"Beneath the Surface"

(Century Media)

01. The Alliance
02. From Outer Space
03. Beneath the Surface
04. Eden Lies in Ruins
05. Along the Rising Sun
06. Crescent Moon
07. Rain
08. Waiting for a Sign
09. We Came from the Gutter
10. S.D.I (Loudness cover)

RATING: 6/10

ALPHA TIGER's sophomore LP, 2013's "Beneath the Surface", sees the precocious German quintet graduating from indie label Sonic Attack (which unveiled their modest debut, "Man or Machine", two years prior) to heavy metal major player Century Media - but are they really ready for prime time yet?

Shit, why not?

In a weird ironic twist, the same minor imperfections that seem, at first, to "tarnish" the youngsters' enthusiastic interpretations of the traditional power metal hallmarks we've grown all too familiar with (i.e. tired of) over the decades, ultimately help ALPHA TIGER sound more authentic and less contrived than would a more squeaky-clean melodic metal production, or perfectly mechanical execution.

In other words, while many of the so-called top names in power metal (usual suspects like EDGUY, BLIND GUARDIAN and SONATA ARCTICA) frequently sound so pristine, polished and precise as to appear painfully contrived, excessively saccharine and, well, just plain LAME, ALPHA TIGER feel comparatively REAL: zits and all.

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Oh, and there are zits, believe us, as ALPHA TIGER, too, eventually falls prey to theatrical Teutonic-metal schmaltz on the rote power ballad "Waiting for a Sign" (rescued in the waning seconds by a strong guitar build-up) and the retch-inducing piano introduction to "Rain" (which also duly explodes into power-thrashing melodic mayhem); plus, they simply fail to stitch ideas together cohesively enough on the likes of "Eden Lies in Ruins" and the overly ambitious "Crescent Moon".

But amid these growing pains, the band also hammers out more than a few high-caliber head-bangers of nostalgic vintage and menacing riffs (see "The Alliance", "From Outer Space", "We Came from the Gutter", the title cut) that listeners will find to be historically situated smack-dab between HELLOWEEN's "Walls of Jericho" and "Keeper of the Seven Keys" eras.

No, ALPHA TIGER's second opus is not as brilliant as either one of them, but then neither are HELLOWEEN's past 40 or 50 albums?but who's counting?

Our point is that ALPHA TIGER are indeed a - don't panic now - retro-metal proposition, whose modified DeLorean just happens to be travelling in the 1985-7 time frame of German melodic metal evolution; and that means fans of this period in music could do a lot worse than satiate their nostalgic memories with "Beneath the Surface".

Interestingly, a bonus track cover version of LOUDNESS' "S.D.I." throws another inspirational monkey wrench into the group's inspirational make-up, but in the best way possible, being that it's a far from an obvious choice.


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