ANGRA - ProgPower Preview
August 16, 2005, 15 years ago
The Brazilian power metallers will return to these shores for a limited engagement, headlining ProgPower VI after a pair of Canadian dates. In preparation for their North American jaunt, guitarist Rafael Bittencourt contacted BW&BK;, to offer an update and a bit of a teaser. “We’ve been playing a lot. We’ve been in Europe twice this year, Japan, Taiwan, Australia and many other places. Here in Brazil we do concerts every week and that gives us the opportunity to keep the band in good shape. I think we’ve reached a good level of maturity with this lineup. We’re combining stuff from all our CDs, but of course putting a little more emphasis on the new tracks. We never do exactly the same set. We’re always doing slight changes, experimenting with new stuff etc. After almost 14 years, it’s hard not to leave one nice song out, and because of that we vary the set every night. Playing ProgPower is very special for us. We’re very excited to come back!”
Recollections from the first trip over, in ’03? “Well, it was the first time that Angra played the US, the land of rock ‘n’ roll. So most of all, we were pretty much honored. It would be like an American samba player playing for a Brazilian crowd. We feel like (we were) presenting a lesson to the teachers. We wanted to perform our best, to get good grades,” he says, laughing at the analogy. “Besides that, we played with friends and other bands of musicians who we admire, like Gamma Ray, Pain Of Salvation, Devin Townsend and others.”
Since their last appearance, the band has only issued Temple Of Shadows, although the Rebirth World Tour-Live In Sao Paulo did receive a European release and early copies of the latest CD included the DVD that originally accompanied the live disc. “Our record label in Europe, SPV, had to release our album one month after Japan, so they needed a special product in order not to lose sales to the imported Japanese version. In the end, many people thought it was a good idea. Angra doesn’t have an American record label; it’s still SPV distributing our albums there and I think they have exported some copies of the CD-DVD version, but it would be good to have it over there too!”
Speaking of difficult to locate platters, what of axe-mate Kiko Loureiro’s recent solo effort, No Gravity? Yeah, it’s available on the ‘net, at hefty prices. Any chance of a release outside Brazil? “I heard that a French label was interested in doing it, but I’m not sure. Of course that would be Kiko’s desire and that is also good promotion for the band.” Fingers crossed.
Temple Of Shadows concerns a knight, during the Crusades, who begins to question the mission, the hypocrisy of a killing in the name of God mentality. Given the overwhelming number of Catholics in Brazil (not to mention globally), it’s surprising Angra haven’t met with more resistance outside the metal community. “Very little,” claims Bittencourt. “The response was way better than I thought it would be. Before releasing the album, we were all a little insecure about the (thematic) approach of the album. Japan was a blast. Lots of prizes from Burrn! magazine and others. Best album, best band, best performers etc. I think that either people don’t give shit about religion anymore or everyone agrees that Christianity has been sold to executive people. It is very disappointing to realize that people don’t care about it anymore, because these people are guiding our lives and our way of thinking much more than we get to know.”
Speaking of religions and whether people care, the cover art is adorned with what appear to be Hebrew letters (a bit odd for a Christianity-based tale). Do they mean anything specific, or significant to the storyline? “I had the idea to illustrate the cover with some of the words of the prophet Isaiah, in one of the supposed original languages. Those are fragments from different texts that I’ve sent to Isabel de Amorim, our artwork designer, for her to put together. They tell how the word can spread like fire, and that’s a little bit the idea of the record. We (members of Angra) show the world a lot, letting our thoughts/feelings out, about what we believe is true, even if everyone else thinks differently. Otherwise, we’d just be following the rest of the cattle, like cowards.”
That sentiment goes a long way towards explaining the closing ‘Gate XIII’, essentially a classical composition, more so than an Angra song. “It includes excerpts from all the songs,” explains the guitarist, as to its relevance to the story. “If you pay attention you will hear little themes from all the tracks of the album. That was the idea, a grand-finale!”
The track boasts considerable work, given it’s not just a rock band. “It was very hard,” contends Bittencourt, “but nowadays we can add lots of sampled instruments to the recorded ones with keyboards and computers. You can record a quartet many times over and over and make it sound like an 80 person strings ensemble. There are many tricks to escape a complex full orchestral recording. That’s what makes it possible; otherwise we wouldn’t be able to have it. I graduated in composition in the Santa Marcelina Arts University, here in Sao Paulo, which certainly helps on that matter. Dennis (Ward) is a very experienced producer and he knows all the technical details to capture the sounds from the instruments, best positioning in the room, placing microphones and how to combine and mix with the sampled instruments. He even played the trombone for many years in orchestras, so he’s got great ear training and music knowledge. Kiko and me did all the arrangements for orchestra and I believe we complement each other very well.”
Lastly, has anyone in the Angra camp heard the new Shaaman record (Andre Matos, Luis Mariutti and Ricardo Confessori, all split to form Shaaman, now spelled with a double “a”)? “I heard the recent release, but I much prefer the previous one, Ritual. I felt they became a little too lazy this time, to (just) put out energy. Maybe that was the idea, a more rock ’n’ roll-oriented thing.” When was the last time anyone saw/spoke with the "other guys"? “Last week. It was the international rock day, and we met at a party of a CD distributor, here in Brazil. In the beginning, it’s strange, like two different gangs in one place. Actually, it is very ridiculous. But after a few minutes, we are talking to each other, curious etc. They’re fine. My opinions about who they are remains the same as when we worked together in Angra. It’s been four years already and I don’t know them as well anymore, but I wish them success.”
Angra play ProgPower on September 16. The show in Quebec City is on Tuesday the 13, followed by a gig in Montreal, a day later.