The progressive power metal subgenre may be something of a niche scene, but it’s a niche that has produced a lot of interesting and ambitious music. January 2015 sees the release of a long awaited new record by Brazil’s Angra. This is the band’s eighth album in their twenty-four year career, as well as the first record in five years, and their first without former vocalist Edu Falaschi. Long-time fans of the band know better than to expect a repeat of previous efforts; and so I chatted to new frontman Fabio Lione to see just how ‘Secret Garden’ came together.
Fabio Lione stepped into the position as vocalist in 2013, but even with experience in Rhapsody of Fire and Vision Divine, one could easily assume that assuming the role as the frontman of one of Latin America’s most successful metal bands would be a daunting proposition for any singer. However, as Fabio thinks back to his first involvement with Angra, you can tell in his tone of voice that it was, in fact, a much easier undertaking than some might expect. “I’ve known the guys in Angra for a long time, and have been good friends with them for fourteen years. I wanted to join the band after the first show, on the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise, which went really well, and I found that I got on with everyone, they had great people in management, in their crew, and the fans were great too.”
Those who are familiar with Angra’s history as a band will know that there have been a few line-up changes during their career, including a short time on hold between 2007 and 2009, but two long term members remain at the core of the band. Namely founding guitarist and vocalist Rafael Bittencourt and the band’s second guitarist and backing vocalist Kiko Loureiro, who has been with Angra since 1993. With this in mind, I asked the Italian singer just how much involvement he had with the recording process;
“It was definitely a full team work. Everyone was contributing ideas, which was very good. Most of the work was done in Illhabela, which is an Island in Brazil, where the band decided to stay for two weeks. So for two weeks we eat, sleep, compose, listen to songs and ideas. So we can say that seventy percent of the job was done in this Island. And then we finalized the work in Sweden with Jens Bogren, the producer, and I have to say that I liked this, I like the fact that that this new record was kind of a team effort, it’s not just one or two members of the band that compose, it was more teamwork, and this is something good. Of course Rafael Bittencourt was doing all the lyrics, so there are some members that give much more contribution than others, so in the end this was something nice.”
‘Secret Garden’ is an album with a very interesting concept behind it and is best consumed as a whole, as most records of this ilk are. As Fabio explains, the whole album ties together musically, with nothing stalling the flow from start to finish, but it is the emotive and very lifelike storyline that makes up the backbone of the record that I was most intrigued to hear the singer’s explanation of;
“It’s such a modern sound that fits in with the sound of Angra in 2015. While we were in Illhabela I was talking to Rafael, and he had this idea to do a concept through every song on the record. We talk about a man, a doctor that has a car accident. In this accident he loses his wife, so we talk about the man’s feelings and depression through the record. There’s such a storm of emotions. There’s a song where there’s an angel speaking to this doctor, telling him it was a kind of destiny and not his fault. Then we have the song ‘Secret Garden’ where we have Simone of Epica as a guest with the band, and she is singing, playing the part of the wife of this man. I like this idea to do a kind of modern concept with this album. It’s nice to release some songs that have a connection.”
If you find your interest furthered with this guest appearance from Epica’s angel-voiced singer in the new Angra record it is to be noted that the album’s title track does not feature Fabio’s vocals, which is rare indeed;
“In ‘Secret Garden’ it was originally an idea to do a duet, and I don’t know why in the end we didn’t do it. I was supposed to sing with Simone just in the chorus. I believe in the future we may release something regarding this song with a man singing also. Either way, I think it works with the story anyway, with the wife that is somehow talking with this guy. The only weird thing is that ‘Secret Garden’ is the title track, and maybe some people will think it’s a bit strange not to hear the vocalist of the band singing this track but as far as the story goes, I think it’s fine.”
Simone Simmons is not the only guest singer to appear on this album; also along for the journey was a certain German metal icon for the ballad ‘Crushing Room’.
