Alpha Tiger - Beneath the surface 4.5/5

Reviewed: 9-1-13





Tracklist:

1. Intro
2. The alliance
3. From outer space
4. Waiting for a sign
5. Beneath the surface
6. Along the rising sun
7. Eden lies in ruins
8. Rain
9. Crescent moon
10. We came from the gutter
11. S.D.I.
12. Flight of the warrior


Germany’s Alpha Tiger is one of my favorite musical discoveries of the last few years. Their 2011 debut CD, ‘Man or machine’, was nothing short of electrifying, landing in my Top 5 list for the year and an absolute mandatory purchase for devotees of European-flavored power and traditional heavy metal. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who noticed, as the 5-piece were signed to Century Media shortly thereafter (a massive muscular upgrade from their previous label home, Sonic Attack, which does a fine job but simply lacks Century Media’s business clout). In celebration of this year’s ‘Beneath the surface’ release and the Century Media re-release of the debut, Alpha Tiger have been gracing festival stages all over Europe, from kult events like Up the Hammers in Greece to the prime-time industry showcases of Wacken and Bang Your Head. Clearly, the orange, yellow and black striped ones have made great strides in their quest for world domination, so now’s a good time to take stock of their current ‘Beneath the surface’ CD.

The short version of the review is that anyone who enjoyed ‘Man or machine’ is guaranteed to love ‘Beneath the surface’. Thankfully, the band’s core elements and sound remain fully intact and unsullied. The shimmering, dueling, biting, melodic guitar work of Peter Langforth and Alexander Backasch still channels the best of Murray/Smith, Steve Kachinsky (Steel Prophet), and early Jim Matheos (Fates Warning). Vocalist Stephan Dietrich turns in another jaw-droppingly good performance that rolls John Arch, Michael Kiske, and Rick Mythiasin into one charismatic package. Dietrich is that rare special breed of vocalist who can magically transform good songs into great ones just by opening his mouth to sing. There may be plenty of Kiske clones out there, but I’ve never heard somebody capture the emotional spirit, powerful timbre and melodic fearlessness of John Arch quite the way this guy does. Really, though, all of the band members’ performances are at the upper end of the scale.

And oh, what glorious songs Alpha Tiger write! The guideposts of early Fates Warning, Steel Prophet, Iron Maiden, ‘Thundersteel’-era Riot, Gamma Ray, and the new wave of traditional heavy metal (think Enforcer, Striker, Holy Grail and so on) all generally describe the band’s sound, but Alpha Tiger have a knack for packaging this sonic attack in truly stupendous material. The melodic speed of “The alliance” and “From outer space” are as potent, catchy and memorable an opening one-two punch as you’ll hear in 2013. Elsewhere, the relatively compact 4-minute “Along the rising sun” has already emerged as a live favorite with its bouncy, almost relaxed Helloweenish vibe and uplifting lyrics like “Take my hand now, ‘cause we are young/Along, along the rising sun.” The 5 1/2 minutes of “Beneath the surface” encapsulate everything I love about Alpha Tiger: killer melodic riffs, galloping drums, a mid-paced catchy chorus, sublime vocals, and a quiet gentle interlude in the midst of it all. In “Eden lies in ruins”, the band showcase their ability to change speeds and moods seamlessly, all in the context of a terrific song. The subdued piano-and-vocal intro to “Rain” makes you think Alpha Tiger succumbed to wimpy ballad syndrome, but then the drums and guitars kick in, the band sets phasers for warp speed, and Dietrich starts wailing about being “Fast as a comet/Engulfed in raging flames.” Cool. You get the point: Damn near every song rules.

Assuming you’re resolved to hunt down a copy of this CD for your personal collection (and Satan knows you should), you should be aware of a couple of version notes. To my knowledge, there are at least 3 different editions of ‘Beneath the surface’: the regular jewel case version, a version with 2 bonus cover tracks, and a 2-disc set dubbed “Limited Fan Edition” with a bonus 39-minute live CD. Trust me, you want the 2-disc set. The cover tunes are dazzling renditions of Loudness “S.D.I.” and Riot “Flight of the Warrior”, both of which are great but the latter of which is truly exceptional. And the live material is fantastic, mostly culled from Alpha Tiger’s gig at Germany’s Rock Hard Festival in 2012, with a “Queen of the Reich” live cover from Keep It True 2011 tacked onto the end. The rub is that I believe the 2-CD version is available only from the band. But if Century Media never saw fit to release ‘Beneath the surface’ in the U.S. market (and apparently they haven’t), and if you’re going to have to hunt it down overseas anyway (and apparently you will), then you might as well bite the bullet and pay for all the extra bells and whistles in the band’s Limited Fan Edition.

If recordings like Fates Warning’s ‘The spectre within’ and Steel Prophet’s ‘Messiah’ cause your heart to skip a few beats and your fist to punch the air uncontrollably, then you owe it to yourself to check out Alpha Tiger. These Germans really have something special going. You know what to do: Buy or die!



KIT




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