Posts Tagged ‘ Rafael Bittencourt ’

Interview: The third era of Angra

Some bands are irreparably damaged by change. Angra seems immune to that. In fact, through the years, line-up changes have only made the Brazilian quintet stronger. Losing their longtime guitarist Kiko Loureiro to Megadeth could have been disastrous, but their brand new album ‘Ømni‘ proves that Angra is still as inspired as ever. With influences from progressive metal, power metal and Brazilian music, the album is a masterclass in how versatile heavy metal guitar playing can be. The two guitarists responsible for this, bandleader Rafael Bittencourt and newcomer Marcelo Barbosa, guide us through the creation of the album.

After Kiko left, I was a bit worried“, admits Bittencourt. “Kiko was not only an exceptional guitar player, but also my songwriting partner. I wanted someone to fill that spot. Because of that, everyone got involved with the songwriting. This album started from zero, with conversations of what the direction of the band should be. When we were touring with Tarja Turunen two years ago, we started jamming and exchanging ideas with small amps in the dressing room and backstage.
At the time, we were touring for the anniversary of our ‘Holy Land’ album, which allowed us to do a lot of research on that album together. Marcelo lives two hours away from where I live by plane and Fabio
(Lione, singer) lives in Europe, so I was meeting with Felipe (Andreoli, bassist) and Bruno (Valverde, drummer) more often, but whenever we could, we would get together out in the woods for a couple of days. Just resting, chatting and exchanging ideas. Marcelo was showing me new bands and artists that I hadn’t really listened to, like Alter Bridge and Jeff Buckley, so we kind of exchanged influences as well. All of this has made ‘Ømni’ a very collective work.
I think that every time we changed members, the music changed a little bit. As a guitar player, Marcelo has a similar background to Kiko. They are both very technical and influenced by fusion players. Musically, however, it was a big difference, because Marcelo has a different way of doing things. The biggest difference was his energy, the way his personality balances with the group. He was the missing link that we needed to complete a very solid line-up.

A lot of soul

It is an honor and a pleasure for me to be in a band like Angra“, says Barbosa. “Not only because everybody respects the band around the world, but also because the atmosphere within the band is really good. Fabio, Bruno and I were encouraged to bring in some ideas and we also had the chance to give our opinions about the ideas the other guys came up with. Because of that, I felt really free and respected by the other guys, which is of course a perfect situation for me.
I was familiar with some of the writing that Marcello has done in the past, especially what he did with Almah“, continues Bittencourt. “So I knew we would get the whole package from him. I wanted Marcelo to be a part of the songwriting process, but I didn’t know how his input would sound in the overall result. We had some structures and parts for solos, but I would only know what he had in mind when he was actually recording it. During the recording sessions, I was getting more and more impressed with him. Every time he would record a solo, he would do something different. He used a whole variety of phrases and sounds.
My first concern was to bring in someone very technical, so the audience would not miss Kiko. In the end, Marcelo did not only bring technique, but also a lot of soul. The stuff he plays is alive. I can feel it moving. This time, we were learning how to work together. Next time, everything will be different when we start the writing process, because now we know what to expect from each other. I can’t wait to create more guitar parts together. I think the guitar parts will be even richer next time.

Fresh ideas

For me, ‘Ømni’ represents a new era for the band“, explains Bittencourt. “Our third. This time, three of the guys are relatively new to the band, so they’re helping to create a new sound with new ideas. Bruno, for instance, is only 27 years old, the same age as the band. He is very excited to be in Angra, because here in Brazil, Angra represents pride, as we are one of the few Brazilian bands that are successful abroad. This excitement, combined with the experience that Felipe and I have in the band, brings a lot of fresh ideas to the table.

What we wanted ‘Ømni’ to do is to combine these fresh ideas with the long history of Angra. We wanted to wrap up our history style-wise, so we brought a little bit of power metal, a little bit of melodic metal, symphonic metal, progressive metal, Afro-Brazilian stuff, orchestral stufff with percussion… Everything that we have ever done in a fresh, new sound. And I think we really succeeded.
This is the best time I have experienced with the band. In the past, it has sometimes been very stressful and painful to record and release a new record. This time, it was smooth, easy, natural and organic. Ideas were flowing. We would be talking, laughing, stopping for coffee, come back and more ideas would flow. Before the album came out, we didn’t know if people would like it, but I knew it was our best work. Everyone was so talented and so creative. I love it when our problem is that we have two or three choruses in the same song. Not because we don’t have a chorus, but because we have two or three really good melodies. In that case, deciding which one is out is not stressful, it makes me happy.

