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Interview with Angra

In one of the most lively and interesting interviews of recent times, Metal Imperium had the opportunity to interview one of the most important names in metal from our brother country: Angra! Rafael Bittencourt (founder, composer and guitarist), together with Felipe Andreoli (bassist and one of the composers), explained the concept behind "Cycles Of Pain", released via Atomic Fire Records on 3rd November 2023, the story behind the video for "Ride Into The Storm", the instruments used and even shared advice on what bands should do to make it in the music industry.
An interview that is worth reading.

M.I. - Good afternoon, my friends. What an honour and satisfaction to be able to interview one of the biggest Power Metal bands from Brazil and all over the world. I hope you're well!

Rafael Bittencourt (RB): Thank you Raquel, I hope you're well too! Thank you so much! It's a great opportunity and a great honour to be able to talk to you.
Felipe Andreoli (FA): Good afternoon. Working hard and happy to chat to our friends from Portugal.

M.I. - First of all, congratulations on signing with one of the best and most important labels in the world: Atomic Fire Records. How did the deal between the two parts come about? Could you tell us more about how it happened, please?

FA: This is our first album for Atomic Fire. It all started because we couldn't agree on a release date with our previous label. At the same time, we had already contacted Markus from Atomic Fire to talk about the Angra catalogue, which we want to re-release in all territories: Europe, the United States, etc.! When we had the disagreement with the previous label, we informed them that there was going to be a new album to be released and they promptly showed interest in releasing it. I have to say that we're very happy with the work Atomic Fire has done promoting this album. So far, our work has been very good. All the know-how they have (since Nuclear Blast, now with Atomic Fire, they have incredible bands on the roster, which we also admire). It's been very good and we're very optimistic about the future with Atomic Fire.
RB: By coincidence, Fabio also had a friendship with Markus, with the publisher, because of other work he does. Our manager, Paulo Baron, also knew him. Kiko is friends with some of the professionals there. So, in a way, there is a connection and an admiration for Atomic Fire. We know that they understand the psychology of the Heavy Metal fan. That's why they're able to distribute Heavy Metal bands to the fan, because they understand what a fan is. Bigger publishers, (which was the case with the previous one), sometimes think Heavy Metal is too Underground and Angra is a classic band (who doesn't need much marketing work and just release the album). We still put a lot of passion into what we do, and we think that Atomic Fire has understood that passion and is able to bring it to the Heavy Metal fan, who is also very passionate.

M.I. -  "Cycles Of Pain" was released on 3rd November 2023 and features 12 tracks, depicting the ancient story of life and death, beginnings and endings, cycles of suffering, how to escape them, which makes us grow in every way. What story inspired you, apart from your own, to write this magnificent album?

RB: One very curious thing: this album actually has two themes. One theme is implicit, which is this: the joy that we in Angra felt when we met again after the pandemic. After the pandemic, our harmony became even stronger: our bonds, our connections of admiration and respect became even stronger. And that gave me the inspiration to write the album! The album has a very positive energy, which is the result of this meeting. The messages in the lyrics! The messages about pain! And pains are not just private pains, but our empathy with everyone's pain! The pain of all people! I think this encounter between this message (not of pain, really, but a positive message), a look at pain in the positive sense that you need pain to grow, to mature. As much as we avoid pain, it moulds us into who we are. We are the result of life's great challenges! We are not the result of victories! These two things are present on the album! Musically, I hear a very optimistic album, very positive, and, in the themes, a message also of welcome, because everyone has been through a lot of pain in recent years.
FA: I think it's important to say that our view of pain is not one of "enjoying" pain, of savouring pain. It's not a depressive thing, but rather using pain, which is something inevitable in our lives, as something for our growth. It's not about feeling the pain, but how to use the pain in our favour so that we can evolve, learn from the pain. And so that we can face future cycles of pain in a better way. It has a biological purpose. It serves to warn us that something is wrong. Physical pain has this function and so does psychological pain! It warns us that something is happening and that we need to deal with it, so that the pain stops or diminishes. Learning from pain is also knowing how to listen to these signals! Using it to strengthen ourselves!

M.I. - "Ride Into The Storm" embodies speed, technique, skill, modernity and the band's typical Power Metal style. The song portrays hope and a thirst for truth, on a new crusade, united as warriors for our own change, which involves ourselves. One of the most beautiful songs on the album. Can we be our own warriors of light to fight against a storm? What do you think we need to do to make that happen?

RB: I think that, first of all, pain hardens us when we are young, full of ideals, with a light spirit. At first, the great challenges of life that are shown to us as soon as we leave home and go to work, face the world, the first frustrations with friends, close people, loves, dislikes, etc., they strengthen our heart. It's also common, for example, with fatherhood, motherhood, marriage or moments that we experience and show. Bringing lightness to a point in maturity where you find balance. That hardness becomes caution, but you still have a light look on things. To the point where you can face the storm (metaphorically life's difficulties, the big challenges) with courage and even euphoria. Let the storm come, I want to face it!

