Alexis - Birds of prey 3/5

Reviewed: 3-1-11


1. Intro
2. Shadows
3. Golden path
4. Friendly fire
5. Birds of prey
6. Breaking the spell
7. Metalizer II
8. Forest
9. Without you
10. The witchblade
11. Killing truth

Solo CDs by members of established bands are notoriously hit’n’miss affairs. Many of them turn out to be unmitigated disasters (the Glenn Tipton and Tim Owens solo debacles come to mind), and others (Chris Caffery, Ronny Munroe) are simply incapable of capturing the excitement of the artist’s main band. Successful examples such as Blaze Bayley and Herman Frank appear to be the exception, rather than the rule. With that in mind, I confronted this Alexis CD with some skepticism. You see, “Alexis” is Freddy Alexis, a Chilean vocalist best known as the frontman of unheralded power metallers Witchblade. My only previous exposure to Mr. Alexis had been on Witchblade’s 2001 debut CD, which I found to be an enjoyable, energetic exercise in speedy European-styled power metal. Nearly a decade removed from that CD, Alexis has released his solo CD through Greece’s Pitch Black Records (label home of Lethal Saint, Diphtheria, Arryan Path, etc.). The non-band aspect of this recording is highlighted not only by the moniker under which they operate, but also by the fact that the “band” photo does not credit the pictured musicians with playing any particular instrument or indicate how they contributed to the CD.

I must confess that my initial reaction to this ‘Birds of prey’ CD was not particularly encouraging. There wasn’t enough red meat, for one thing, with the running time being just 28 minutes before considering the 3 tacked-on “bonus tracks” (old Witchblade songs) that pad the CD’s length to a still-stingy 39 minutes. To make matters worse, the CD proper includes a pointless intro and a meandering outro, and one of the bonus tracks is an acoustic ballad. Doesn’t exactly scream “value for the money”, does it? Then I found myself annoyed by the diversity in the songs, as the tracks came across as a disheveled mishmash of various styles, from exciting fast power metal (“The witchblade”) to dreary dirge-y stuff (“Birds of prey”) to proggish hard-rock songs (“Golden path”) to sensitive restrained ballads (“Without you”). It just didn’t seem cohesive at all, but rather like a slapped-together batch of tunes that happened to be lying around, with no unifying artistic vision or creative thread to link them together.

Fortunately, I did not allow those less-than-glowing initial impressions to dissuade me from giving the CD repeated listens. And it grew on me. Freddy Alexis is blessed with a deceptively impressive set of pipes. Sure, he doesn’t wow the listener immediately with piercing screams, leather-lunged power, or multi-octave gymnastics, but Alexis’s delivery is so smooth, confident and charismatic that he wins over the listener in time. And the song material, despite its variability, is largely of a high caliber. I won’t lie: The only tunes that captured my fancy from the outset were the aggressive "Painkiller"-worship of “Metalizer II” (with Alexis struggling to hit Halford-type high notes for the entire song), featuring a chorus that is pure gold, and the uptempo melodic speed bomb of bonus track “The witchblade”. Over time, however, I latched on to the likes of opener “Shadows”, “Friendly fire”, and “Killing truth”. I still wish that the tracks fit together better than they do, and would love to hear more of the frenetic speed and energy that characterized that debut Witchblade CD. Nonetheless, these are well-crafted songs (except for the boring “Birds of prey” and the dreadfully out-of-place ballad “Without you”) that capture a variety of moods while showcasing Alexis’s fine voice.

I guess the inescapable problem is that, despite the undeniable merits of ‘Birds of prey’, I cannot help but wish it were something it is not. I want the adrenaline-fueled speed of “The witchblade” and the bombastic energy of “Metalizer II”. But I am convinced that Freddy Alexis wrote and recorded this solo CD with the intent to step away from those high-octane power metal stylings and explore other sonic realms. That thirst for exploration is why many established artists record solo CDs, right? In other words, he’s running away (or at least branching off) from the very sounds that I want him to embrace. That fact, and the unfinished, incomplete feel of the CD (25 minutes of new material, 3 minutes of fluff, and 11 minutes of rehashed old stuff), ultimately mar my enjoyment of ‘Birds of prey’ even as I tip my cap the vocal prowess of the man behind the microphone.




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