Angra – Holy Land Review

Angra - Holy Land

Angra – Holy Land

The Brazilian Heavy Metal band Angra’s debut album Angels Cry had sounded somewhere in the area of like a mixture between early Helloween and Queensryche. Three years later the band diversified their sound, with a sort of Dream Theater flair in places, a lot less Power Metal, and the introduction of what would come to define the band in the eyes of many… lots of Brazilian indigenous folk music influences, additional percussion and classical influences in there too for good measure.

Where the first album had a lot more speed, this album mixes it up. It’s a lot more rhythmic, based on interesting patterns. They upped the amount of keyboards, orchestral arrangements and percussion for sure, and there’s some sound effects here and there (boat and water sounds to fit with the theme), but the biggest difference is in how the songs flow and are structured.

Its also a concept album about their Brazilian homeland and its early history. Not your typical character-driven concept (usually about a fictional rockstar). It makes for interesting listening and adds an extra layer of intrigue to the proceedings.

The style has changed a little since the debut, but what hasn’t changed is the band’s talent. The vocals and lead guitar alone are phenomenal and then you have the really powerful rhythm section who shower this album full of impressive bass runs and tricky fills and manage all the tempo and time sig changes effortlessly making the complexity feel smooth and natural.

The superb production job by Power Metal producer-extraordinaire Charlie Bauerfeind (Hammerfall, Helloween, Gamma Ray, Primal Fear, Blind Guardian, Freedom Call etc.) is the icing on the cake that pulls together the spectacular songwriting and performances and makes you appreciate everything all the more.

Highlights include ‘Nothing To Say’ which is beyond catchy, ‘Carolina IV’ and perhaps my favourite of all, ‘Z.I.T.O’ which starts off in an Angel’s Cry mould and then goes off on one.

Overall, this is a really good album from a talented band. If you like your Prog Metal or your Power Metal then you need to check out Angra, and if you like Angra then Holy Land is pretty essential listening.

Gamma Ray – Powerplant Review

Gamma Ray - Powerplant

Gamma Ray – Powerplant

Gamma Ray, the legendary German Melodic Power Metal band fronted by the immensely talented Kai Hansen (Founding member of Helloween, member of Iron Saviour & Unisonic, guest contributor to Angra, Blind Guardian, Primal Fear, Hammerfall, Avantasia and all around fingers-in-many-pies mainstay of the Power Metal scene) really came in to their own with their classic fourth studio album Land Of The Free. They had always been great, but something about that 1995 masterpiece really just elevated them even higher.

For me, the three albums that followed maintain that high standard. Most fans will be very familiar with Somewhere Out In Space and the popular No World Order albums. It seems that piggy-in-the-middle record, Powerplant is a bit more overlooked, or in other words underrated.

The album opens with ‘Anywhere In The Galaxy’ which is unquestionable, pure classic Gamma Ray. This sort of song is the reason people love this band. Elsewhere there is the fun tribute to Manowar ‘Heavy Metal Universe’ (filled with constant lyrical references, and musically based on ‘The Gods Made Heavy Metal’) which is great fun. There’s variety with a Pet Shop Boys cover (‘It’s a Sin’), a commercial sounding tune (‘Send Me A Sign’) and a lengthy progressively inclined number (‘Armageddon.’)

The production is a little flatter than the albums which surround it, and sonically it doesn’t perhaps pop out as much, but the songwriting and performances are spot on. ‘Wings Of Destiny,’ ‘Razorblade Sigh’ and the aforementioned gem ‘Anywhere In The Galaxy’ are memorable, melodic ragers that would stand proud on any other Gamma Ray record.

Overall; this album sees Gamma Ray in the middle of a great run of high quality albums. It maybe doesn’t get talked about as much as some other albums but you’ll be damn grateful to have it in your collection once you’ve given it a chance.

