Alcatrazz – V (Album Review)

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The revolving door still turns out a classic.

It seems as if only yesterday that the mighty, guitar-oriented 80s heavy metal train that was Alcatrazz had returned with a vengeance to usher in the 2020s with a newly minted masterpiece after more than 30 years of studio silence. Even during their original run in the aforementioned decade that would culminate in three highly credible studio LPs, there was a fair degree of lineup instability, with a de facto revolving door of guitarists that would see a different one contributing their technical wizardry to each album. While opinions will continue to vary as to whether this fold’s strength laid primarily with front man and former Rainbow vocalist Graham Bonnet or original six-string shredder and Neo-classical metal trailblazer Yngwie Malmsteen, the general consensus has been that their combined efforts had a massive hand in the band’s 1983 debut “No Parole For Rock ‘N’ Roll” being their most iconic effort, and it was the magic of that particular incarnation of the band that was sought after and successfully recaptured on 2020’s Born Innocent.

All of this considered, the prospect of this grand resurgence continuing with neither Malmsteen nor Bonnet involved would seem highly improbable, but the latter’s recent separation from the group has brought an interesting twist on things fairly similar to where Bonnet’s former outfit Rainbow found themselves in the mid-90s. The tapping of scene veteran Doogie White to take over mic duties is almost too fitting, given his past collaborations with both Rainbow on 1995’s “Stranger In Us All” and a subsequent stint with Malmsteen’s solo act in the early to mid 2000s, to speak nothing for his soaring pipes functioning as a near perfect amalgam of his predecessor in this fold and other former Rainbow front man Ronnie James Dio. Combined with the return of Malmsteen-like shred protégé Joe Stump and the rest of the instrumentalists that made “Born Innocent” a near perfect return to the glories of 1983, it stands to reason that their latest studio installment, simply dubbed “V,” would hit the waves with a fair amount of wind already in its proverbial sails.

While the old saying of Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus that one cannot step on the same river twice ultimately rings true here, this album basically gets as close to accomplishing that as one could expect given the circumstances. The combination of highly technical guitar wizardry with a mixture of 70s hard rock and 80s heavy metal stylistic trappings that this band had originally imported from Rainbow, Deep Purple, and Judas Priest that typified the last album is not diminished here to any degree. In fact, the pacing of this collection of shred-happy anthems is a bit swifter, having a bit more of a power metal edge to it. High octane speeders such as “Guardian Angel”, “Nightwatch” and “Turn Of The Wheel” establish this album as a frenetic affair reminiscent of Malmsteen’s faster offerings during the late 80s and early 90s from the beginning, with Stump’s precision riffing and virtuosic guitar soloing being the highlight. Later on in the mix the driving force of “Target” and “Alice’s Eyes” maintains the up tempo factor while also venturing into darker and heavier territory where the work of the rhythm section and keyboardist/co-founder Jimmy Waldo become even more prominent.

By the same token, the more groove-based rocking with a heavy edge that has been as much of a staple of this band’s sound as their speedier material is equally as prominent here. Mid-paced rockers with a clear affinity for the older stylings of Deep Purple such as “Sword Of Deliverance” and “House Of Lies” bring the hooks home with the best of them, and also prove a tad bit more conducive to Doogie’s slightly gritty but mostly polished sounding vocal display. A dash of progressive rock adorns the shuffling swagger of “Blackheart”, which also sees Waldo’s rock organ work mimicking the vintage goodness of Jon Lord (R.I.P.), while the upbeat cruiser “Grace Of God” has a decidedly European power metal flavor to it that wouldn’t be totally out of place on one of Stratovarius’ recent albums. But the two greatest standouts of the slower end of this album is the mystical melodies and crushing grooves of “Return To Neverland”, which sounds pretty close to Rainbow’s “Stargazer”, and the early 80s Sabbath-inspired epic march of “Maybe Tomorrow”.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this album, or at least what may prove the most challenging Alcatrazz’s existing fan base, is the drama that immediately preceded it and the resulting absence of its original vocalist. Taken on its own merits apart from the band’s established brand, this is a slightly more vintage hard rock take on what Malmsteen has been bringing to the table since 1986 meets a more metallic rendition of Rainbow’s classic late 70s sound, and in this disposition Doogie White’s vocals about as well as Bonnet’s. It’s almost impossible to see any reason other than disappointment over the original singer not being present as a reason for dismissing these 12 well put together songs. Nevertheless, if Bonnet’s own published words earlier are any indication, there might be multiple incarnations of this band simultaneously putting out music in a fashion similar to NWOBHM outfit Tank, though absent him managing to rope Malmsteen or a similarly skilled guitarist into his version of the band, it’ll be tough to see how he’ll manage to top this.

Released By: Silver Lining Music
Released On: October 15th, 2021
Genre: Heavy Metal

Musicians:

  • Doogie White / Vocals
  • Jimmy Waldo / Keyboards
  • Joe Stump / Guitars
  • Gary Shea / Bass
  • Mark Benquechea / Drums

“V” Track listing:

 1. Guardian Angel
 2. Nightwatch
 3. Sword Of Deliverance
 4. Turn Of The Wheel
 5. Blackheart
 6. Grace Of God
 7. Return To Nevermore
 8. Target
 9. Maybe Tomorrow
10. House Of Lies
11. Alice’s Eyes
12. Dark Day For My Soul

9.1 Excellent

Even the mightiest of ships can falter in the fact of an insurmountable storm, yet despite losing their iconic front man, guitar god dominated shred trustees Alcatrazz have returned as strong as ever with a familiar voice at the helm

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9.5
  • Originality 8.5
  • Production 9.5
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