Monday 20 December 2021

Alcatrazz - V (2021)

Country: USA
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 15 Oct 2021
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Alcatrazz have never been the most prolific of American heavy metal bands, but they're beginning to realise that in their fourth go around. They were initially around from 1983 to 1987, issuing two albums, including the well received No Parole from Rock 'n' Roll in their debut year, with Rainbow vocalist Graham Bonnet at the mike and a young Yngwie Malmsteen shredding on lead guitar, his replacement for the follow-up being no less a guitar wizard than Steve Vai. Talk about a couple of heavyweight guitarists to kick off a band's career! Well, when 1986's Dangerous Games wasn't at all well received, that one with Danny Johnson on guitar, they vanished for a couple of decades.

A new band built around Bonnet, Howie Simon and Tim Luce released nada from 2006 to 2014 and a third attempt from 2017 only existed for a one off concert, producing a live album to show for it. It's the fourth Alcatrazz that got together in 2019 that's finally proving to be productive. They put out album four, Born Innocent, in 2020, though I somehow missed it here at Apocalypse Later, and album five follows only a year later, albeit with a major line-up change: founder member Graham Bonnet replaced by Doogie White, a former vocalist for Rainbow and Yngwie Malmsteen, among many others, making him an obvious choice.

Both those influences are equally as obvious as the album gets moving with its stormer of an opener, Guardian Angel, with guitarist Joe Stump happily adopting the role of classically-influenced shredder and White walking quite clearly in Bonnet's footsteps, just as he did in Rainbow. I can imagine people taking bets on whether Ronnie Romero will take over in one, two or three albums time. Guardian Angel is a good opener, doing everything expected of it, and it's up to the album to maintain that momentum for an ambitious further hour. It mostly does.

Nightwatch adds an overt Judas Priest influence into the Rainbow feel for a fascinating hybrid of Screaming for Vengeance and Gates of Babylon, though White does resist any urge to soar in Rob Halford style, something the song continually invited him to do. Turn of the Wheel sounds like one of those kickass openers that Dio featured on early albums, like We Rock and Stand Up and Shout, and the picture is close to complete. Blackheart does veer more into European power metal, even adding some overt prompts for the participation of the audience at gigs, but the template is set and it's a good one, only really avoided on Dark Day for My Soul, the power ballad that closes the album.

And so this is various eras of Rainbow infused, from Dio era on songs like Return to Nevermore to Bonnet era on Guardian Angel and sometimes both at once, like on Target, with White playing up his Dio-esque intonation in the verses but shifting to Bonnet or his own era for the choruses. Some of the guitarwork emulates Ritchie Blackmore but it shreds far more than he ever did. And, just to highlight that this is very much heavy metal rather than hard rock, it's often heavied up with that Priest element too.

I like this, but then I'm a sucker for anything resembling that old Rainbow style. The three albums with Ronnie James Dio are all absolute killers with solid claims to be listed among the very best of the hard rock genre, and I'm a huge fan of the underrated Down to Earth album with Bonnet too. I was always going to like this. No, nothing quite matches those old albums and a few late tracks are arguably unworthy inclusions, not filler so much as songs better used as B sides to whatever gets a single release. The band do give it a good go though and I'm quite prepared to like this a bit more as the years go by.

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