Alpha Tiger - Man or machine 4.5/5

Reviewed: 8-1-11


1. Starrider
2. Martyr’s paradise
3. Crimson desert
4. When autumn leaves fall
5. Against the time
6. Men or machines
7. Karma
8. Exit night
9. Black star pariah

“Face up... make your stand/And realize you’re living in the golden years.” When Adrian Smith penned those lyrics to “Wasted years” back in 1986, he couldn’t have anticipated the traditional metal revival that would be in full swing a quarter century later. Nonetheless, the sentiment applies here. We truly are living in a magical time for this kind of music. Not only are many grizzled veteran acts burnishing their legacies with career-matching (and sometimes career-defining) works, but young, hungry bands are coming out of the woodwork, paying homage to the classic metal of the 80s while adding their own extra “oomph” to the mix. There’s Holy Grail from the U.S., Striker from Canada, Axevyper from Italy, Katana from Sweden, and the list goes on and on. My latest discovery in this vein is Alpha Tiger, a quintet from Germany whose debut CD, ‘Man or machine’, finds them poised to take a position of preeminence in the pantheon of classic heavy metal torchbearers.

For starters, Alpha Tiger bear many of the hallmarks of the genre. The twin-guitar team of Alexander Backasch and Peter Langforth follows in the hallowed tradition of Murray/Smith, Tipton/Downing, and so on, dishing out killer riffs, solos and harmonies galore (check out the furious midsection of “Crimson desert” for a great example). The rhythm section of bassist Dirk Frei and drummer Axel Patzold propels the songs forward at often-galloping, exhilarating pace, but also proves quite adept at changing speeds in these often-tricky arrangements. Lyrics delve into clichéd realms at times, such as the obligatory “metal rules” song in the form of “Exit night” (“Leather, chains and cartridge belts/Outlaws among themselves/Rushing to the show tonight”). The production job is excellent, and the striking cover art provides a suitably eye-catching visual aspect of the package.

But Alpha Tiger have additional qualities that set them head and shoulders above many of their contemporaries. Vocalist Stephan Dietrich is a superstar in the making, boasting a clear, high-pitched, yet powerful and nuanced voice that’s in sharp contrast to the rough’n’ready vocal style that characterizes many young true metal acts today. In fact, Dietrich sounds uncannily like Fates Warning’s John Arch in places (as in the “wooahhhh ooohhhhs” at the beginning of “Starrider”) and elsewhere is a dead ringer for Michael Kiske. Sure, his German accent shines through occasionally, but make no mistake: Dietrich is an extraordinarily gifted singer.

Alpha Tiger’s other “x factor” lies in their songwriting skills, which reveal a level of sophistication and an adventurous spirit not often seen in newer bands playing this style. Most of the songs on ‘Man or machine’ hover in the 6 to 7 minute range, yet they rarely drag or lose focus. A perfect example would be the awesome “Against the time”, which rides a furious “Aces high”-type melody for a couple of minutes, before simmering down to a calmer midsection that gives way to a glittering guitar theme played at gradually quickening tempos before the “Aces high” bit explodes into the foreground again. Really cool stuff. Or listen to the clever breakdown at the end of “Exit Night”, where the guitars drop out and just vocals and drums carry the chorus before everything kicks back in. Also, the band’s proficiency is not limited to the epic tracks; indeed, they excel at adrenalin-charged bangers too, as evidenced by the 4-minute rush of “Karma”. Alpha Tiger’s writing and melodies hearken back to mid-80s classic Iron Maiden, sure, but I actually hear a lot of Arch-era Fates Warning and classic Steel Prophet in this CD as well. Those are great influences to have, and not often heard in today’s newer bands.

By now, surely you get the picture: I think Alpha Tiger are a very special band, and ‘Man or machine’ is a very special debut CD. I’m apparently not the only one who feels this way: The executive producer of this CD is none other than Karl-U. Walterbach, whom many graying metalheads may recall with much reverence as the impresario/mastermind behind Germany’s legendary Noise Records. I hadn’t heard of Walterbach doing anything in our scene for perhaps a decade or longer. I can only surmise that it took a remarkable band like Alpha Tiger to lure him out of hiding. The only negative with ‘Man or machine’ is the perceptible anti-U.S. imperialist bent to “Crimson desert”. My advice: Keep world politics out of your metal, lads, because a large section of your American audience will surely bristle at lines like “The truth is getting shrouded with stars and with stripes” and “Hail to our flag... /Baghdad under attack.” Assuming this solitary blemish is not a dealbreaker for you, I recommend ‘Man or machine’ in the strongest possible terms. My ‘best of 2011’ list just found another prominent contender.




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