“We also have Doro Pesch on the record and I am happy about this. I think Doro is very unique. I knew Simone very well because I was singing with her in Kamelot in 2011, for about 49 shows. I was really happy to hear she agreed to be part of this record, she’s a very good singer, and a nice girl. Regarding Doro, she was a friend of the band’s management. I think it was very good to hear Doro doing a duet with Rafael. I believe that maybe someday we can do the duet with Simone live, if possible. We have exactly what we wanted, some female singers for the story. What I like about this is that, in my opinion, the record kind of varies, you’ve got Rafael singing some songs as well. So in the end, listening to the record, the music and variety in the vocals lets you listen to the record easily. It’s interesting and not boring. Well, at least for me and the band! I don’t usually like to have too many guests on the one record, but a few cool people who are good friends is very nice, I think.”
It’s clear to any listener familiar with Angra’s recorded output that this record has a lot of elements that make it sound distinctly more modern than previously heard. Young blood may have had something to do with this, since new drummer Bruno Valverde is twenty-four years of age, but its 2015, and one has to wonder; was this step forward in time pre-meditated or did it come about naturally?
“We can say both. We want to have a progressive record, so then I can say, knowing the guys in the band very well, that everyone is really talented and open-minded. We didn’t want to release just a power metal record or just a heavy metal record. We like to explore, we like to play different styles of music, and we like progressive music. So we wanted to release a fresh and modern progressive record without losing the soul of the band. Bruno did a great job with the Brazillian percussion, and we had the power metal and classical influences that Angra had in the past. I am sure that people will hear that this is Angra, 2015. It’s something different from the previous records but you can still feel that it’s Angra, and that is important.”
The last four Angra albums featured Fabio’s predecessor Edu Falaschi’s on vocal duties. Four albums in eleven years accounts for a large part of the band’s career, and as such many fans may feel apprehensive about any new singer stepping in, even one as recognised and talented as Fabio. Did he feel the pressure when he took on the role?
“I dunno. The point is that I know Andre Matos, and I know Edu Falaschi, they are kind of different. Andre was more unique with a kind of feminine voice, and is more personal than Edu Falaschi, but Edu was more varied, able to use the voice in maybe a more versatile manner. In my opinion, I was doing the right thing. I never liked trying to copy or emulate somebody. Thinking about this, I tried to sing in my own way, in a way that I feel that the band and the music needs, without trying to think about the previous singer. I think this is the best way because if you always think about the previous singer or guitar player you’re probably thinking wrong. Just bring your soul, your style, and your contribution to the music and have a good result, that’s what’s important.”
The one track that is most likely to get all tongues wagging among fans and critics alike is the band’s cover of ‘Synchronicity II’ by The Police. The obvious question is – how did that idea come about? It’s something that will no doubt take some people aback. As it turns out; Fabio himself came up with that one;
“I remember I was with Felipe, the bass player, and we were talking about covers and I proposed this idea to play this song by The Police, but I never expected the guys would take it into consideration, I was surprised to hear everyone in the band say “Wow, this is a great idea! Nobody will expect a Police cover from Angra”. So I was happy because, in the end we were just putting forward some songs to play, and I was talking about this song, because it was the first song I ever heard by The Police. For me it was something important, something related to my teenage years. I am really happy that the band released this version. In my opinion it’s really good. It sounds a heavier and a bit more poppy. To me, it’s one of the best tracks on the record! If you don’t know The Police, you could actually think it’s an Angra song, because it sounds really heavy. It’s really cool. Some people told me “This song sounds really amazing” and they didn’t realise it was a Police cover. We found a way to do this song our way, an Angra way. Most of the people who listened to the song told me it’s very well done, sounds really powerful and heavier but still has a pop music touch, so I think we did a good job.”
