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Alcatrazz is one of those bands that is unfortunately missed by many metalheads. This is the band that Yngwie's name was first heard in, and they were showing the world just where the music was going through their early music. I had heard of Alcatrazz for years after getting into Yngwie Malmsteen, and when I found in a local music store an LP of No Parole From Rock 'N' Roll I was very pleased and immediately purchased the record on the spot.
What you can expect from Alcatrazz is this. You can get a very nice vocal performance from Graham Bonnet, some ripping guitar solos from Yngwie Malmsteen that are probably some of the best work the egotistical swede has put out on an album before, and a generally sold 80s hard rock. That's right, this is not really much of a metal album so much as it is a hard rock album, a very hard rock album but not a heavy metal album for the most part. The album has it's metal moments, but mostly it's a hard rock album and at that No Parole From Rock 'N' Roll is one of the unsung heroes in it's class.
Probably the coolest thing about this album is that for once, Yngwie does not seem like an egotistical control freak and actually sounds like he's having a lot of fun working with this band for once. That, and the fact that the guy really does not take charge all the time and when he does take charge you're in for a wild ride. Yngwie's solos are blisteringly fast but highly melodic and have a nice, rocking feel to them all while being technically proficient and classically based just like Yngwie is known for. It only takes one listen to songs like Jet to Jet and Hiroshima Mon Amour to get an idea for what Yngwie's playing is like on this album. He also cranks out some rocking hard rock riffs on No Parole, which is something I didn't know the guy could do but he did it here and did it very well. While hardcore Malmsteen fans may not like that Yngwie doesn't shred from beginning to end, I surely enjoy his performance on this album and think it is one of the best the Stratocaster wielding Swede ever did on a record.
Graham's vocals are pretty awesome, sounding like a tough rock and roll singer with a nice range that has some grit to it but not very much. He has some higher up vocals that sort of go into the falsetto range but these vocals are not too prevalent. He's quite melodic and his vocal patterns are very catchy, standing out in front of everything else in the band and making sure he is known as the frontman of Alcatrazz (and not Yngwie Malmsteen). You can't help but sing along with a guy through a number of the songs. The choruses are very catchy and the verses are sung with incredible prowess. Bonnet is definitely an unsung hero among rock/metal singers and it is a bit of a pity that the guy does not get more recognition
Songwriting is fairly solid, and Bonnet and Malmsteen really are quite a good team when they worked together. Too bad that the two did not continue to write songs together because I bet some real rock anthems could have been wrote if the two had continued to partner up. All the songs are straightforward melodic hard rock but they do very well at what they are. My personal favorite song on the album is Jet to Jet, but Island in the Sun and Too Young To Die Too Drunk To Live are very close seconds. All the songs on the album are enjoyable, though sometimes they can get drawn way out of proportion and get rather pretentious. This is especially prevalent in the song Kree Nakorie, which is the longest and probably worst song on the album. It just drags on for way too long and is way too Malmsteen centric, sort of like a bad prototype of what was to come on Malmsteen's solo efforts. The only other one that really does not need to be there is the boring instrumental track Incubus, but it's not that bad. Otherwise, the songs rate from average to great.
Other then the fact that the songs are drawn out, No Parole From Rock And Roll does have problems that really hamper the album. For thing, other then Bonnett and Malmsteen the musicianship is absolutely mediocre. Bassist Gary Shae just keeps the time with drummer Jan Uvena and does not really do a great job at it. Sure, he never goes out of time but his bass playing is downright simple and only utilizes root notes. There is really nothing else to his bass playing and that is just boring. Sure yeah, I'm not asking for another Steve DiGiorgio but the guy does nothing that really stands out. Jan Uvena is a bit more talented on the drums, always is in time, but he's still nothing special. No real great fills or anything out of the ordinary or even exotic here. Jan just uses some slightly accelerated standard hard rock beats for most of the album that do not show much energy at all and that gets downright boring. Sure, Alcatrazz was not known for being a very technical band so to speak (other then having Yngwie Malmsteen), but it would have helped if the guy at least tried a bit harder to be more skilled and had some energy.
The keyboards are also completely unnecessary and just get in the way of the listening experience. I cannot believe that Jimmy Waldo was allowed to play on this album. In fact, it always surprised me that Alcatrazz even bothered to have a keyboard player anyway. The band would have been much better if they just had Malmsteen and had a more guitar oriented sound. Instead, what you have here is a really messed up sound that his half keyboard oriented, half guitar oriented and the two just seem to clash at each other rather then blending together at all. The songs that are more guitar oriented (like Jet to Jet) are the better ones on the album, and the ones that are more keyboard centric while being average can be annoying at times. The best of the keyboard oriented songs is Island in the Sun, but other then that the others can get annoying even though they are overall rather well crafted.
The mix sort of brings down the album. Yngwie's guitar tone could be a bit fatter and is rather then, as are Jan Uvena's drums which sound sort of like hard pieces of plastic (especially the snare). You can hardly hear Gary Shae's bass other then some small frequencies in between the guitar and drums. Too much attention is given to the keyboards and that was unneeded. However, Graham's vocals are pushed right out in front and are crystal clear. The mastering could have been better and that probably would have helped this album a lot.
Lyrics are kind of lame but I do not really blame them. They're just about partying, love, living your life to the fullest, typical late 70s early 80s stuff. It's alright, nothing I'm really disappointed by. They're kind of fun and it's helped along by the extra catchy song structures. So nothing special to look for in terms of lyrics and you're better looking for later metal material to find more thought provoking lyrics.
