RAFAEL BITTENCOURT On ANGRA's Reign Atop Brazilian Power Metal: 'We Want Songs That Will Last For Decades'

November 2, 2023

By David E. Gehlke

ANGRA kicked open the door for Brazilian power metal 30 years ago with its "Angels Cry" debut. Keeping it open, however, has proved to be difficult. The band's classic early lineup, fronted by the dashing André Matos, became a sensation in their home continent and Europe but dissolved in 2000 when Matos took the band's rhythm section and formed SHAMAN, leaving the guitar tandem of Kiko Loureiro (now in MEGADETH) and Rafael Bittencourt to forge ahead. ANGRA returned the following year with new singer Edu Falaschi, bassist Felipe Andréoli and drummer Aquiles Priester and netted the "Rebirth" studio album, which was followed by nearly a decade of stability and some of their finest work, notably 2004's "Temple Of Shadows".

Amid management issues and wear and tear on his voice, Falaschi left in 2012. Unable to secure a permanent replacement, RHAPSODY OF FIRE's classically trained Fabio Lione was drafted in 2013 on a temporary basis. Lione has remained since, helping stabilize an era of ANGRA that is every bit as enjoyable as the previous two, something that is evident in the band's new "Cycles Of Pain" studio foray — Lione's third with the band. While "Cycles Of Pain" was to be the focus of BLABBERMOUTH.NET's discussion with Bittencourt and Andréoli, Loureiro's recent absence from MEGADETH live dates and the untimely passing of Matos in 2019 was also part of the proceedings.

Blabbermouth: Going back to when Edu left, Fabio was only supposed to be a temporary fill-in. Now, he's a full-fledged member of the band. Can you share what the last ten years have been like?

Rafael: "Time has shown that it's very needed. Time is needed to develop work. You are right — it started as a temporary thing, but he became a steady member. It took a while for us to figure out how for him to connect his best without us stopping being ANGRA. On the one hand, we have it pulling toward the original concept. On the other, it's making all the experiments sound new and fresh. It takes time. Also, after our last tour and the pandemic, Fabio has developed self-confidence and he had lots of skills already, but he's more able to use it in favor of his interpretation of ANGRA and adding to the music. With all those different sounds he brings with his voice, he's more aware of how to make it into our music. It was a matter of time. It proved that ten years is a long time. He's committed to ANGRA. We're committed to him. It's very good."

Blabbermouth: Fabio was already an established name when he joined. This could have gone the other way, which wouldn't be the first time.

Felipe: "It took some time to get acquainted. Fabio already had an amazing career. He was in an established band of 20-something years. It's one thing to be good by yourself. It's a different thing to be good as a group. Honestly, we were in awe of Fabio. Even ten years later, what he brought to the new album in terms of his interpretations, like the melodies and ideas and how involved he was, it's a very nice sensation when still, many years later, you're able to be shocked by how good your bandmate is. It's an admiration that never stops. We keep evolving and growing within the band. I think everyone benefits from it."

Blabbermouth: Was there ever a Plan B if Fabio didn't work out?

Rafael: "It's always a thing if we wanted to think about it. Then we'd have to go around and talk to our talented friends or talented, renowned musicians that we know about. But Plan B is like Plan Z. [Laughs] We've tried to avoid it as much as we can."

Blabbermouth: You've had your foot on the progressive side since "Rebirth". "Cycles Of Pain" taps into that, but also your early days. Was that intentional?

Felipe: "Pretty much. It's a balance between the past and future. Having 32 years on our backs, it certainly has elements that we have to stick to, somehow. But it's not only that we have to, but we just do it. It's how we write music. We know what ANGRA is about. We know the key elements that fans expect. At the same time, we always leave it totally open for new ideas and directions. That's why when I hear the discography of ANGRA, no album is like the previous. I think this comes from this openness and willingness to explore and find different boundaries. That's what we're always doing."

Blabbermouth: A song like "Faithless Sanctuary" jumps out. It's like the 2023 version of "Never Understand" (from "Angels Cry").

Rafael: "'Never Understand' was the first time we tried to combine Brazilian rhythms. In the beginning, the band wasn't sure about distorting the metal essence. Now, we're much more confident. We feel like it's our thing."

Felipe: "At first, it was a collection of great riffs that we put together but didn't go together. I had all these different ideas that were kind of in the same tempo. I assembled them and showed them to the guys. Although we had a lot of cool riffs, there wasn't much unity. With the help of the band, we tied up the melodies and we found the parts and the Brazilian theme, of course, was the main thread through the song. That comes from 'Never Understand' and many other songs in our discography, like 'Hunters And Prey', for example. It's in the same vein."

Rafael: "We talk about the technical side of ANGRA. It's a funny thing because the primary concern, since the beginning, is to have some depth in our songs. This is our focus. We want songs that will last for decades. To bring something meaningful. On the other hand, we like to learn music and, explore our instruments and limits and challenge ourselves. At the very end, we always try to find a balance. We want depth and meaning to our songs. But we also want to explore our limits. There's another thing: We're very much inspired by the Brazilian environment. We've been based here since the beginning. The Brazilian fans are the ones we are the closest to, like on a daily basis. They have a sense of pride. Latin American fans have a sense of pride for us since we represent them. That also puts a challenge on us. Like, 'Let's do it in a nice way. Let's make them proud.'"