With each consecutive tour and album, the band has increased success in Europe. They frequent the continent’s festival scene, and always draw a crowd of fans when they do. Not to be sniffed at for a band hailing all the way from Brazil, and especially for such a long career. In our chat, I wanted to hear his take on this, since he himself is a European, and no doubt knows the extent of Angra’s popularity there;
“At the moment I am the only European member in the band, which is good in a way, because I can give my help to the band, they can do the same for me in Latin America. Of course, Latin America is very important to the band, and I believe they are big over there. We are trying to do as much as we can regarding Europe. For example, we have Wacken in August next year, and in addition to this I’m trying to fix some festivals in Italy and some other European countries. It’s important for the band, we will do our best to play there. Of course, I’m Italian, so for me it’s important to have things to do in Europe. I believe that this band can achieve a lot and not just in Brazil or in Japan, where they are also very big. That’s why I am trying to fix more shows. We have Japan and Taiwan in May, we will try to build a small tour around the USA. I’m pretty sure we will do a big tour in South America and regarding Europe we have one or two shows in Italy, Wacken and around that we should have more shows in Europe. I believe next year we will have a lot of shows to do, and more ideas regarding possible acoustic work. I was talking to an orchestra director about the possibility to record something with a real orchestra in an acoustic venue. We have a lot of ideas, so I think that could be another project for the band. Not a new record, but something a bit different. Of course, we are talking about in a year, two years, I don’t know. The good sign is that the band want to tour a lot to support ‘Secret Garden’”
With one swift listen to any recorded material from Angra’s career that they are not strictly a power metal band. The progressive nature of their music rings out strong and true, with a distinct flavour that is entirely their own. Nonetheless, the power metal influence is clear in their compositions. This is a genre of metal music that is frequently associated with Europe, and as such, I needed to ask the Italian singer what his views are on the genre’s longevity and attraction in European metal scenes, as opposed to the likes of American scenes, where only a few power metal bands have ever gained any real following.
“If I think about Helloween, Gamma Ray, Stratovarius, Sonata Arctica or whatever, all these kind of bands are especially successful in Europe. The people there like this kind of music, I like it too, it’s sometimes a little boring for me after many years of listening to this kind of music. I understand Europe is cool with power metal bands, and Angra is one of them. On this record we have at least two speed or power metal songs in the classic Angra style, but the rest of the record is a bit more progressive. I think it is right, because the band today doesn’t want to compose and play a complete power metal record like in the past. It would be fake if we released a record of ten or twelve speed metal songs. What we can hear is actually what the band wants; some power metal mixed with speed and progressive metal, the Brazilian percussion, some fusion. I like this because in the end, the record sounds fresh and modern. On the other side, I’m not sure if some of the fans will like to hear this kind of modern stuff. You always see that a lot of people criticize bands when they try to change something in their sound. This is sometimes stupid. You can’t pretend that a band will play for twenty, twenty-five years, repeating the same songs or record. So I’m really happy to be part of this band, it’s a band that want to evolve their music and their style and I feel every band should think this way. But you’re right, in Europe, power metal is very well accepted and a lot of people are really strict with this. It’s good, but sometimes not so good.
Lest it be forgotten, Fabio also has Rhapsody of Fire and Vision Divine to attend to in his musical career. So, one would think it would be safe to say that he will be a very busy man in the foreseeable future, especially since Rhapsody Of Fire released ‘Dark Wings Of Steel’, and the new release of ‘Secret Garden’. However, Fabio is a man who knows how to manage his time well as he juggles three bands.
“Actually I don’t know, because with Rhapsody of Fire, we should compose new material next year but I don’t think I will have a lot of shows with them. I will have a lot of shows with Angra. At the same time I can compose music with Rhapsody of Fire or Vision Divine. It’s not easy like it was for 2014 but on the other hand it’s what I like, and why not? I think you can manage your time and have a good result in whatever you do. It’s kind of lucky because one year you have to play a lot of shows with one band and it’s the same year that you have to compose with the other instead of playing live. So you can manage it.”
With all these different projects, it’s easy to imagine that Fabio would choose to approach them all in their own individual way as a frontman and a singer. Fabio explains, it all comes down to the soul and style of each band;
“When I sing for a band, I try to hear the music and realise the kind of vocal approach that is needed. So I try to sing with Rhapsody of Fire in a different way because it is more epic, while with Angra usually I have to sing higher and more cleanly in a way. I try to be a different Fabio in different band. With different bands you can’t really sound the same, it’s almost impossible.”
When all is said and done, with the few Angra fans who may be recoiling at the idea of the Brazilian band having a new face and a new voice, Fabio Lione is a man who has his sights fixed firmly upon the vision that Angra has maintained for twenty-four years. So there is no reason to fear the future. Embrace Angra now more than ever, and you will find yourself immersed in the luscious musical world of an ever-evolving band that is as forward thinking and unique as any other metal act going. What more could you want?