We actually had almost an entire album of other songs“, smiles Barbosa. “We wrote about eight songs more than we have on the album. Sometimes you already have two prog songs and it would be too much if you add a third one to the albums. The same goes for ballads, we already had two.
There is a whole soft song that was already prepared for the album“, agrees Bittencourt. “A really good song, but we already had a ballad and our producer Jens Bogren, who is a genius, did not want the album to become too soft. He wanted the record to be a little more aggressive, so it would make more of an impact. The whole song was out, so we can put it on our next one. There are also many ideas for songs; choruses, verses, riffs, instrumental parts… We don’t have to start from scratch next time.

Nothing to lose

I always write songs having the melody as a guideline“, Bittencourt shares. “Many times I start singing a melody, I add some rhythms to the melody and I won’t start adding the chords until the third stage. Therefore, singing is a natural thing for me. I like singing. Still, I think guitar players usually don’t sing as good as the lead singer, simply because of the position of the microphone. When you play, you want to watch the neck and you start worrying about what you’re doing. And worrying is never good, regardless of if you’re singing or playing.
During the ‘Angels Cry’ anniversary, we had nothing to lose. Some people complained that we didn’t have Edu or André
(Falaschi and Matos, former singers) with us, but when Fabio joined the band, we started researching new ways of interpreting our music. The audience knew that something different than what was previously done was coming up. That was a good moment for me to start singing, because everything would be new to the ears of the audience.
However, I was not going to be the lead singer, because that is a very hard task. We have very difficult guitar parts and difficult vocal melodies. And communicating with a crowd is also a big responsibility. I did not want to quit focusing on being the guitar player. I wanted to sing once in a while, when the songs are meaningful to me. Like ‘The Bottom Of My Soul’ on the new album. It’s a very personal song, so I decided with Fabio that I was going to sing it.

Guitar scientist

We started working with Jens Bogren with our last album ‘Secret Garden’“, says Bittencourt. “He brought a new concept for the guitar sounds. That was when I started to research new sounds and new equipment. In fact, it was Marcelo who made me aware of the fact that Kemper if very practical to work with. If I want to try an amp, I don’t need to buy it first. It really gave us the option to try out what is best for us with everything in the same box.
Our friends and us are always exchanging Kemper profiles, we literally have thousands“, explains Barbosa. “That’s why it’s always changing. Rafael and I extensively talked about guitar tone and exchanged sounds and ideas about our sound. We needed a really good set-up that was small and light to travel with and that we could use directly into the PA. Using the Kempers on stage is great for us, because we have tons of different sounds that we love. And we also have the option to not use a cabinet.

Marcelo is a guitar scientist“, admits Bittencourt. “He spends a lot of time on researching guitar sounds and learning different techniques, styles and phrases. He is a real perfectionist with every detail of playing guitar. I am a guitar lunatic. I’m much more intuitive. A part of the reason why I don’t spend the same amount of time on such things, is that I’m involved with every step of the production in Angra: the schedule, what we have for lunch when we are rehearsing and recording, hiring keyboard players, the orchestra and the percussionists. So when it comes to creating the guitar parts, my main resource is my intuition. However, I think this is very complementary. As a player, Marcelo is very intuitive as well.
My task in Angra productions is to capture everyone’s ideas and glue them together in a concept that makes sense. There’s classical parts, acoustic guitar sections, thrash metal riffs, a piano part, percussions… How to glue that together in a way that doesn’t feel like too many atmospheres into 50 minutes of music, that is my job. This time, it was a very easy task.

Diversity

Both of us started listening to Brazilian music before we even started playing the guitar“, says Bittencourt about the strong Brazilian influences on ‘Ømni’. “It’s our background, it’s in our veins. I think that all power metal bands should feel free to add some more diversity to their music, because the crowd is losing interest in power metal. It got so stiff and conservative that it is hard to create something engaging. Many power metal bands got so framed into a certain set of rules, that they all started to sound the same. Some of them sound as if they’re just following some rules instead of being creative. Kids grow up and get smarter. If you dumb their music down, they will lose interest at some point.

Angra is currently on tour.

Listen to ‘Ømni’ on Spotify.

