Angra - The Secret Garden

Angra The Secret Garden cover
The Secret Garden
Sometimes, it’s hard to let go, but it might be the best way. Angra was the creation of Raffael Bittencourt and Andre Matos. With him, they managed to release some highly successful albums and become commercially successful. After his departure, when the “entire” rhythm section also followed him, in his new endeavors, Bittencourt & Loureiro, the remaining members of the band drafted in some new musicians, including the very capable and quite versatile singer, Edu Falaschi, who was able to channel Matos in his performances rather well... thus establishing a new “era” for the band that managed to sustain itself and be successful again.
But seemingly the victim of bad management that seems to drive away members, Angra once again, lost that singer and the returning Ricardo Confessori, who’s been replaced by the much younger Bruno Valverde behind the drum kit. Now, to tour Angra had brought in Fabio Leone from Rhapsody, as a temporary replacement, who seems to be a guy, that has helped out quite a few bands in several cases, in “similar” situations. He did a tour with them of which a recorded album exists and then, one can only presume the band was only too happy to have him continue his tenure with them, possibly because he got accepted by the crowd in their native Brazil?!
Now, with all due respect, Fabio is an excellent singer and Angra are quite a great band, but the pairing of the two, doesn’t work as well as the previous incarnations of the band, as Fabio, has such a characteristic voice that it seems to define the style of the band. He also has sung, in other bands, outside of Rhapsody, like Athena for instance and Vision Divine but, I suppose, with this brave move, the group’s identity and character is changed drastically. Bittencourt also seems to be assuming a number of lead/backing vocals and there’s Simone Simmons from Epica and Doro as guests.
What’s very prominent throughout this new album is the progressive tendencies. Angra always had technical passages, but now they seem to concentrate more on the atmospheres rather than the force and melody and while they don’t forget to infuse the songs with both of those element a perfect balance is not always attained.
“Newborn Me” seems to be a timid approach to introduce Fabio as the studio vocalist, it has a lot of elements for which the band has been known for, but it’s ascending melodies and prog demeanor, combined with the its overall mid-tempo and Fabio’s delivery make it sound “different”. That being said it’s not bad. There’s a nice “flurry of notes” lead in the middle, followed by a more temperate latin inspire section before the song resumes…
“Black Hearted Soul” is more “traditional” Angra, but with Fabio’s vocals, it has a slightly different “sound”, due to his timbre and accent being different. It’s a fairly good track that could have easily been lifted from any of the bands previous albums. (In fact a few riffs and parts seem inspired from some older songs) Again the soloing is very well done.
“Final Light” allows, newcomer BV, to shine, somewhat. It’s a very atmospheric and heavily percussive  number, in which I think Fabio’s delivery seems to bode better, with his theatricality, not being lost over simpler melodies.
“Storm of Emotions” is a weird little number, which sounds a bit like a Dream Theater ballad, in that Fabio, sounds a lot like early James Labrie, timbre wise, someone else is also be contributing some vocals here, (Kiko maybe?) (Basically everyone but the drummer is credited with singing, so maybe doing choirs?!) It gets more powerful and heavier, turning into a “power-ballad”, but thankfully, the band has the self-control not to launch into some crazy display of how well they can solo over a nice slower song. Thank God for that!
“Violet Sky” has Bittencourt assuming vocals and this is different, not only because of the vocals, (adequate, but not great) but rather due to its overall style, a more prog and slightly more modern and endoscopic track, that however does close with a chant in latin… go figure…
“Secret Garden” has Simone Simmons assuming lead vocals, on her own. Which makes me wonder why... she is at best mediocre, with a timbre that decent and the voice she possess, while fair, isn’t one you’d instantly fall in love with. A lot of other female singers could have added a lot more feeling and inflections, where Simone’s rather plain delivery falls short of expectations. The song is pretty impressive, it’s execution not so.
“Upper Levels” is quite reminiscent of Symphony X’s more melodic moments, of past times and not too bad. The more you listen to this “temporary” arrangement, that seems to have become permanent, it’s becoming more and more acceptable, but you cannot help but to mentally contrast it, with the older “marks” of the band and the albums they produced and although that comparison is somewhat unfair, it’s also crushingly condemning.
“Crushing Room” is a duet between Doro and Bittercount and while both go for making this an extremely passionate, lyrical sort of song, a power ballad if you will, they both seem to be somewhat hitting the limits of their ranges, thus singing a little harshly. That fact combined with them both being rather close to the instrumental level on the mix, makes the song sound, a little underwhelming.
“Perfect Symmetry” is a fast and hard hitting number, which however feels a bit like, Angra on autopilot... it’s not bad, but it’s far from great.
Last but not least “Silent Call” is a sentimentally charged ballad, which however exposes his mediocrity as a singer. Ballads are very exposing and unless your voice is really great, you might want to avoid that sort of exposure. Brave choice and a very nice little song, but again the execution is a little lacking.
Angra’s eighth studio album is by no means bad. Musically it’s very good and Fabio Leone is even putting in a very good performance… I am just not sure, if he’s the ideal match for the band. Given that they already however attempted a Matos reunion prior to that, that the latter declined, I suppose, they did move forward, with what they had at the time, instead of taking more time off. A one off “Curio” or the beginning of a “Nova Era”? Only time will tell...