Even though I have been fairly accustomed to the numerous changes taking place in the line-up of Progressive/Power Metalers Angra over the years, I always feel slightly worried every time the position behind the mike becomes vacant in the said band.

Eduardo Falaschi was proven a pretty worthy replacement for the sensational Andre Matos when he first joined the band in 2001, but, now that he’s no longer part of the picture, what will the future hold for the Brazilian quintet?

It was on the sturdy shoulders of Fabio Lione, the ex-frontman of the Italian Symphonic Power Metallers Rhapsody (now Rhapsody Of Fire), that the remaining members of Angra decided to lay the said burden and, as the band’s latest studio album “Secret Garden” clearly suggests, this was a very wise decision indeed!

Signs of great chemistry between Lione and the band were clearly visible during last year’s live performances in celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the much-loved debut “Angels Cry” so it was not at all surprising to discover that the eleven compositions that put together “Secret Garden”  ‘share’ a similar kind of magic!

Blessed by a great sound, courtesy of Jens Bogren (Kreator, Opeth), and featuring powerful cameo performances by Simone Simons (Epica) and Doro Pesch (Warlock, Doro), Angra’s eighth studio album is a glorious amalgamation of various styles and themes.

Kiko Loureiro and Rafael Bittencourt’s riffs are heavier than ever, ‘newbie’ Bruno Valverde’s drum beats are as technically challenging as they are sonically dynamic and Fabio Lione’s range and variety of style will surprise even the most devoted and well-informed of his fans.

Light orchestrations, heavy low-chorded riffs and a melodic refrain to die for…”Newborn Me” is the best choice for an album opener and while the Euro-Power tunes of the follow-up “Black Hearted Soul” are a tad predictable, they nicely pave the way for the outstanding “Final Light” – a four and a half minute piece which combines heavy riffs with tribal drum beats and features more impressive vocal melodies by Lione.

Featuring a killer opening bass line but led by moody guitar harmonies “Storm Of Emotions” is a cleverly crafted power ballad while the cover of Police’s “Synchronicity II” is so successful that you would be totally justified in believing that this is an original Angra composition .

Even though one can name many highlights for this album, the one composition that truly stands out is “Violet Sky” – a heavy riffed, groove laden piece filled with emotionally-charged melodies and epic/commanding vocal lines.

The same-titled composition “Secret Garden” is a lightly orchestrated melodic piece which finds Epica’s Simone Simons on central vocal duties; “Upper Levels” combines the band’s Folk sensibilities with commanding riffs clearly influenced by the works of Dream Theater while “Crushing Room” features an interesting duet between Metal goddess Doro Pesch and Angra’s guitarist Rafael Bittencourt.

Though not a particularly exciting musical proposition, “Perfect Symmetry” is a Euro-Power sounding composition filled with flamboyant leads and pompous orchestral arrangements that will certainly appeal to the average Power Metal fan while the three and a half minute acoustic ballad “Silent Call” concludes Angra’s eighth studio album with finesse and pure emotion.

It took Angra four years to unleash their later aural assault onto the world but the more I listen to these eleven compositions on offer the more I realise that every single minute has been worth the wait.

With a well-seasoned vocalist masterfully stirring the ‘ship’ and always willing to indulge in new ideas and styles for the purpose of producing the best possible result, Angra era 2015 is still a force to be reckoned with. Don’t believe me? Give “Secret Garden” a few careful spins and find out for yourselves.

What a start to 2015!

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