Surprisingly metallic contributions to this month’s Gitarist


My contributions to this month’s issue of Gitarist have been surprisingly metallic. Balance is delivered by other authors’ pieces this month. First off, I had an interview with Rafael Bittencourt and Marcelo from Angra about their fantastic new album ‘Ømni‘. We talked about more interesting stuff than the article allowed room for, so please stay tuned: everything else we talked about will be published about in English on this very weblog later this week. Furthermore, the interview I had with Spoil Engine guitarists Steven ‘Gaze’ Sanders and Bart Vandeportaele is published with two live photos I took in his month’s guitarist.

And most relaxingly, I have taken the time to talk with Merel Bechtold, my friend of many years, about the recording of Purest Of Pain’s album ‘Solipsis’. Many years ago, we gigged together a couple of times, so it already seems like Purest Of Pain has been around forever, but due to her busy gigging schedule with Delain and Mayan, she finally found the time to finish the album. It sounds good; everyone who likes modern, Scandinavian style melodic death metal should certainly give the album a spin. You will not regret it.

Moreover, Michael Landau talks with us about his thoroughly enjoyable new album ‘Rock Bottom’ and there are loads and loads of gear reviews and background articles. If guitars and guitarists interest you and you can read Dutch, I can’t advise you enough to check this thing out. It is in stores now.

Album of the Week 12-2018: Bittencourt Project – Brainworms I


With Angra’s music being as varied as it is, what more could guitarist and chief songwriter Rafael Bittencourt want to express? Quite a lot, as it turns out. Debut album ‘Brainworms I’ of his own Bittencourt Project is full of music that, while not completely sounding out of place amongst Angra’s oeuvre, would not fit on the albums of his main band. There certainly is more room to experiment with genres outside of power metal and progressive metal. Each and every one of these deeply personal compositions is performed with a passion that is rare among contemporary rock and metal albums. Very impressive.

Bittencourt is the lead singer on this album and although he has taken on some of the lead vocals on recent Angra albums, his heartfelt voice has a completely different range than the higher pitched singers he usually works with. Obviously, that requires a somewhat different approach in songwriting. And though ‘Brainworms I’ is still progressive metal to an extent, the hard rock, folk and even South American pop music influences make this a unique piece of work. Bittencourt is an amazing songwriter, but it also sounds like he gave the musicians he works with some space to be spontaneous, accounting for a very lively album.

Sequencing-wise, ‘Brainworms I’ is set up very cleverly, as opening track ‘Dedicate My Soul’ could have been an Angra track if it had a different arrangement. Due to its propulsive riffs and amazing chorus, it sort of eases its listener into the more “different” stuff. ‘The Underworld’ is another relatively heavy track, but quite dark compared to Angra’s quite upbeat take on metal. The interaction between Bittencourt and violinist Amon Lima in those tracks is incredible. The cover of Madredeus’ ‘O Pastor’ is surprisingly heavy as well. Definitely one of the most exciting moments on the album.

However, the softer moments are what make this album so interesting. ‘Holding Back The Fire’ is a stripped-down, Brazilian take on AOR, ‘Faded’ is a gorgeous dark ballad with a hopeful climax, while the twelve string guitar on ‘Santa Teresa’ gives the song an almost Led Zeppelin-like folk edge. ‘Nightfly’ is one of the highlights of the album, moving back and forth between tranquil passages, funky rock riffs and parts with a strong Brazilian influence. If anyone does not want to choose between folky and heavy; the amazing ‘Torment Of Fate’ has a tango intro, quiet verses and thick prog riffs. And a spine-chilling chorus.

Those expecting a shred album from the guitarist in a fairly virtuoso band will probably be shocked, as the only thing that comes (somewhat) close to that is the spirited instrumental ‘Comendo Melancia’. Yours truly has always had tremendous respect for Bittencourt as a songwriter and whoever else does, will likely be impressed by this spontaneous, lively album full of amazing songs. In addition, Bittencourt’s passionate vocals really lift these songs to a magnificent level. This is an honest, personal work of art that has the potential to appeal to a much wider group of listeners than Angra’s progressive power metal audience.

Recommended tracks: ‘Nightfly’, ‘Torment Of Fate’, ‘Dedicate My Soul’

Album of the Week 07-2018: Angra – Ømni


Change does not appear to affect Angra. They survived a massive schism around the turn of the century and now Dave Mustaine has hijacked longtime guitarist Kiko Loureiro for Megadeth, they still manage to put together another great album. Most of the current line-up already proved that the (largely) Brazilian band could still pump out great progressive power metal, as ‘Secret Garden’ was the best metal album of 2015. Now that ‘Secret Garden’ has put Angra back on the map, ‘Ømni’ shows the band stretching their boundaries a little. The results are slightly less memorable, but a very rewarding listen nonetheless.