Blabbermouth: You've never strayed from that premise, either. That's probably the one thing that unifies every ANGRA album.

Rafael: "I'll tell you what: My bandmates, in the beginning, didn't believe the Brazilian stuff would get attention from people outside of Brazil."

Blabbermouth: Who wasn't into it?

Rafael: "André enjoyed a lot of Brazilian music, but in the beginning, he was suspicious of how the metal crowd would react. He had a fanbase from [his pre-ANGRA band] VIPER. When I started ANGRA, I didn't have any fans. I wanted to explore and experiment. He was very suspicious and worried about disappointing them. That's why on 'Angels Cry' you had only a song like that. Then [producers] Charlie Bauerfeind and Sascha Paeth were very surprised by that combination on 'Never Understand'. Everyone in the band changed their minds about it after that. That's why on 'Holy Land', we became so full of Brazilian sounds."

Blabbermouth: You re-teamed with Dennis Ward to produce the new album. What brought that about?

Felipe: "Before 'Cycles Of Pain', it had been 15 years. At the time, the band was in a very rough spot. Dennis was caught in the middle of the tornado. Then, when we were assembling the songs for the new album, Rafael and I mentioned the possibility of working with Dennis again. We reached out, and he was more than happy to do it. He was ecstatic. We brought him to Brazil and he spent over a month here working on pre-production and recording the songs. He did a fantastic job. He's like a sixth member. He knows the band so well and he knows the fanbase. He knows what ANGRA is about. That's very important. That creates an element of trust."

Rafael: "The significant thing is that he's also a musician from PINK CREAM 69. He blends very well. He knows how to be a musician and knows our concerns. He knows we can get sensitive about changing parts. He also knows the best arguments, but he's also very objective and to the point. The fact he's been a musician for so long, besides being a great producer, it makes it work like he's a sixth member."

Blabbermouth: This is Marcelo's [Barbosa] second album after replacing Kiko. Can you compare and contrast the two as lead guitarists?

Rafael: "Both of them are great friends of mine. They are great people and professionals. I think Kiko is a bit more serious most of the time and focused and obsessed with work, which is very good. Marcelo's presence is lighter. He's always cool and calm. He's full of energy in doing things, but somehow, he's also looking at the overall picture. Marcelo is the kind of person who wants everyone happy. If Fabio is worried about something, we don't get it because he's Italian. [Laughs] Marcelo is the one who will come to us and say, 'Fabio wants to say something. He can't express himself. It's better if one of us goes there to try and get him.' I think the personalities make a huge difference. Guitar-wise, they are very similar. They are influenced by fusion players like Allan Holdsworth and Greg Howe. They both love technical stuff and tap a lot with both hands. Style-wise, they are very similar. Kiko has more influences from Brazilian music. We also synchronize some references that we have from Brazilian artists. I don't see that much in Marcelo. He's more like the rock and fusion guitar player."

Blabbermouth: How much are you in touch with Kiko?

Rafael: "I talk to him often — all the time. Actually, Kiko, our discography and relationships with record companies, we still do it together. He is still very much involved, especially related to our discography. When he left, he said, 'I can keep helping.' It took a while to find the balance. It was separating business and the artistic part. But, yeah, me, Kiko and Felipe, we manage the discography and the general business of ANGRA."

Blabbermouth: Kiko is in the news a lot lately because of him sitting out recent MEGADETH dates. There are some thoughts he may not rejoin the band.

Rafael: "I don't even think he knows. He's balancing his life and everything he's done, which is about time. He never stopped working. He never stopped conquering the world. Now, it's time for him to evaluate and think about what he wants. My opinion is that he should just be happy. Many great guitar players, they're not playing with gigantic bands just because of the applause."

Blabbermouth: Depending on how this goes, could you ponder a three-guitar setup in ANGRA like IRON MAIDEN?

Rafael: "That would be chaos. [Laughs] I think he wouldn't want it. It would be funny for us, but it would be great to have a few special concerts featuring him. I'm not sure he would be willing. After touring with MEGADETH for so many years, I'm not sure he'd be willing to do some small gigs with us. I think it would be very cool if he would join us as a special guest for a few concerts."

Blabbermouth: We touched upon "Angels Cry". Did you reconcile with André before he passed away four years ago?

Rafael: "We tried a few times. Before he left the band, he stopped talking to me. He decided not to be friends with me and not be partners. It was always very hard to understand the reasons. It was never logical. Whatever occurred in his mind, he stopped talking to not only me but many times it happened to other people. It was always difficult to decipher or understand his mind. But I tried a few times. Once, I wrote an email when we were celebrating the 20th anniversary of 'Angel's Cry'. I said, 'Let's celebrate it together.' He said, 'The problem was much deeper than I could see.' I never knew what the problem was. He wasn't willing to talk about it. Actually, our manager had an appointment with André on the very date he died. They were supposed to talk. Also, his last wife put a little bit of distance between the outside world and him. He took some advantage because he liked to be private. Yeah, he was a genius. But he was just a little bit hard to work with, probably like all other geniuses."

Photo credit: Marcos Hermes

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