M.I. -  In the video for the song, we see elements that represent the previous albums, such as the angel from "Angels Cry" and the boy who has the initials A.M. in his briefcase. Can you talk about the video, please?

FA: Yes! The video is full of symbols which speak not only about the song "Ride Into The Storm", but also about the band! After all, we are a band with 32 years of history, which were celebrated on Sunday 22nd October. Leo Liberti, who is our director, was very happy to capture various elements, such as the angel on the album cover, to tell a story that also pays homage to Andre! As you also noted, the main character in the video clip is a boy who represents Andre as a child. And this Andre has an encounter with this angel, who is the Angel of Death. He has that very symbolic part where he exchanges the Angel of Death's dried flowers for fresh ones. There are several symbolisms that you can extract from this moment, but the main one that remains for us and for Angra’s fans is that Andre has renewed himself within this video clip! Andre's own memory is renewed with every album we release, because Andre is an indivisible part of Angra's history! There isn't a note we play that isn't in some way influenced by what he and Rafa built at the beginning. I think this tribute was very welcome to recognise Andre's importance in the band's history!

M.I. -  Rafael, on my behalf as a fan, I want to thank you for everything you've done!

RB: Thank you, Raquel (laughs)! Thank you to those of you who are there supporting us to this day. Because of the last tour, which was the "Ømni" tour, we're motivated to keep going. All this motivates us to keep going! It's the fans who give meaning to what we do!

M.I. - "Gods of the World" is about those who rule the world and the impact on our lives. Could you tell us what the message is?

RB: I think people are bombarded with information and references. They look for references to build their personality, their values, their ideals. But we're so bombarded that it's common for people to end up being easily manipulated. In other words, people have values that they believe in, but their actions contradict those values, because they are easily induced to act often in contradiction to the things they themselves believe in. For me, the main message is that people shouldn't let themselves be bossed around! That they don't forget that they have their own thoughts. We spend a lot of time connected to social media and the Internet in general. More and more of our thoughts are made up by mobile phones and people act reactively, thoughtlessly, and as I said, at the end of the day, we are contributing to building a world that is different from what we ourselves would like.

M.I. - "Vida Seca" is the most Brazilian song on the album, and it features an important guest: Lenine. For those who don't know him, he's a Brazilian singer, composer, arranger, multi-instrumentalist, lyricist, actor, writer, music producer, chemical engineer and ecologist. Can you talk about this collaboration and how it came about?

FA: This song, when it was born and we started to make the first melodies, it was already clear that it would have this direction very inspired by Brazilian melodies, by the Brazilian way of singing! Lenine is an artist we've all admired for many years and we've always wanted to get him to sing a song with us! When we made this song, it was very clear that it was the perfect opportunity for that to happen! We got in touch with him and, to our surprise, his answer was not only “yes”, but he also said: "Finally!". Why did it take so many years for us to do something together? He also proved to be a great admirer of the band and it was a very happy collaboration, because Lenine brought a lot of authenticity, a lot of truth to what the lyrics say. Because it's a lyric that speaks a lot about the Brazilian reality as a third world country and the difficulties that the most socially vulnerable people and situations face. And Lenine being a singer from the northeast of Brazil, where this is very present, brought this reality and authenticity to this part. It was a perfect "marriage" and I'm very proud of this collaboration!

M.I. - The opening chorus was inspired by Renaissance composers and recorded by young singers Turí and Tefo Mion, son of host Marcos Mion. We also have the female choir, where you can hear names like Fernanda Lira (Crypta), May Puertas (Torture Squad), Karina Menasce (Allen Key), Angel Sberse (ex-Malvada), Nando Fernandes (Sinistra), BJ (Spektra, Soto), Caio MacBeserra (Project46) and guitarist Rafael Bittencourt himself. Which Renaissance composers were your inspirations?

RB: Palestrina is a great composer. Bach himself, who is from the Baroque, but who also has the issue of polyphony. What I was looking for, not just the Renaissance composers, who at the end of the song start with something a bit "Wagnerian". But I was looking for a kind of film soundtrack sound, which is a mixture of references and not just wanting to stay in one era. I think the main thing is polyphony: it's the counterpoint of two voices. It's the main reference I used, which is what Palestrina did very well and which Bach perfected even better!

M.I. - Which was the most challenging song and what instruments did you use this time? Anything typically Brazilian?

