complete power metal album I’ve heard since Sabaton’s Carolus Rex.

    • You absolutely did have an influence. I don’t know that I would have gone out looking for it if you hadn’t talked it up like you did. It’s been a great surprise!

      • One thing I’ve learned in the metal-verse is to always keep coming back to bands even after years of subpar albums because you never know. Paradise Lost redeemed themselves with Faith Divides us, Anthrax had Worship Music, even Black Sabbath’s “13” was a really pleasant surprise!

  • robpal

    Great review AMG. This album is a very positive surprise to me, I didn’t expect something nearly as good.

    BTW, if we’re in the prog department — any plans of reviewing latest Rishloo album?

    • I’ve only just heard of Rishloo. I need to check it out, but since it was released in 2014 and we’ve got an avalanche of new records coming out, I think it’ll go unreviewed.

      • robpal

        They are criminally underrated and deserve some love.

  • Andres Pintos Nocerino

    i like the review and the cd, i’m not a really angra’s fan but i’m proud that AMG review an south american band because i’m from Uruguay, and now living in Brasil and i read you every day, and i wait for more

    • Another awesome South American band is Procession, from Chile. Check out their 2013 album “To Reap Heavens Apart”. It was reviewed here, and it was given good praise.

      • Ernesto Aimar

        Yeah! The drummer of In Solitude plays also there, great album. I also liked a lot both albums from Uaral, a folk/depressive black metal band from Chile.

  • Semyon Vodyannikov

    How about article about bands who suffering with vocalistitis?

  • André Snyde Lopes

    Every time I read Jorn Lande’s name I get more and more excited for Druhm’s inevitable 5,0/5,0 review of the Dracula album.

  • Kryopsis

    This is an excellent review and I’m not just saying that because I agree with everything you wrote. Seriously, that duet on Crushing Room is remarkable! I keep coming back to that song over and over again and manage to be a little bit surprised every time. I definitely agree on the tonality and production though, the acoustic guitar and hand percussion get a little lost. Fortunately due to the superior composition of the album they are not frequently overwhelmed by the other instruments. That drummer definitely has a bright future in Metal, incidentally.

  • Steve

    I would hold back album of the month comments in the same month Beyond the Red Mirror will be released. Cause let’s be honest, Blind Guardian make every other PM band obsolete.

  • antitayyip

    Blind Guardian???

  • madhare

    Anyone else bothered by what to me seem Christian or specifically Catholic anti-science lyrics?

    Seriously, what’s the difference between this stuff and something which is considered properly “Christian Metal”? Why wouldn’t Angra get that classification (as I’ve seen people claim here and there)?

  • De2013

    The lyrics in the embedded video are heavily inspired by Disney’s sound track of its mega blockbuster Frozen!

    Let is out let it go…..

  • Irineu Carvalho

    Why is Angra not tagged as Brazilian Metal?

  • Pedro Ordonez

    I love Angra, have liked them from their very first release. I have enjoyed each release more than the previous one, and this one is no exception to that awesome rule. Very few bands have accomplished that with me. Only Rush maybe?