From HardRoxx Magazine No 37, November 98
By Dave Cockett
It’s been two long years since ANGRA released their last studio album, two years in which the boundaries of techno metal have been rolled back on a steadily continuing basis as the genre grows in stature. Widely acknowledged as one of the leading lights from the embryonic scene back in the early 90′s, the band have an ever growing and fiercely loyal army of fans. On the eve of the release of ‘Fireworks’, their eagerly anticipated third album, DAVE COCKETT caught up with vocalist ANDRE MATOS.
Andre Mates has the convictions of a man on a divine mission. In 1991, dissatisfied with the radical shift in direction his colleagues in Viper were keen to pursue, he quit. “I’d recorded two albums with Viper (‘Soldiers Of Sunrise’ and ‘Theatre Of Fate’) which were in a sort of Iron Maiden come Helloween type of vein,” explains Andre, ” and then all of a sudden the other guys wanted to do this hardcore sort of thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m OK with that, it just doesn’t really suit my songwriting or singing styles. At that point we decided it would maybe for the best for me to quit the band, to leave both parties free to do their own thing as it were. I think the band are still together, but nowadays they’re just singing in Portuguese and doing pop music.”
By November of that same year he’d teamed up with guitarists Rafael Bittencourt and Kiko Loureiro, bassist Luis Mariutti and drummer Marco Antunes, and Angra (named after the ancient Brazilian goddess of fire) was born. “We kind of met in the musical scene in Sao Paulo,” offers Andre, “and it was a real thrill because we soon discovered we all shared the same kind of passion for music. Not just heavy music, but all kinds. Everyone was keen to learn to become better players, better songwriters, and it was so great for me because finally I’d gotten a chance to work with people on the same wavelength. That’s how it all started really, we just played a few local gigs for fun, mostly doing covers but throwing in the odd original here and there, and it went down a storm. So spurred on by that, we then locked ourselves away for six months practicing and composing all the time. We decided that we weren’t gonna play live again until we’d got a demo tape together, which became the ‘Reaching Horizons’ demo. That got us a deal, firstly in Japan, and then in Europe and South America.
Their debut album ‘Angels Cry’, recorded at Kai Hanson’s studios in Germany and originally released in early 1993, soon went gold in Japan. A heady mix of progressive metal, classical themes and Brazilian rhythms … it was a far cry from the brutal thrash metal purveyed by the likes of Sepultura. “The Brazilian scene is actually quite odd,” says Andre, “there’s a little bit of everything in there, 70′s metal, progressive metal, rock, blues … you name it. The thing was I think that Sepultura were the first band to break big outside of Brazil, so naturally everyone just assumed that the country had this huge thrash scene and very little else. But the truth is that there are a lot of different bands, almost all of them contemporary to, or like Viper, even earlier than Sepultura, and the scene is pretty healthy.
In March 1996, Angra released their second album ‘Holy Land’ (the first with new drummer Ricardo Confessori), a far more mature and ambitious sounding recording exploring the more sophisticated side of their music. A concept album, my only criticism would perhaps be that it sounds a little too clinical, too far removed from the band’s stage sound. “Absolutely,” agrees Andre, “that’s exactly why we’ve tried to pitch the new one somewhere in-between the two, just to try and rescue that earlier raw energy we had. I’d have to admit that ‘Holy Land’ was a great album for the band because it enabled us to establish Angra as an individual sound in our own right. It was a very personal album for us too, very deep, especially lyrically. At the time ‘Angels Cry’ was released everyone was comparing us to the likes of Iron Maiden, or Helloween, stuff like that. OK, I’II admit it, of course we have our influences, I think it’s healthy that all young bands should be influenced by something, have their own heroes, you know. With ‘Holy Land’ though, we got past all that, and came up with something that was uniquely ours, I just think that perhaps we got too caught up in the quest to be different, and that’s why it lacks that bite the first one had. Thing was though, when we took those songs from the album and played them live, they naturally became more aggressive and energetic, heavier even. Everyone kept telling us how much more powerful we sounded live, so we decided that next time we’d try and capture that feeling in the studio.”
