(Pride and Joy 2016)
I used to listen to a good deal of prog/power-styled metal. Back around the time of the turn of the millennium, there wasn’t much in the way of traditional metal being released, but the prog/power genre was thriving, so I purchased (and enjoyed) a lot of that stuff. It’s what we had. Over the last decade or so, the old-school metal revival has been revelatory to me, as bucketloads of new music in the revered classic style closest to my heart have emerged and dominated my eardrums. An inevitable byproduct of this development is that I don’t pay close attention to new prog/power albums. There are, after all, only so many hours in the day and so much music-listening time available. Nonetheless, when a friend urged me to check out the new Almah album, I did so and was pleasantly surprised.
For anyone unaware of the history of the band, Almah is a Brazilian act spearheaded by ex-Angra singer Edu Falaschi, who was the vocalist on the landmark Angra release ‘Rebirth,’ and also the well-received ‘Temple of Shadows,’ among others. Falaschi has been doing his own thing with Almah for a decade now, with five full-length albums to the band’s credit. I witnessed an Almah performance at ProgPower USA in September 2015 (same night as Armored Saint and Saxon), which confirmed that Falaschi still has a great voice and that he’s assembled an impressive array of players (particularly guitarist Marcelo Barbosa) into the Almah construct. Getting to the matter at hand, ‘E.V.O’ is a high-quality prog/power release that is not a million miles removed from the Angra sound, albeit with more modern tendencies, without the tribal/native elements that Angra weave into their music, and with Falaschi sounding more comfortable with his vocal register than he did in the Angra days. The seven-minute opening track, “Age of Aquarius,” starts things off with a bang, its gentle intro giving way to a speedy double-bass attack with an uplifting melody that would not have been out of place on a latter-day Savatage album and a similarly positive lyric about freeing one’s mind and keeping one’s spirit strong. Wow. “Speranza” is a singalong midtempo tune that must go down brilliantly live with its “whoaaa-oohhhh” parts tailor-made for audience participation. Elsewhere, “Higher” is a clear, ummmm, highlight of the album, with its faster tempo, smooth vocal, punchy guitars and stellar chorus like current Helloween mixed with Angra (“We climb the hills and glimpse the land / We still go higher”). “Pleased to Meet You” is also quite cool, boasting a pounding rhythm section (reminding me of heavier Evergrey) and a divine solo from Barbosa. Over the course of the 11-song, 52-minute effort, the quality of the tracks does tend to ebb and flow a bit, depending on one’s personal tastes. The only song that did not work for me at all was “Corporate War,” which relies on downtuned guitars and an annoying groove/ “jump metal” riff that bears the stench of nu metal mixed with grunge. Yuck.
At the end of the day, I absolutely appreciate the craftsmanship and artistry of ‘E.V.O.’ The album is well-written, the performances and production are excellent, and it is seductively easy to get drawn into the lush, pompous, multilayered, cheerful feel of it all. To be honest, I enjoyed ‘E.V.O’ more than the last couple of Angra records I’ve heard. I’m still an incorrigible old-school guy at heart, so the appeal of Almah’s music is necessarily going to be limited because the keyboards, the inherent frilliness of the music, and the occasional modernisms that pop up in the riffs and arrangements set my teeth on edge. But the prog/power folks should go nuts over ‘E.V.O’ and even the crusty, cranky old-school contingent like me can find much to like about it. The rating reflects my own personal biases regard to the style, while recognizing and honoring the record’s undeniable quality. If you’re big into the prog/power genre, add at least a point to my score. If you’re “old-school-or-die,” then subtract at least a half point.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~