|Great Artwork, too!|
When I learned about “Aqua”, I began acting like a giddy fanboy, prancing about with my hands clapped to my head, emitting brief shrieks of joy every so often (not that much of an exaggeration either, if you ask my fiancee). You'll have to forgive my ridiculous posture, but Angra was one of the first bands that really got me into metal, and has never failed to release material that I have found consistently excellent. After “Aurora Consurgens” and the troubles with their manager, I had begun to despair, fearing that Angra had gone the way of bands like Lost Horizon and Wintersun. So you can imagine my ecstasy (and perhaps share it) when I learned that a new full length was being released in August.
Upon first listen, I was mildly underwhelmed. I of course, was fantasizing about a bombastic return to “Rebirth” era speed and glory. While I still hold hopes for an album like that someday, “Aqua” is indeed not such an undertaking. Actually, if anything, “Aqua” is even more mellow and thoughtful than ever before (At least for the modern era of Angra). I've heard it claimed both that “Aqua” is a thematic album based on water, and instead a concept album based on “The Tempest”, the former seems more apt to me. The band themselves state that water is the inspiration for the album, and from the stormy heights to the serene depths, the analogy is a striking one.
After the obligatory but not unpleasant short intro piece, “Arising Thunder” kicks off the album in true Angra fashion. While perhaps a bit sparser vocally and instrumentally, this track is an exemplary piece of Angra's work. It is the liveliest and quickest-paced song on the album, and sits pretty well as the first full-length composition (the storm, after which there is peace, if you like), while setting the stage for the reminder of this very aquatic and progressively flavored album.
Now, power/prog isn't anything new for Angra, but they're breaking new ground here for themselves, moving beyond their past two efforts. They continue to grow in this direction, and manage continuously to become stronger songwriters while moving away from conventional power metal. Songs like “Rage of the Waters”, “Spirit of the Air”, and “Hollow” illustrate just how brilliantly the band can execute complex and well-written songs while maintaining the accessibility and wonderfully memorable solos and vocals that have become their hallmarks. As always, touches of folky percussion and Brazilian tonality creep into the recordings from time to time. Along with the ever-impressive guitar talent of Bittencourt and Loureiro, this makes for a very technically sharp album, one of the best I've seen this year.
It's a testament to Angra's ability that they're able to continuously float away from the kind of metal that I and others claim to be our favorite, while keeping us hooked completely. I refuse to give a full track-by track of “Aqua”, but the songs are all good, while many rise further above that. Better people than I will give you a track-by-track, and I won't waste your time with my occasionally redundant writing. For now, suffice to say that “Aqua” is one of the best metal releases of the year, regardless of genre. It is deep and continuously fresh, profoundly energizing, and brings the band instantly up to form. It's not quite on par with “Rebirth”, but it's getting there.
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The Protagonist's Rating: 9.25/10