FREEDOM CALL/HOLY LIVE
The best thing about piling all the scraps together is they sometimes amount to a decent dinner!
Best song: CAROLINA IV (duh)
Track listing: 1) Freedom Call; 2) Queen Of The Night; 3) Reaching Horizons; 4) Stand Away; 5) Painkiller; 6) Deep Blue; 7) Crossing; 8) Nothing To Say; 9) Z.I.T.O.; 10) Carolina IV; 11) Unfinished Allegro; 12) Carry On.
Technically speaking, these are two absolutely different albums.Freedom Call, released in 1996, was an EP of “leftovers” – a collection of songs recorded by the band even before Angels Cry with a few oddities from different periods thrown in for good measure; and Holy Live, released in 1997, was, as the title directly suggests, a live EP from the Holy Land tour. However, while there is something to be said for both of these releases, it’s certainly not enough for a full-fledged review – and thus I take this iggly-wiggly chance at discussing them both at the same time, considering that in 1998 they were released together on a single full-length CD. After all, it’s
quite easy to treat this as your regular “bits-and-pieces” collection – because it basically is one.
Freedom Call is rather underwhelming. It begins with three songs, apparently recorded really early and, frankly speaking, not very good. The band’s classical influences are already there, with Matos’ keyboards already sounding symphonic and all, but the songs are clumsy and unmemorable. ‘Reaching Horizons’, a power ballad beginning with a lengthy acoustic section, is probably the best one, but it is, after all, no more than just a power ballad; and both ‘Freedom Call’ and ‘Queen Of The Night’ make absolutely no impression upon me whatsoever, despite all the trademark Angra elements present. Nothing really clicks – no memorable chorus and the feeling of
power is transmitted more through the very fact of screaming and thrashy playing than through anything actually discernible. Well, I guess somehow they just managed to seriously improve upon their songwriting before they got to release their first full-fledged LP.
The other three songs date from different periods. There is a very good orchestra-embellished reworking of ‘Stand Away’ from Angels Cry – I never took it for a highlight on the original album, but here the genuine symphonic arrangement gives it thrice as much power, or maybe it’s just that it sounds so dang good after the preceding subpar material. The version of ‘Deep Blue’ isn’t much different from the Holy Land original except for being shorter. And finally, there’s the oddest one yet: a faithful cover of Judas Priest’s ‘Painkiller’ (off their 1990 album of the same name)! Now I’ve never doubted the fact that ‘Painkiller’ is a prime example of macho metal, but golly gee, that sort of material should be done by Judas Priest and Judas Priest only. Only Rob Halford knows how to sing this kind of lyrics with enough self-irony so as not to come off as a complete idiot: wasting
Matos’ vocal talents on this stuff is just that, wasting. One thing that’s obvious from listening to this song is that, from a purely technical point of view, Angra could outplay Judas Priest in their sleep – this ain’t their usual style at all, and they show themselves as complete masters of it anyway. But then again, nobody in his right mind would ever call Judas Priest the epitome of technicality. It ain’t difficult to outplay them. It sure is difficult to be as much fun as them, though.
Now the real meat of this Frankensteinish CD is, of course, the Holy Live part. I likes me some vintage live heavy metal, but the basic problem with it is that, unlike, say, classic Seventies hard rock, live metal albums tend to be bland carbon copies of studio originals. This is partially true in this case as well; most of the time, the numbers are played by the book, with every twist of the original melody rendered faithfully and accurately. It goes without saying that the playing is immaculate, and that you can’t accuse the guitarists or the rhythm section of sloppiness, and that the energy level is at an all-time high, but to make a live album memorable, you need to do something more than that.
And in this respect, major congratulations go to Matos, who shows himself to be an entertaining and inventive frontman – he knows when exactly to insert an “extra” exhilarating battlecry to make the audience go completely gaga, not to mention that he demonstrates an uncannily solid knowledge of French (the entire album was recorded during a single show at Paris, or so I’ve concluded by listening to Andre’s announcements) – way beyond the usual “bonsoir Paris, are you ready to rock?” tripe. At one point, he makes a really long, really well-crafted speech, with solid French pronunciation and all… considering that his native language is Portuguese and how well he sings in English, I can’t help but express my sincere respect.
Add to this that they are willing to make slight modifications to original material, and the experience becomes unforgettable. The highlight of the show is, of course, ‘Carolina IV’; a great live version that almost annihilates the original, with a lengthier intro and outro section (note particularly the outro section, with a great bluesy solo from one of the guitarists); and if you were worried that some of the more subtle Brazilian influences wouldn’t survive the transition into a live setting, don’t worry – both the tribal drumming stuff and the complex vocal harmonies are performed to perfection. I suppose I should also mention the excellent sound quality here, easily matching the already fine studio production.
The only obvious question here, of course, would be – why the hell is there only enough material for one small EP? This essentially only gives them enough space to perform three songs off Holy Land, plus ‘Carry On’ for the “encore”. Was this their entire set? Were they opening for somebody else? If so, why would they actually bother recording it when they could have recorded a full-fledged set in their native country? And if not, what the hell prevented them from having more?
I have no idea whether I should recommend this stuff to anybody but Angra completists, but let me reiterate once more: the live stuff is really, really good, and if you’re desperate to find out how Angra sound live, well, so far I guess this is your best bet (and considering that Matos is no longer a member of the band, so it will stay). As for the studio songs, well, ‘Painkiller’ is stupid, but still a hoot, and the pompous reworking of ‘Stand Away’ actually makes the song more adequate than it was, however paradoxal it might sound.