Much to my surprise, Loureiro’s replacement Marcelo Barbosa is an integral part of the album, having contributed significantly to the songwriting. Sole founding member Rafael Bittencourt gratefully profits from the possibilities his guitar partnership with Barbosa provides as well. As a result, ‘Ømni’ ends up sounding less European-tinged power metal and more like a progressive metal album with very distinct world fusion overtones. Angra never shied away from putting their South American roots on display, but it seems like partnering with Barbosa gave Bittencourt the courage to dive deep into crossover opportunities, providing the basis of the most interesting moments of ‘Ømni’.

That does not mean that there is no place for power metal on ‘Ømni’. In fact, the album starts out with two fairly traditional, euphoric power metal numbers, with ‘Travelers Of Time’ being the more contemporary take on the genre and ‘Light Of Transcendence’ the more old school one. Even these tracks sound fresh though, as Angra always had a way of rubbing up against clichés, but never fully engaging. On the metallic side of the album, ‘Magic Mirror’ is great, but ‘War Horns’ is the true winner. Darker and heavier than Angra usually sounds, it is an intense listening experience, on which Loureiro guests.

Despite all this familiarity, ‘Ømni’ is best when it surprises. The semi-ballad ‘The Bottom Of My Soul’ has a very folky basis and some beautifully heartfelt vocals by Bittencourt, while ‘Caveman’ has some chants in Portuguese and Latin-flavored drums and percussion alternating with the stomping riff work and Fabio Lione’s mighty voice. The complete fusion of all styles can be heard in ‘Ømni – Silence Inside’, in which we can hear everything from subtle bossa nova touches to virtuosic progmetal without ever sounding disjointed. If anything, the song has a supreme build-up. ‘Black Widow’s Web’ may come across as messy, but is too enjoyable a dark progster to complain. ‘Insania’ contains some of Felipe Andreoli’s best bass work yet.

All in all, ‘Ømni’ presents quite a unique mixture of styles which leaves you wondering why this combination is not attempted more often. It is a great progressive metal album that may not be as easy to digest as ‘Secret Garden’ was, but will probably prove to be more durable throughout. ‘Ømni’ is one of those albums that slowly reveals its small secrets over repeated listens. In addition, it is the ultimate evidence that Angra still has its artistic merits more than two and a half decades into their career. Anyone who wishes to hear how versatile the guitar can be in a metal context should give ‘Ømni’ a spin.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ømni – Silence Inside’, ‘War Horns’, ‘The Bottom Of My Soul’

Album of the Week 52-2015: Angra – Rebirth


For a country that has such passionate Power Metal fans, it’s remarkable that Brazil doesn’t have more bands of the caliber of Angra. Then again, not many bands in the genre worldwide are as good as Angra is. They have all the melodic qualities of European Power Metal bands, combined with the interesting songwriting of many Progmetal bands and something uniquely Brazilian – more on that later. Though ‘Aurora Consurgens’ might be my favorite due to the inclusion of some favorite songs, ‘Rebirth’ is every bit as good and probably the best representation of all aspects of Angra’s sound.

‘Rebirth’, as a title, shouldn’t be taken lightly. After original singer André Matos left the band, taking the rhythm section with him, many fans were afraid of Angra’s future. Matos’ replacement Edu Falaschi is a revelation though: his voice is much more powerful than the somewhat feminine tone of Matos and adds a little grit to the mix. Also, guitarists Rafael Bittencourt and Kiko Loureiro took care of most of the songwriting and that’s probably why the Angra sound is still very much intact, while openings to other musical opportunities are all around, especially in the progressive tinges that seem to be Bittencourt’s doing.

Opening track ‘Nova Era’ is like a second coming of the band’s classic track ‘Carry On’: an uptempo and upbeat Power Metal track with positive lyrics to set the mood for the record. That doesn’t mean the whole album is filled with happy-go-lucky tunes. In fact, a lot of the songs have a darker tone or at least alternate between brooding sections and more hopeful segments, like ‘Millennium Sun’ and ‘Acid Rain’ do. The latter even has distinct Brazilian percussion in its awesome middle section, something that is expanded on ‘Unholy Wars’, which has an intro akin to Brazil’s beloved MPB and moves between a pulsating verse and middle section and a very positive chorus.

