Andre Matos may not be an angel, but his cries go well with this Mahler-thrash stuff.
Best song: CARRY ON
Track listing: 1) Unfinished Allegro; 2) Carry On; 3) Time; 4) Angels Cry; 5) Stand Away; 6) Never Understand; 7) Wuthering Heights; 8) Streets Of Tomorrow; 9) Evil Warning; 10) Lasting Child.
Not being a huge expert on either power- or thrash-metal (and this record has elements of both), I can’t really dare to tell you whether Angra’s debut was truly groundbreaking when it came out in 1993; but I will have no qualms if it ever goes down in history as such, because so far this is definitely the best amalgamation of “fury” and “beauty” I’ve heard in that genre. It is not an easy task to make thrash metal an object of, er, well, aesthetic admiration, and you probably know the reasons; at best, it’s just as hard to merge thrash with elements of classical music as it is to merge
classical with punk – because isn’t thrash, in a way, a cross between metal and punk itself?
Nevertheless, that’s a task that Angra seem to be fully capable of performing. Angels Cry isn’t their best album, but it’s goshdarn impressive for a debut. And no, I don’t merely mean that they can play well. If you come out with a thrash album, you’re supposed to play fast, and if you come out with a power metal album, you’re supposed to play complex, and if you come out with both, well, professionalism and technicality are understood.
I mean that not only can they play real well, but they also know how to (a) write a song and (b) despite all the problems, make it not sound like a cheesy embarrassment – even if, of course, those with low tolerance for pretentiousness will hardly be able to sit through more than five seconds of this stuff. What separates these guys from both the power metal and the thrash metal hordes is their unwillingness to fully conform to “metal imagery”.Angels Cry isn’t at all a ‘dark’ album, and its involvement with traditionalD&D thematics is minimal. Instead, these guys are fuckin’ romantics, and they’re pretty serious about it. Just look at the album cover – where are the hairy skeletons with rotten teeth or the bull skulls or the bolts of thunder or, well, anything you’d expect to see on an Iron Maiden or a Sepultura album cover? Instead, you get a friggin’ statue of an angel. Gee, how cute. These guys are SISSIES! Romantic sissies!
Look at their lyrics. Well, don’t spend too much time looking at their lyrics, because they aren’t very good, but just take one overall look to see they’re mostly lyrics of hope and deliverance – dammit, the very first song goes ‘Carry on/There’s a meaning to life/Which someday we might find’! So it’s hardly a surprise… well, it is a surprise, but hardly a shock that among the big bunch of originals we find them covering a song none other than Kate Bush’s (sic!) own ‘Wuthering Heights’!! And if it is a shock, then, after it passes, you will realize that the song actually fits the overall mood well. Angels Cry, just like Kate’s early stuff, is escapism, but not into the expected world of knights and goblins, rather into a parallel, ethereal universe filled with high ideals, grace, and abstract beauty – and their tribute to The Mistress of Abstract Beauty is well at home. Is the cover good?
It is. Very faithful to the original; the only serious “new” touches are in the guitar solo department. Which, of course, brings me to Andre Matos and his vocals and…
…and while we’re at it, I have no idea why some people put Matos’ screeching into the same paradigm with that guy’s vocals in Queensryche. They’re both pompous screamers, but
they’re different! Matos’ pitch is a lot higher, which would make his singing much more annoying to some, but for me, makes it much morepiquant, if you know what I mean. Both ‘Wuthering Heights’ and the absolute majority of the originals on here seem to be bursting apart with their grandiosity and pomp, but with Matos’ shrill, ear-bursting yells it’s almost impossible to take it too seriously. He’s like a seriously “overwound” Geddy Lee, speeding along at 78 rpm. I don’t mean to say this music isn’t supposed to be taken seriously; when you have such an expert level of musicianship, you do have to take it seriously.
But it doesn’t convey an aura of bloated, overwhelming self-importance, like some Queensryche stuff I could name. Turning back to the music, the important thing to note is that most songs have three things going for them: (a) sharp, often memorable, often speedy, sometimes both memorable and speedy riffs from either one of the band’s two guitarists, (b) Matos’ accompanying classical passages on the keyboards, and (c) Matos’ vocal melodies. Perhaps the best example of all three would be the first song, ‘Carry On’ (it is technically the second track, being preceded by a short ‘n’ tasty ‘Unfinished Allegro’). Disregarding the lyrics, I don’t see any way not to count it as a highlight and one of the best “power-thrash” songs of the decade.
When it comes to the keyboard break and Matos is playing this slightly Eastern European-tinged interlude while the guitars are mercilessly ripping away, I feel a freshness of approach and a general state of F-U-N – as if these guys weren’t a bunch of unknown Brazilian speedfreaks playing in the sunset of the rock era, but the Brazilian equivalent of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, bravely squishing together the unsquishable out of a hungry lust for experimentation and pushing forward the boundaries. Not to mention the catchy, if puffed-up, chorus.
Similar, but also good, tracks would, first of all, include the title one – a rather lengthy suite that alternates between slower and faster bits every now and then, keeps coming up with tricky, but ass-kicking, riffs, untrivial drum patterns, and a breakneck speed classical interlude; in fact, probably my favourite moment on the record is when the furious Beethovenizing comes to an abrupt end and then the drums go “BOOM!” and we’re back in the power metal world as if the classical passage never even happened at all. To me, this constitutes a slight element of musical humour, although alling this record “humorous” would definitely be a stretch.
The capacities of Matos’ voice are well demonstrated on ‘Never Understand’, where some passages require him to be modulating his chords after the manner of a praying Mullah, and on the album’s most bombastic piece, the closing two-part suite ‘Lasting Child’ (which, again, brings ELP to mind – its “royal” pomposity, for some reason, keeps reminding me of ‘The Great Gates Of Kiev’); the second part there is purely instrumental, and although it’s essentially one phrase repeated over and over in crescendo mode, it easily ranks up there with the best of “classic” prog-rock crescendos.
Meanwhile, ‘Evil Warning’ and ‘Streets Of Tomorrow’ might impress you with their catchy choruses. Then again, they might not. Even the ballad ‘Time’, while easily the worst song on here – well, it’s a ballad, after all – is so arrestingly over-the-top, with Matos practically squeezing his vocal cords out of his throat and playing them with guitar picks in front of the mike, that I get interested.
Their next album would be more inventive stylistically, but Angels Cry is dang impressive, nevertheless. It’s not necessarily my own cup of tea, as the sameness of material is a bit too much for me to bear this in one sitting, but hey, I’m a guy who’s really, really alergic to power metal, so if I’m recommending this, you better grab it fast, cuz it won’t last.