Metal has had a bad case of retro-itis for the past several years, and I’ve been known to talk quite a bit of shit about it. Whether it be the glut of Incantation clones with swamp-ass production values and zero riffs, occult rock bands fronted by witchy women that just end up sounding like Jefferson Airplane singing about Satan, or more ham-fisted NWOBHM wannabes than you can shake a Flying V at, vintage is the new new, and it seems that for every one boundary-pushing metal band, there are a dozen more flogging a not-quite-dead horse. But, even I have to (grudgingly) admit that a handful of young bands are doing a pretty swell job of sprucing up and putting a fresh coat of paint on ye olde heavy metal, and Germany’s Alpha Tiger are most certainly one of them, having released a pretty darn excellent old school metal album this year in the form of Beneath the Surface.
What’s great about Alpha Tiger’s second album is that even though they’re clearly doing the traditional heavy metal thing, recalling the likes of Scorpions, Riot and of course Iron Maiden, you’d never in a million years mistake it for a dusty old 1980s relic. That’s because Beneath the Surface sports a stellar and thoroughly modern production scheme, and Alpha Tiger bring a sense of technicality and precision to the table that could’ve only come from the present; no need to check and see if the flux capacitor is fluxing.
Alpha Tiger also brings some mighty fine songwriting to the table for Beneath the Surface; the tracks here are for the most part as catchy as it gets for the style, largely thanks to the near-flawless vocal performance of Stephan Dietrich who may or may not be Klaus Meine’s illegitimate child. Sure there’s a whiff of cheese here and there, but that’s all part of the fun, and whatever silliness the band may occasionally display is more than made up for by the killer hooks that pepper soaring tunes such as the opening one-two punch of “The Alliance” and “From Outer Space” or the flat-out awesome “Along the Rising Sun” (I’m pretty sure there’s an unwritten law among traditional heavy metal bands that you must write at least one song that somehow refers to Japan).
The band taps into a style of trad metal that’s tough to pull off, possessing an inherent slickness while still attempting to “keep it true.” It’s hard to say exactly what it is that made the Scorpions sound badass and Def Leppard sound like a bunch of pansies, but Alpha Tiger assuredly falls on the Scorps side of things, balancing commercialism with righteous riffage and an unabashed desire to rock and rock hard. Perhaps it has something to do with being German? Regardless of what the reasons may be, Beneath the Surface manages to bring it on both fronts, which is ultimately what makes it so appealing.
Part of being such a loudmouth online is that I often find myself being forced to eat humble pie, and Beneath the Surface is yet another album that has me questioning a long-held stance. Perhaps I’ve been a bit too harsh on the retro-radiation that’s been sweeping the metal nation for the past half-decade or so. I mean, if the end result is a band as good as Alpha Tiger, then it has most certainly been worth it.