Many Power Metal are on the receiving end of quite some ridicule because of their ballads, but it has to be said: Angra is really good at them. ‘Heroes Of Sand’ is a pretty standard power ballad, though executed well enough to be quite enjoyable, but the album’s title track builds amazingly well from a pure power ballad to a strong progressive Metal section and back, while ‘Millennium Sun’ also qualifies due to its somber segment for piano and vocals in the beginning. Falaschi’s slightly raw edge contributes greatly to the quality of those songs as well.

Even though this could be said for most Angra albums, ‘Rebirth’ really deserves to be in any serious Power Metal collection. ‘Angels Cry’ is generally considered their classic album, but since I prefer Bittencourt’s songwriting to Matos’, I have to vote for this one. Also, while the neoclassical elements are still there, the increased progressive sound also means that ‘Rebirth’ is slightly less predictable. Regardless, if you like expertly written and quite likely even better played Power Metal, this is the way to go. Many European bands could listen to this album in envy.

Recommended tracks: ‘Unholy Wars’, ‘Rebirth’, ‘Acid Rain’, ‘Nova Era’

Album of the Week 04-2015: Angra – Secret Garden


Two weeks ago, in my review of Jupiter’s new album, yours truly said he’d be surprised if someone released another Power Metal that good this year. Well, it’s still only January and we’ve already gotten two amazing records in the genre. Angra’s brand new ‘Secret Garden’ is just about as good. A fantastic record that probably represents the scope of the Brazilian quintet’s sound better than any of their other albums. It’s always suspenseful to see what a band comes up with after a lengthy hiatus, but in case of Angra, we shouldn’t have worried. ‘Secret Garden’ is stellar.

Since 2010’s decent ‘Aqua’ album, there have been two significant changes in the Angra lineup. First of all, Fabio Lione is the band’s new lead singer. I have always thought that his predecessor Edu Falaschi was somewhat similar to him in terms of timbre and I think Lione delivers the work of a lifetime here. Also, returning original drummer Ricardo Confessori has been replaced by 24 year old Bruno Valverde, who seems to prefer a more natural drum sound, which is part of why ‘Secret Garden’ is so much more powerful sonically than ‘Aqua’. The South American percussion lends the album an interesting rhythmical edge as well.

It’s the core of bassist Felipe Andreoli and guitarists Rafael Bittencourt and Kiko Loureiro who seem to be in charge of quality control here. Despite two key members having been replaced, ‘Secret Garden’ still features Angra’s distinct progressive Power Metal sound. It does show the band exploring their extremes a little more; ‘Final Light’, the downtempo stomper ‘Violet Sky’ and opening track ‘Newborn Me’ (which has some amazing acoustic lead guitar work as well!) showcase the more progressive side of the band, whereas ‘Black Hearted Soul’ and ‘Perfect Symmetry’ are more traditional, upbeat Power Metal tracks.

While Lione is credited as the album’s lead singer, Bittencourt also lays down some impressive singing. With his voice being lower and rawer than Lione’s, they are definitely complementary, as shown when they sing in unison in the amazingly atmospheric ‘Storm Of Emotions’. ‘Violet Sky’ and the uncharistically calm closing ballad ‘Silent Call’ even feature him as the sole singer. Two female singers make a guest appearance as well. Doro Pesch simply hasn’t sounded as good as on her almost Goth-like duet with Bittencourt (‘Crushing Room’) in years and I have yet to hear Epica’s Simone Simons sing something better than the album’s title ballad.

Fans of Power Metal should buy ‘Secret Garden’ immediately if they haven’t yet. Make sure to get the limited edition, as it features a cover of one of my favorite bands (The Police) in the shape of ‘Synchronicity II’, another fine Lione-Bittencourt duet. Angra has yet to truly disappoint me, but ‘Secret Garden’ ranks right up there with ‘Rebirth’ and ‘Aurora Consurgens’ as my favorite Angra albums. A very interesting and strong comeback from one of the world’s best Power Metal bands. And I’ll rephrase my view: if the first half of January is in any way indicative of 2015, it will be an amazing Power Metal year.

Recommended tracks: ‘Storm Of Emotions’, ‘Perfect Symmetry’, ‘Newborn Me’