The Brazilian power metal scene cannot be discussed without at some point addressing Angra and the long, long shadow they cast. Virtually every act to come out of that nation has been influenced to some degree by Angra, and they remain both the forefathers of the movement and its most well-known and highly regarded practitioners. This is even more true than usual of Almah, the outfit founded by Angra’s former singer Edu Falaschi originally as a side-project and which subsequently became his full-time occupation. They don’t really allow the listener to consider them except with references to Angra (much like, say, Savage Circus can’t be considered except with reference to Blind Guardian), and not only because of Falaschi’s presence. Their sound is rooted in the same sort of glimmering, florid dual-guitar arrangements with elements from other forms of popular and ethnic music spliced in that Angra perfected on records like Temple of Shadows and Aurora Consurgens, and just to get this out of the way, they don’t do it quite as well. The songwriting isn’t quite as memorable, Marcelo Barbosa and Gustavo di Pádua’s duelling guitar lines never quite equal the balletic, frequently dazzling elegance of Rafael Bittencourt and Kiko Loureiro. As good as songs like “In my Sleep” and “Cannibals in Suits” are, they function more as echoes of tracks like “Temple of Hate” and “The Voice Commanding you” than as viable improvements to their formula. Nothing on Unfold is so good to make the listener forget how Almah got their start; whatever its successes, they bear the qualification of being a by-product of Angra first and foremost.
That said, Unfold is mostly successful. Almah bring to bear a diverse array of textures to their songs, some obvious but others considerably less so. Opener “In My Sleep” is a fairly straightforward and fun recitation of Brazilian power metal conventions, letting fly a host of sleek, harmonic, Iron-Maiden-on-PCP guitar work anchored by operatic vocals. The next track, “Beware the Stroke”, however has something rather different in store – a brooding, downbeat verse that suddenly and violently transitions into a lurching, groove-driven chorus in a manner that distantly recalls Pantera’s “This Love.” A track further, we find “The Hostage” with an introverted-sounding chorus that wouldn’t have sounded out of place if Soundgarden had written it twenty years ago.
The incorporation of morose 90’s stylistic elements could easily have been disastrous, a way of undermining the hopeful and empowering tone of Brazilian power metal, but they’re incorporated skillfully, acting as a counterweight to the dominantly sunny, extroverted tone of the album. Gloomy minor-key chord progressions invariably give way to dramatic arpeggios and rabble-rousing hooks. On the other end of the spectrum, Almah have also inherited their parent band’s unashamed incorporation of broad, poppy power ballads like the balmy “Warm Wind”, which is done well enough that it doesn’t occur as overly saccharine in context.
Almah have clearly committed a great deal of effort to ensure that each of Unfold’s twelve tracks occur as distinct from one another. Their dedication to variety is laudable, particularly in a genre which is frequently guilty of putting out albums of indistinct, cookie-cutter songs. At over an hour though, the seams in this patchwork do sometimes show. “Believer”, a bouncy, up-tempo number, sounds like a B-side included to make up numbers, trying for catchy but not quite managing it (stretching the three syllables of the title across four bars for the chorus might have something to do with it). “Raise the Sun,” which draws somewhat on the keyboard-driven recent output of Katatonia or Dark Tranquillity, also errs towards being dull. Almah seem most comfortable and energised when working within the speedy guitar lines of their purported genre.
Still, the good-to-great moments more than compensate, the high point of the album coming in the tremendous guitar solo that rounds out “Cannibals in Suits”. The 9-minute “Treasure of the Gods” is an admirably ambitious foray into full-blown progressive territory that holds together well, as does the wistful piano-driven outro “Farewell”. The impression Unfold leaves is of a mercurial record which, while occasionally slightly flimsy in construction, packs in enough in the way of interesting moments to earn its considerable run-time. It won’t be remembered as a classic of the genre and Almah remain in the shadow of their singer’s former outfit, but there are worse places to be than the shadow of the very best.
01) In My Sleep
02) Beware the Stroke
03) The Hostage
04) Warm Wind
05) Raise the Sun
06) Cannibals in Suits
07) Wings of Revolution
09) I do
10) You gotta Stand
11) Treasure of the Gods