Angra is one of those bands that I always mention when speaking about other bands or when describing their genre in general. There’s a reason for that and it’s mostly Temple of Shadows, their 2004 release. While Angra is a band with a pretty prolific discography under their belt (and a few lineup changes), Temple of Shadows remains, for me at least, their best album and one of the best albums in the somewhat dubious prog-power sub-genre. I say dubious because it’s hard to agree on exactly what prog-power entails when you try to describe it verbally; technicality is part of it but it’s a different sort of technicality than the note storms of “pure” power metal. On the other hand, it also has different tones and tropes than the shred often found in “basic” progressive metal. But when you hear a good prog-power track, you just know that’s what you’re listening to. The over the top tones, the speed, the gallops, the tropes of heavy metal fed through a more complex paradigm, all of these come together to make up one of my favorite sub-genres.
Sadly, it’s also a sub-genre filled with dross and imitation but Angra is the true article. I think what’s most impressive about Temple of Shadows specifically is how uncompromising it is; it’s a lengthy concept album, with heavy emphasis on the concept part, a breakneck paced power metal album and a complex, progressive one. Instead of choosing one of these pillars, like with some of their latter releases, Angra went for broke and checked off every one of these tenets. Somehow, it worked. The end result is an energetic album that shirks almost all of the cliches of the power metal genre and presents a refreshing face to the genre that’s still relevant today. In fact, I’m pretty sure very few albums released in the genre since 2004 have come even close to matching it.
When starting to analyze why the album works as well it does, the vocals are probably the best way to start. Eduardo Falaschi isn’t a household name within power metal but he damn well should be. With sixteen albums under his belt, and collaborations not only with Angra but also with the excellent Almah, Falaschi is one of power metal’s most talented vocalists. This is a very good thing since Temple of Shadows probably wouldn’t have worked with a lesser vocalist. The concept of the album, focused as it is on one character, a crusader who dives deeper into the mystical, occult world, demands a front-man that can carry the different emotions and ambitions contained in it. This is also a good place to point out Rafael Bittencourt, the beating heart of Angra and the only one of its founding members to have played on all of its iterations. He wrote Temple of Shadows and did an excellent job doing so. The lyrics might not be the height of sophistication and literary ambition but they do a much better job at presenting the concepts and drama of the album than most other lyricists in the genre. Without Bittencourt’s vision, Falaschi wouldn’t have such an iconic story to bring to life.
Of course, the rest of the instrumentation plays a key role in making this album as it goes as it is. Listening to “Waiting Silence”, my favorite track from the album, is probably the best way to hear that. Listen as the prominent bass and drums immediately set a vicious groove to kick off the track. The guitars throughout the track capitalize on this initial momentum, flying off into an excellent solo and tasty bridges while Falaschi carries the evocative chorus to the track’s completion (“life’s too short to live in sorrow / fate is waiting for your soul”). Nothing is out of place, nothing is flagrant just for its sake. Even the cheesy, chorus-like backing vocals work, filling out the back-end of the track and giving it that larger than life quality that works so well with the concept and the rest of the timbres used on the track. The end result is a magnificent romp, that captures the essence of the album, something both over the top and yet evocative and engaging.
Add in acoustic passages, instrumental tracks which draw inspiration from classical music, a metric ton more solos and awesome guitar parts, the return of the prominent bass, more aggressive tracks like “Temple of Hate” which flirt with thrash metal, and excellent synths and you get Temple of Shadows, one of prog-power’s shining accomplishments. I’ve been listening to this album for over a decade now and I can’t get over how good and relevant it still it. Sure, I have to be in a very specific mood to listen to it (the kind of mood where I want to rock out but also sing my heart out) but when that mood strikes there really is nothing that comes close to scratching that itch (except maybe Blind Guardian and that should tell you something about how much I love this album). If you’re looking for something underrated, something majestic, something that will speak to you on both the technical and the emotional level, give Angra’s Temple of Shadows a chance. It’s frankly a masterpiece and I wish more people would listen to it.