“Did you notice some changes in me? It’s still me, or am I what they want me to be?” So sings Alpha Tiger’s Stephan Dietrich in the title track of this, the band’s third album and their debut on a big label (SPV/Steamhammer). It’s a song about a man being transformed into a robot, but it might as well be autobiographical. You see, even casual listeners will notice some changes in Alpha Tiger on this album, and may well question whether the band are allowing themselves to become what others want them to be. On their first two records, Alpha Tiger sported a decidedly throwback speed/power sound (with brightly colored spandex trousers and whatnot to match): melodic, fast, definitely ‘80s inspired, and reminiscent most of all of Spectre / Awaken era Fates Warning (in part due to the spectacular Arch-style vocals of Dietrich), Steel Prophet, early Queensryche (the band even covered “Queen of the Reich”) and the like. It was an intoxicating combination, and the German lads pulled it off near-flawlessly. Hell, ‘Beneath the Surface’ was my album of the year for 2013.
The cold hard truth is that ‘iDentity’ finds the band largely forsaking their old-school speed/power roots. Alpha Tiger neither sound nor look like ‘80s disciples anymore. To be sure, they ease you into the change by kicking off the record with “Lady Liberty,” an exhilarating banger that actually would have fit quite comfortably on ‘Beneath the Surface.’ Then the new style takes over all the way until track 9, when the brisk “Shut Up & Think” reminds the listener of days of yore (at least until the somewhat odd chorus kicks in). In recent interviews, guitarist Peter Langforth explains that Alpha Tiger wanted to step away from their influences, find their own sound and try out some experiments. Unspoken, perhaps, is the desire to reach a wider audience and separate themselves from the voracious pack of young trad metal acts cropping up all over the world these days.
It’d be easy to brand Alpha Tiger “sellouts,” cross them off your list, and move on. It would also be an enormous mistake. Their new sound may be “mature” and “refined,” but it is also extremely well executed classy melodic Euro metal to the core. The boys are gifted songwriters, and their skills are readily apparent on songs like “Lady Liberty” or the intensely memorable “A Long Way of Redemption” or protest anthem “Revolution in Progress.” Fantastic guitar melodies pop up all over the place, and Dietrich turns in an absolute gem of a vocal performance: soaring, emotional, and bursting with daring melodies. Maybe the music has been streamlined and slowed down for mass consumption. So what? The band surely don’t sound like they are going through the motions here. These songs are laden with fire and passion, terrific performances, and meaningful lyrics with often biting social commentary (for example, “This World Will Burn” rails against apathy, telling sleepwalking fools that “this world will burn and you hold the match”). Sure, I miss the “old” Alpha Tiger and I cringe to hear them play a song prominently featuring piano (“Closer than Yesterday,” begrudgingly a good song nonetheless), but ‘iDentity’ is an impressive piece of work that will no doubt distance these fierce felines from the other big cats in the jungle.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~