Having recorded two albums at Kai Hansen’s studios with Charlie Bauerfeind at the production helm, the band decided on a change of both location and producer for ‘Fireworks’, moving to London to work with Chris Tsangarides. “We’d had the idea of maybe changing the direction of the sound a little for some while,” Andre concedes. “It’s nothing against Charlie, he’s a great producer, but he’s more into the sort of technical side of things. He’s sort of into all the ultimate digital processes, and computers and stuff like that, which helps him get a very precise, clinical sound. That was very good for us in the early days, because it taught us a lot. Brazilian people are normally very lazy, ha!, and working with Charlie really taught us the discipline you need to have in the studio. It just came to a point where we felt confident that we could take that step forward, and Chris was already one name that was on our minds. Once we’d decided to move on, we wanted to go for something completely different, something perhaps a little more old fashioned, a guy from the old school, especially the old British school because that’s where most of our influences actually come from, that scene back in the 70′s and 80′s. And Chris Tsangarides was exactly the guy who was working with those bands back then, the guy who knew the scene and how to achieve those sorts of sounds we were after.
“When we contacted Chris he said he already knew of the band from the Judas Priest ‘Tribute’ album, and that he really liked our version of ‘Painkiller’, and that ‘Painkiller’ was an album he’d produced and was proud of. Of course, that’s an album we all worship because the production on that is an absolute killer. At that point we decided that Chris was the guy we wanted to produce ‘Fireworks’. He came over to Brazil for a couple of weeks to do pre-production and stuff, and we decided which of the songs we’d written would make the final running order. We didn’t change lots of things with the music, Chris was more concerned about the final sound, he works in a totally different way to Charlie. With Chris it’s a one take deal, he’s basically recording the band live, there’s no overdubs or things like that. Although I was a little nervous at first, it was great in the end, because it meant that you had to work really hard to accomplish your result first time, knowing that there’d be no going back later to retouch things. It was a great learning experience for the whole band. Then, when we came over to London to record the album in March, he got us into some very good studios. For instance we did the drums and bass at Metropolis, and all the orchestral and string stuff at Abbey Road. He’s a really great guy to work with, really experienced in getting that big final sound, and at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing, We’re really all very happy with the way that ‘Fireworks’ turned out.
Written over a period of six months, ‘Fireworks’ is Angra’s most consistently impressive set to date, and marks a departure from their normal songwriting process. “We came off the ‘Holy Live’ tour in the middle of last year, and just dropped everything to concentrate on the next album. In the past, most of the material was down to Rafael and me,” concedes Andre, ” but this time around it’s been a real team effort, much more of a band thing from the word go.
This time there’s only two tracks on the album that are down to me (‘Lisbon’ the first single, and ‘Wings Of Reality’), and that’s only because I’d sort of already written them. When I played them back to the rest of the guys they all felt that we should include them as they were, no one felt that anything needed to be changed or re written.
‘Fireworks’ also has the advantage over its predecessors of some firm backing by German based distribution company SPV. “SPV actually wanted to handle us some time ago,” Andre shrugs, “but there were lots and lots of contractual reasons why that just couldn’t happen. We’re still with CNR in France though because they’ve been absolutely brilliant for us over there. In the past, the distributors we had for both ‘Angels Cry’ and ‘Holy Land’ in the rest of Europe didn’t really get behind the band that much, there were lots of missed opportunities. Now there’s finally a feeling that something’s gonna happen, because everybody is really working hard on behalf of the band.
Although Angra have only been together as a band for some seven years, they nevertheless seem to have grown into a role model for many of today’s newer techno metal bands, Andre however is not too concerned about the band trying to stay ahead of the game at all costs, preferring instead to continue to push Angra forward without worrying about the competition. “Sure it’s very flattering to have all these younger band’s trying to emulate you,” he admits, “and yes I can see that there are some bands out there who perhaps play in a similar style to us, certainly back home in Brazil there are a lot of young bands who would cite Angra as a major influence. But there’s no major concern in the band to try and stay that one step ahead. If one of these bands comes along and are better than us, then they deserve it on points you know. We’re quite happy doing our own thing, and I think at this point in time maybe the experience we’ve gained over the years gives us a little bit of an edge.
With the album due for release in early September in Europe, the next few months look set to be extremely busy for Angra. “We’ve actually got a distribution deal in the US for the first time,” says Andre, “we’re going with Century Media. Hopefully SPV are gonna push the album in England too, although I know that both markets are particularly difficult at the moment. It’s a shame really, because it was really great for us to record the album in London, but the scene seems to be in such a bad way over there. Once the album comes out, we’re set to start touring in October back home in South America, then over to Japan for a few dates in December. We’ve also got a big European tour pencilled in for January and February, although it’s by no means certain that we’ll make it over to the UK. For sure though we’re gonna start the tour off in France, then Italy and Greece, and of course Germany. As for the future, one thing you can be sure of is that Angra are here to stay, and that we’re gonna try and stretch ourselves from album to album. We’re not one of those bands who’ll repeat the same recipe each time, we like thing to change things around, it keeps people on their toes.