Angra – Angels Cry 20th Anniversary Blu Ray

Angels Cry 20th Anniversary Live is a 2013 concert Blu-ray by the Brazilian Progressive/Power Metal band Angra. It features the line-up with Italian singer Fabio Lione (ex-Labyrinth, Rhapsody of Fire) on vocals performing material from all eras of the discography passionately – with some interesting guest appearances including Tarja Turunen (ex- Nightwish), Uli Jon Roth (ex-Scorpions), Amilcar Christófaro (Torture Squad) and the Familia Lima string section.
This set has quite high production values. Visually; the thing is an absolute gem. Top notch image quality, great camera work with tasteful editing, and the actual stage show contains interesting video screens with eye catching imagery. Its all just great for the eyeballs, which is why you’re getting a video recording and not an audio recording anyway, right? Well this is totally worth every penny in the visual department.

Sonically, the recording is crystal clear. You can hear every single note, every different drum and cymbal. Its like a Rush concert or something – brilliant clarity and definition. The only thing that’s not absolutely perfect is that in the stereo mix, the rhythm guitar is not as heavy as some of the studio versions, but it is still a brilliant mix nonetheless.   Best of all; The performance is beyond stellar; Fabio nails it recreating the band’s different singers’ work well and injects some of his own flair into the proceedings. The guitar solos are out of this world and the tireless drumming of Ricardo Confessori sounds great. Listening to and watching the interesting music is an absolute joy.
Highlights include the fantastic renditions of ‘Evil Warning,’ ‘Nothing To Say’ and the fantastic set closer ‘Nova Era.’ The enthusiastic São Paulo audience seem really into it.
Overall; Its an absolutely great concert DVD on a technical level, and better still it’s a great concert in and of itself. The line-up is strong, the setlist is great and the guest musicians add an extra layer of interest. I highly recommend this to fans of the band, fans of this end of the musical spectrum, and fans of good quality concert recordings. It would be an unquestionable treat for existing fans but would also work really well as a first purchase for newcomers.

Angra – Angels Cry Review

Angra – Angels Cry

What happens if you stick Keeper Of The Seven Keys and Operation Mindcrime in a blender? You waste two perfectly good cds of course! However, the metaphor was the first thing that came to my mind after listening to the first half on the Brazilian Power Metal/Progressive Metal band Angra’s classic 1992 debut album Angels Cry.

The album was produced by Charlie Bauerfeind and Sascha Paeth (what important Power Metal bands haven’t those legendary two worked with, between them?), and recorded in Kai Hansen of Gamma Ray’s studio in Germany. It also features guest musicianship from three Gamma Ray members across two tracks. That’s some serious Power Metal pedigree it has going for it.

In addition to bouncy European-sounding Melodic Power Metal however, the band also write incredibly Progressive minded music with odd rhythms, complex transitions and a lot of thought about texture and atmosphere (there’s at least two or three songs on here that seriously feel like missing tacks off of Rage For Order at times, before the choruses kick in), and on top of all that, dip into Neo-Classical territories as well. I could see how people might call it a rip-off of other band’s styles on paper, however there’s something original about it by virtue of the specific mix of influences, and of course the band’s own innate talents and distinctive musical (and singing) voices.

All that superb musicianship and songwriting skill is superbly topped off with some seriously phenomenal lead vocals from the beyond-talented Andre Matos. The range, power, melodic sensibilities and enthusiastic performances are something to behold.

The album feels really well balanced, it flows well, and despite having a Kate Bush cover and music by Vivaldi and Paganini, never feels cheesy or gimmicky. You could never tell it was recorded with line-up trouble before, during and after its creation either. Its just one of those extremely solid albums that just sounds and feels important.

Highlights include ‘Carry On’ which is a whole lot of fun, ‘Time’ which has a bit of a Queensryche feel and ‘Never Understand’ which has guest guitar from Kai Hansen, Dirk Schlächter and Sascha Paeth  (and despite all that doesn’t feel patchwork). The word highlights is hard to apply though, as its all so good and there’s not a lot that’s worth skipping or ignoring by any means. This is solid from beginning to end.

It may not be as progressive as their later albums, and doesn’t really highlight the Brazillian/World music angle as much as later albums, but it is still an absolute gem and I’d seriously advice people to get themselves a copy if they are into either Power Metal or Progressive Metal.