FA: One of the most challenging songs to make was "Faithless Sanctuary", because it's so full of good ideas that it took us a long time to find a way of writing it. Although it's a progressive song, in the sense of the structure and that it's not very usual, it's a song that has melodies and interesting parts that we wanted to keep. And, in the end, after thinking about it so much, we found a path that is very interesting and is also a very Brazilian song, which refers back to the origins of the history of Brazilian music in Angra and harks back a lot to the origins of the band in Brazil and this mixture of heavy metal and Brazilian rhythms. As far as instruments are concerned, we use various types of percussion, various percussion instruments and often mixing different rhythms in the same song, to explore all the richness of Brazilian percussion. You'd have to make a thousand discs to be able to use all the rhythms of Brazil, but we try, sometimes in a more obvious way or in a more discreet way, that the Brazilian influence is present in many moments of the album.
RB: For us in the band, many of our references as musicians, our inspirations as artists too, come from Brazilian artists. It was very difficult for us to write an album that was essentially heavy metal, heavy metal without the inclusion of other references. I think that's the most important thing: to be honest and truthful in revealing to people a little of the sound of the world we live in, from this country and so on! I think that with this we also get to know the fan a little bit, by showing them our intimacy, we also break down our defences. Some fans are more defensive, they react, but for the most part, when we open our defences, when we reveal ourselves, they also reveal themselves to us and become loyal for life.

M.I. - Brazil has excellent Metal bands of all genres. What do you think should be done to make bands known abroad, despite the economy not helping and also geographically speaking? What advice do you have for bands? Can you say that Angra are the pioneers and main driving forces?

RB: Not the main pioneers! Heavy metal in Brazil, when I was a teenager, already existed in an excipient form, but there's a passion! We see at the concerts of international bands, when they come to Brazil, that the audience has a love, a surrender, a passion for Heavy Metal! And this has always existed when bands started Heavy Metal in Brazil (Dorsal Atlântica, Viper themselves, Korzus and many others), some of them still exist today (Sarcófago, other bands from Minas Gerais), Overdose. There are many, many bands that already existed and are the pioneers of Heavy Metal in Brazil! But I'm happy to be one of the greatest representatives of Brazilian Heavy Metal in the world today! That's for sure!
FA: Authenticity and showing where you come from! It's very easy to be influenced by European and American bands and reproduce that sound and do it very well, too. There are some excellent bands that do this, but I think the great thing about a Brazilian band is that you really bring the Brazilian element to your music, because we Brazilians have a different way of making music, so, embracing our origins, our influences, is a way of standing out. Because here's the thing: there are thousands and thousands of bands from the United States and Europe vying for unlimited space and why should a band from Brazil stand out in a sea of similar bands in such a crowded market? I think the element of authenticity, not just from Brazil, but from bands from any country, of using the native elements of their country in their music, bringing that originality is something that an European band won't be able to repeat in the same way! And that makes the sound unique and more attractive!
RB: I think the main thing is to remember that Brazil and Portugal often have low self-esteem in the eyes of the world, they humiliate themselves in front of other cultures. It's perhaps something of tradition. Our culture of giving space and opportunities. Sometimes we're too Christian! But to create a heavy metal band, it's very important to be proud of who you are, where you come from and not want to make your music sound like it came from somewhere else. It's not cool to use your music to make it sound like you come from a different background. The most important thing is to take your background and understand what your sound is, the references that are around you and don't discard them, no matter how distant they may seem from Heavy Metal and try to convert them into this musical universe within the characteristics of Heavy Metal: intensity, often speed and so on. But all the musical elements: rhythm, harmony or melody, you can put that intensity, speed into the characteristics of Heavy Metal.

M.I. - You have a strong connection with Portugal: Lisbon and Porto. How did this bond and friendship come about and what do you like best about these cities?

FA: I think the language brings us closer together, because as a Brazilian band, we communicate a lot in Portuguese: with our fans in Brazil and Portugal by extension. And Portugal is a country that always welcomes us very well. They're people who understand us better than many other cultures, they understand our Brazilian way. Playing in Portugal is always incredible, because European audiences, as a whole, aren't extremely warm in general, but, in Portugal, we feel like it's an extension of our own country in Europe. So that makes us feel at home and, of course, enjoying the cuisine and beauty of Portugal while we're there is always an incredible opportunity!
RB: One thing that has happened to me since the first time I was in Portugal was to realise our roots, our references. The architecture here in Brazil, for example, actually comes from Portugal! For example, I used to go to a beach house that was built by a Portuguese family and my grandfather bought it, a very old house! A relationship of familiarity with Portugal, with the Portuguese public, because we realise our origins and I understand a lot about my family, architectural references and so on. And of course, we know: "Oh, the Portuguese tiles!", but when we visit Portugal and actually see the people, who really are very affectionate, very welcoming, good at the table, good at drinking wine, we realise this familiarity and harmony. That's why there's this great affection for Portugal too! There's a genetic link!

M.I. - Tenth album in your career and third with this line-up. What can we expect in the near future?

RB: We intend to tour this album. We've recorded an acoustic album that should be out next year. Then there will probably be a tour of that acoustic album. These two albums that we've recorded, "Cycles Of Pain" and the future acoustic album, will still bear fruit for touring and other things for the next three or four years! That's as far as I can see! I don't like to make such grandiose plans. We never know if we'll be alive. I can imagine the next four years with the balance of these tours and these jobs. With the balance of that, we'll make the next plans!

Listen to Angra, on Spotify

For Portuguese version, click here

Interview by Raquel Miranda