White Wizzard - Flying tigers 3/5

Reviewed: 11-1-11





Tracklist:

1. Fight to the death
2. West LA nights
3. Starchild
4. Flying tigers
5. Night train to Tokyo
6. Nightstalker
7. Fall of Atlantis
8. Blood on the pyramids
9. Demons and diamonds
10. Dark alien overture
11. War of the worlds
12. Starman’s son


It’s been a turbulent trip for White Wizzard since they debuted with ‘Over the top’ at the start of 2010, as while their profile as a temporally displaced NWOBHM/speed metal outfit has remained in a healthy state their line-up has tied itself up in knots, with members joining, leaving, rejoining and re-leaving at an alarmingly regular rate.

It maybe says something about the scheduling pressures foisted upon up-and-comers in this day and age, as the endless running around between writing, recording and touring leaves very little room to actually find out if your new guitar player is going to stick around for more than 5 minutes before getting packed into the back of a van and driven around the all the shoebox clubs North America and Europe have to offer.

Whatever the reasons, the Wizzard are maybe better equipped to coping with this sort of uncertainty, as songwriting bassist Jon Leon is the man behind the band and the one most definitely staying put. Getting ‘Over the top’ vocalist Wyatt Anderson back onboard for just about long enough to record the follow-up CD has also proved to be a wise move, as a recognisable face is the best way to soothe any concerns about loss of identity – and more important that, he remains a damn fine singer too.

But despite these reassurances, ‘Flying tigers’ is a CD that while still packing in plenty of charming old-fashioned metal songs and some inspired new ideas also features a couple of damp squibs and perhaps suffers from too much ambition too soon in White Wizzard’s career. Split into 2 very distinct halves, the CD begins with 6 songs in the bands established style before switching to a 6-song suite that includes elements of prog metal. Both proved to have their own strengths and weaknesses.

The opening 50% at times goes toe-to-toe with the material on the debut no problem at all, but there are a couple of obvious weak points. The ballad, “Starchild” redeems itself when it switches to instrumental mode at the halfway mark, but the opening section is pretty dreadful, tritely mixing lyrics that attempt to be both sentimental and still “metal”, married uncomfortably to some astoundingly predictable vocal melodies. “Night train to Tokyo” is another stumble, the groovy hard rock riffs and off-kilter vocals standing out like a sore thumb.

Thankfully the other 4 songs are of much higher quality, the opening “Fight to the death” surviving a limp, solo-free bridge via its boundless energy and Anderson soaring like an eagle on the chorus, while the free-spirited “West LA nights” is a more successful attempt to add a bit of rockin’ swagger to proceedings. The last of the opening half dozen, “Night stalker” is one that ranks among their best, an intense speed metal blast that provides some welcome forward momentum before things get a little more complicated.

The 2nd half of the CD begins in arresting fashion, “Fall of Atlantis” immediately showing a greater deal of musical complexity while also managing to be one of the fastest and most aggressive songs on display, the intense, drama-building verses pumped along by a typically in-your-face bass line to a stunning chorus.

The material that follows it though is a little up and down. The 9-minute “Demons and diamonds” is a genuine, menacing epic, its chugging Middle Eastern-sounding riffs building to a powerful climax after a long, twisting intro. After this though, the shorter “War of the worlds” feels as though it is trying to follow the same formula and despite some terrific vocals from Anderson just sounds too samey to make a real impression. Leon’s chops as an all-out progressive songwriter can maybe be called into question too as while the instrumental “Dark alien overture” is a great showcase for him and drummer Giovanni Durst’s playing skills, the choppy guitars on “Blood on the pyramids” are more annoying than anything and the song simply sounds stuttering and confused. The closing “Starman’s son” is a great way to see the concept story off though, jumping between shimmering, 70s rock style clean guitar strumming and mighty power/thrash riffs, and offers something a little different with its emotional vocals and folkish acoustic break towards its conclusion.

One thing that does stand out in a negative way is both the quantity and quality of guitar solos. With Leon pulling double duty on both 4 and 6 strings, there is no full time lead guitarist and it does show, with the solos being often too short, too simplistic or simply absent. The title track isn’t the only one that feels the need to slow down for the solo section, and once the formula becomes apparent it is quite difficult to shake it. Perhaps to compensate, the prominence of the bass lines is ramped up even further than before, and while some pummelling low frequencies are always welcome it in truth occasionally comes across as a little obnoxious and show-offy.

The situation is symptomatic of a recording line-up stripped down for the sake of clarity, and leaves a major dent in the CD that a fully functioning band would not suffer from. There are some truly excellent moments on ‘Flying tigers’, but on the whole it comes across as an overlong, over-ambitious CD from a band that would be better served building themselves a solid foundation before they attempt anything else.



CREAG




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