I only know about Alpha Q because one of its two guitarists is Waqas Ahmed and I've reviewed two of his releases in the past, the Doomsday Astronaut album and A Perpetual Winter EP. In case he's new to you, he hails from Lahore in Pakistan but he lives in Sibiu, Romania, which surely has a very different musical scene. While those releases focused very specifically on him and his guitar, which means that they're almost entirely solo efforts, Waqas kindly sent me a copy of this too, which is a different setup entirely.
Alpha Q are a six-piece band and this is their debut album. While they clearly appreciate what this one guitarist brings to their sound, they just as clearly appreciate the slew of other influences the other five musicians bring to the table too. Clearly they're not all Pakistani shred guitarists living in Romania. While I don't know where they're all from, I'm guessing that they're not all Romanian either because this is quite the melting pot of a sound.
For a start, I spent quite a while wondering if they're a rock band or a metal band because they're frequently one or the other or both at the same time. Darkness opens up the album, for instance, with a solo female voice, which is appropriate because I'd call lead vocalist MeeRah a highlight of this entire band. When she roars, her voice isn't too far from Dorothy Martin's, whose new album I reviewed earlier in the week. However, MeeRah is more interested in dynamic play, so she roars when she wants to roar and croons when she wants to croon. She's great at both approaches and a slew of others, because she's equally at home with pop, rock and metal, even trying a rap over the funky beats of Make a Wish. I've been checking out her other projects and they're highly versatile.
What's special here is that the band is also versatile, which is why their sound is so hard to define. When MeeRah roars in Darkness, they ramp up from alternative rock to almost groove metal and, when she's done for a while, they shift into a sort of seventies guitar workout, like Mark Knopfler playing with Wishbone Ash. The song isn't as schizophrenic as that might suggest, but it does take quite the leap from one section to another. I enjoyed it a great deal, but think I connected with its successor on the album, Ballad of a Ticking Clock quicker, because its movements flow deceptively well and its groove is more immediate.
I'd call this one a prog metal song that's frequently prog rock. It feels bigger and more epic, but it actually runs a little shorter, maybe because it fades out just when I didn't want it to. I wanted it to keep on going for a lot longer. It's probably worth stating that five of the eight songs on offer last between five and a half and seven minutes and that's a good sweet spot for Alpha Q, because they always want to do at least a couple of things within each song and they need to transition between them and back again.
I like some of these shifts more than others, but I appreciate all of them because they're conjured up with plenty of thought about what those contrasts mean. I like how Unbreakable is both one of the heaviest songs here and one of the most commercial. I like how Angels and Demons drop from prog metal into a neatly peaceful section halfway with a vaguely ethnic acoustic guitar, then goes right back up the emphasis scale into a guitar solo. I like how Make a Wish shifts from jagged djent into a heavy groove, then goes all funky with an old school rap, the sort of thing that Blondie used to do when they played with genres. It's a story song too with MeeRah as a sort of genie.
Long story short, I like what Waqas Ahmed does on his own, just as I like what MeeRah does on her own and I'll probably like what all the other members here do on their own. I have homework to do when I can find some time. However, I have a feeling that I'll like what they all do together a little more than any of them solo. They click well, as diverse as they are, and they each bring something different to the Alpha Q table. There's folk here and shred and dance and groove and a whole lot more. I look forward to their next album.