Angra has endured for over 20 years as what many would consider the South American counterpart to North America’s Symphony X. Progressive power metal is the name of the game, basically, but Angra place a heavier emphasis on Helloween’s glow and paint the corners with an appropriate and unique infusion of traditional Afro-Brazilian music. The formula has worked beautifully when things fire on all cylinders, but every so often the vision has had a way of outstretching the conclusion, corniness has gotten the upper hand, or questionable production choices have occasionally tossed a grenade into the gears. But even at their lowest, Angra has always succeeded in delivering something interesting that’s consistently reinforced by the the stellar guitar work of abiding members Rafael Bittencourt and Kiko Loureiro.
Then Dave Mustaine showed up. He’s the guy who whips into the party and everyone says, “Holy shit, Dave Mustaine’s here!! Oh wait… Dave Mustaine’s here.”
Let’s get something straight: if Dave Mustaine asks you to be a guitarist in Megadeth, you’re going to say yes. Sure, you won’t be partying like it’s 1985, and you might have to hold hands and pray before eating In-N-Out Burger, but the experience and exposure alone is a bit like getting a chance to toss “Google Engineer” onto your resumé. Well, Kiko Loureiro is now a Google Engineer for Megadeth. He’s still a member of Angra, mind you, because he’s “the lead guitarist for Megadeth,” and we all know what happens to lead guitarists in Megadeth (*cough* tree-shredder *cough*), but for the first time ever, he’s not a part of a new Angra record. Luckily, Marcelo Barbosa has stepped in as his replacement, and he’s a music professor who owns his own guitar institute (GTR) in Brazil, so he quite possibly goes to bed with an Ibanez Prestige curled under each arm. Appropriately, and as a matter of course, Angra has taken yet another obstacle and turned it to their advantage.
That particular whopper, “War Horns,” alongside opener “Light of Transcendence” and “Insania” (sadly, not about a Geoff Tate Sauvignon Blanc) load up the record’s front end with more of a straight-forward POWAH! attack that’s stacked with brilliant leads, surprisingly tough riffs (2:23 into the opener) and absurdly catchy choruses. The second half of ØMNI, however, allows the progressive face of the band a chance to take precedence.
“Magic Mirror” is the star of the back five, thanks to that absolutely golden chorus, the record’s nastiest riff (3:10), nods to the proggier side of Toto (which is great), and the way it speeds off into a prog-head’s Shangri-la before and after the quiet piano interval. It also happens to be sandwiched between some of ØMNI’s most fearless moments: “Caveman” at the fore, which blends prog and samba like a champ, and “Always More” and the 8.5-minute “ØMNI – Silence Inside” in the aft.
“Always More” connects seamlessly to the end of “Magic Mirror,” serves as the album’s second (completely un-shitty) ballad, and showcases just how fortuitous the Lione landing was, while “Silence Inside” represents the most motley cut amongst the bunch by virtue of mingling traditional Brazilian/Bossa Nova guitar and percussion, modern “djenty” riffing, and power metal’s affinity for hook into a proggy climax that probably should have ended the record before the slightly underwhelming “ØMNI – Infinite Nothing.”
In the end, what makes ØMNI such a grinning success is that it finds Angra doing what Angra does best, and doing it better than they’ve done since 2001’s Rebirth. Bittencourt and Barbosa’s guitar work is phenomenal, Lione’s voice is flawless, Bruno Valverde’s drumming brings a perfect pinch of jazz, Francesco Ferrini (Fleshgod Apocalypse) is much better suited for constructing the orchestrations, and the balanced production finally allows the bass play to shine. Sure, it might be challenging for some to separate the newfound energy and bits of aggression from a band like Rhapsody of Fire, thanks largely to Fabio’s voice and Angra’s penchant for painting the backdrop with dramatic orchestration, but plenty of the band’s classic style remains intact. Really, outside of the fairly muted throwaway closer, the only skippable moment occurs with track three, “Black Widow’s Web,” which needlessly showcases guest appearances from Sandy Leah Lima (too poppy) and Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz (too nü).
Even if it’s only temporary, the loss of one of Angra’s dominant players couldn’t have been an easy hurdle for Rafael Bittencourt to face. But true to form, Angra sustained yet another hardship and managed to emerge completely triumphant—ØMNI is a fun and gratifying record, and it’s certainly a perfect place to jump in if you’ve somehow managed to neglect the band up until now.