In the recesses of my chrome and iron 80s heart, I have endless affection for early Fates Warning albums like The Specter Within and Awaken the Guardian. They just don’t make classy, traditional metal like that anymore and I wish more retro noodle heads would turn their gaze back to that golden era of metal and give it a go. This is why Alpha Tiger’s 2013 release Beneath the Surface left such a lasting impression on yours truly. It robbed those hallowed crypts for all they were worth while adding a metric ton of Viper and Queensryche influence to sweeten the olden styled pot. It left me hungry for more, and here in early 2015 it’s more I get. Or is it?
Sadly, Alpha Tiger has changed their vintage stripes and attempted to update and harden their sound, with wildly mixed results. The promo material says the band wanted to shake off comparisons to Helloween, Queensryche et al, and create their own sound, which I respect, but this ultimately results in a less compelling collection of songs that struggle to marry the old style with the new, thereby muddling and diminishing their appeal. The missteps and stumbles along the way make the album title more than a little ironic and ensure a frustrating listening experience. I guess there’s just no future to living in the past these days.
The band I loved still exists, as is evident on “Lady Liberty” and “Long Way to Redemption” – both ripping along with a strong Viper and Angra vibe, full of energetic, crisp ideas, scads of old school oomph and catchy choruses. While the Fates Warning influence is all but gone, the 80s sound still burns bright enough to warm the cockles of Father Time and all would be forgiven if the remainder of iDentity offered goods of similar quality.
Alas, the rest of the material isn’t what the Metal Doctor ordered. “Scripted Reality” goes for a heavier, more modern approach, but the mid-tempo grind isn’t particularly interesting, despite some nifty fretwork. The title track is stripped-down and tough sounding but flat, and “We Won’t Take It Anymore” has an out-of-character punk energy and strives for to be a gritty protest anthem, but these cats simply don’t have what it takes to pull it off and it feels forced and exceptionally cheesy.
The album winds down with a respectable power balled (“Closer than Yesterday”) before going out on a stretcher with the last two songs underwhelming in radically different ways – “Shut Up and Think” being super poppy Euro-power recalling the worst moments of Helloween mixed with Pink Cream 69, and “This World Will Burn” coming across as an awkward, confused blend of styles that never gets on track despite it’s long-winded length.
Stephen Dietrich still sounds a lot like Andre Matos (ex-Viper, ex-Angra), but this time he desperately tries to put more spit and bite in his high-pitched wail, which generally doesn’t do much besides annoy. This takes away one of the band’s biggest weapons just when they need it most. That leaves the heavy lifting to Alexander Backasch and Peter Langforth, who provide a good amount of tasty fretwork and wild solos, but the attempt to switch styles often finds them at the crossroads of traditional and modern metal and ill-equipped to navigate the trip. They go from heavy, downtuned, semi-core riffing, to fruity Euro-power zippery and all points in between, making the whole construct feel slapped together with duct-tape and kid-friendly (i.e. edible) paste.
After such a strong showing last time out, it seems Alpha Tiger went through some kind of crisis and lost their sense of…self. Mayhaps this is their Heritage album where they work out the kinks of a significant style shift, only to emerge at a later date as a magnificent, rainbow-colored butterfly, resplendent in their logical and cohesive progression. But for right now, these Thundercats are in a difficult transition period and are best left alone to work through their “stuff.” Kitties be crazy.