Monday 17 July 2023

Alcatrazz - Take No Prisoners (2023)

Country: USA
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 19 May 2023
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Talking of Alcatrazz, who I namechecked in my Arjen Lucassen's Supersonic Revolution review, here they are with a new album a lot sooner than I expected, given their historic habit of splitting up all the time and not putting out albums. However, I did mention in my review of V only two years ago that the latest incarnation, the fourth, seems to be determined to break that habit. V followed its predecessor by only a year and here's number three shortly thereafter. They were formed in 1983 and they've put out as many albums in the past four years as their first thirty-six.

What's more, it's good stuff, even if recognisable vocalist Graham Bonnet is in the other Alcatrazz, the one that isn't putting out albums. The line-up is mostly the same here as last time, with only a single change behind the drumkit, Larry Paterson replacing Mark Benquechea. Jimmy Waldo and Gary Shea are founder members on keyboards and bass respectively. Joe Stump has been there on guitar since the band reformed in 2019, while Doogie White, who's sung for a crazy number of the same bands as Bonnet, joined a year later. They seem cohesive enough to last.

And I hope they do. This is British hard rock with a veneer of American heavy metal over the top, a vehicle built out of parts from Rainbow songs with a flash chassis that's all Alcatrazz shred. There are exceptions here, like the very catchy Don't Get Mad... Get Even, which is so close to Saxon that I could have believed that White took a breather and let Biff Byford step in. Certainly, that's their NWOBHM compatriots Girlschool on backing vocals during the choruses. There's not a lot on this one that's recognisably American.

I mentioned on my review of V that I'm a sucker for anything built on the Rainbow sound and that holds true here. There's not a lot of originality here but the recognisable stuff is all good and the sheer energy of this band carries them through anyway. They mix up the pace rather a lot, but it's the faster paced songs that work the best for me. Little Viper storms out of the gate to kick things off and Bring on the Rock, excuse me, Bring on the Rawk, closes out in even more emphatic style. They're never quite speed metal, but their particular brand of metallic hard rock definitely thinks about it on occasion.

The other fast song is Alcatrazz and naming a song after your band on your sixth album requires a serious level of emphasis. It really ought to be a showstopper and, while it doesn't quite reach that level, it does give it a major try, with that Rainbow sweep again but a much faster tempo that just refuses to quit. I should add that it isn't just the pace that works for me on these songs. Stump is a less technical guitarist than Yngwie Malmsteen and he's less quirky than Steve Vai, but he does fill their footsteps anyway with the workouts he has on these songs, especially Bring on the Rawk and, oddly, Strangers.

I say oddly because Strangers is absolutely not a stormer like those up tempo numbers. It's a real stalker of a song with a Dio-esque grandeur to it, mostly solo era but with Rainbow moments too. While White relishes his Ronnie James impersonation, Stump channels Randy Rhoads for his rapid fire solo. Has he been listening to Mr. Crowley lately? Then again, he follows a similar flourish by a dynamic Waldo on keyboards. The only catch to this one is the fade out, which disappoints. I don't buy that they couldn't find a natural conclusion for it. Bring on the Rawk, for example, has not an inch of doubt how to end and does so magnificently. Then again, it's the album closer.

There's a lot of good here, even if it's never going to win an award for originality. The one moment it actually hints at going on there, on a clearly progressive intro to Salute the Colours, with its wild guitar and keyboards, it decides it's not remotely comfortable doing that and settles into a rather routine plodder of a song. Like last time, nothing lets the side down, though some songs fade on a second or third listen, leaving the highlights to continue to shine in their stead. The only song that ramped up on further times through is Gates of Destiny, which seeps into the soul. It's so Rainbow that it even sounds like a Rainbow song title, but there's a little Iron Maiden gallup in there too.

So hey, this is a good match to V, easily worthy of another 7/10 from me. Its highs are just as high and its lows are similarly more like B-side candidates than filler. None of them are bad, even Holy Roller (Love's Temple), which is easily the softest song here, regardless of how emphatic its riff is. What are the odds of a fourth modern day Alcatrazz album within the next couple of years before Bonnet decides to actually release an albumwith his version of the band? Pretty high, I think, and I'm looking forward to it already.

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