For a hard rock/early metal album, you cannot really go wrong with Alcatrazz's No Parole From Rock 'N' Roll. It's a rocking and fun affair for one looking for an album with an old school edge that just plain rocks. Seek it out and give it a run. You will not regret the buy.
I have always been a fan of Graham Bonnet, from his efforts here in Alcatrazz - until their demise (and their resurrection) - right through to his effort in Impellitteri's amazing "Stand in Line", and then to his effort in Japan's heavy metal set of gods, Anthem, and But it's stuff like this, in the early 80s with this ensemble of overlords, Alcatrazz, that really gets my motor running. No innuendo intended.
I have grown a lot out of traditional/80's metal as of late, as I've been moving on into Folk/Viking and a little Progressive/Death metal, but it is ESPECIALLY albums like these - by bands like these - that really help me reflect on the better things about the 80's. The 80's did see a fuck load of good music, with the ratio of awesome music to gay music generously in our favour, but along with Whitesnake's 80's material, Heaven's Gate, Judas Priest and the great "Power Metal" album by Pantera (probably the only good thing they ever did), Alcatrazz brought the world some fucking fan-TAS-tic music out of the 80's.
This album brings more neo-classicism to the table, eliminates any and all cock-rock elements, and keeps the lyrical content as appropriate and original as possible. It has a pretty high amount of balladic compositions, mastered mostly by that oh-so-infamous Yngwie Malmsteen, and spiced melodically and vocally (with a brilliant aura) by the wonderful and awesome Graham Bonnet.
Anyway...It's always amusing to see the seemingly narrow-headed approach to keyboards and synths in this style of music. Even though Alcatrazz managed to escape the one-two-three-four, run-of-the-mill 80's sound that seemed to infect the "original content" in that era, they still were trapped by the lack of different sound effects and keyboard effects that we are lucky enough to not be hindered by these days. But seeing as this sort of adds to the traditional element of it, (and preserves the musical time capsule, which in turn really keeps those simple times alive) it is just fucking cool, really. And this is especially evident in this album.
In regards to the drums, there is obviously yet another evident divorce from the seemingly (at the time) inescapable, default sound that seemed to enslave all chance of revolutionary music existing. The percussion hammers through this album nicely, accentuating the bass in its pre-destined style, and behaving perfectly as the backbone to the best parts of 80s metal.
Yngwie plays the guitar hard and he plays it fast. Most people recognise Yngwie as a total dick, and I have to agree, but damn that crazy Swede can play. The much-needed role of Yngwie in this orgy of Neo-Classical metal and orgasmic vocals, is fulfilled in its entirety. Bringing a sort of modern-day Vivaldi into the picture, Yngwie wields a large variety of musical abilities ranging from blisteringly-fast solos and leads, to slow, tasteful yet intricate solos to the ballads. It is sad that he left Alcatrazz so early (even though he was replaced by an even more insane genius, Steve Vai), but it was destined to be. I don't exactly know why he left, I'll have to look it up after I'm done with this, but I imagine he got fired for being a dick. But like I say, he's one of the many hard reasons that you need to have this album.
On with the vocals:
I-Fucking-Love-Graham-Bonnet. I'm not gay or anything, but if his voice alone was a person, I would be down on my knees sucking its balls. Graham MAY first appear on this record as a low-to-mid ranged vocalist, with his rough voice being quite tenor-like, but no. He is one of those kinds of assholes that can go from extreme lows to extreme highs with almost no effort at all. Unfortunately his true vocal versatility is not expressed in it's entirety on this record. No. It's, sadly, more so on their masterpiece, "Disturbing the Peace", but nonetheless, there is very little lost in the integral basis of this gem. Graham truly is a vocal expert, and seems to be one of the few to be hindered by age or withering...Much like David Coverdale...*grin*
Production-wise, this album wasn't given as MUCH justice as it deserves, but I didn't include this in the points system, as it didn't really seem like a very important factor in comparison to the immense load of musical integrity and perfectly-executed performance.
On the scales, this album is a winner against the earth. If you're a fan of the traditional/80s heavy metal/heavy rock stuff, this is perfect for you. Please, dear fucking Christ, do yourself a favour and get this album. Or else...
When this album was released back in 1984 it didn't leave my turntable (!) for literally weeks. Originally released on Rocshire Records with a major label distribution deal, this was the uniting of Ex-Rainbow & MSG front man Graham Bonnet with the 21 year old guitar whiz Yngwie Malmsteen. That union lasted two albums, this one and a live album.
Yngwie is credited as a co writer on every song. This is interesting because it is without a doubt his most accessible, commercial work over the course of his career.
The songs are all absolute works of art. All are heavy and melodic, with great hooks, interesting topics and lyrics, courtesy of Bonnet. The production is terrific, taking into consideration that this piece of music was recorded 21 years ago, it definitely stands the test of time. The guitar work is unbelievable throughout, especially on Island in the Sun and Jet To Jet, where we are treated to triple-tracked Yngwie. Vocally, this is probably Graham Bonnet's best work of his career. He is much more of a studio singer as opposed to live. Here, he sings every note, all melodies, harmonies and choirs. While he sometimes sacrifices emotion for sheer vocal power, there can be no doubt he is fantastic throughout these recordings.
While literally every song on this album is very good, stellar standout cuts include Kree Nakoorie, General Hospital, Big Foot and Starcarr Lane.
This is a magical record, and definitely one of the supreme highlights of the great 1980's metal movement which ruled the music world.
Ah yes, Alcatrazz; personally, I'm surprised that no one has reviewed any of their albums before my submission of this one. This band was supposed to be a vehicle to show off former Rainbow vocalist Graham Bonnet's amazing, one-of-a kind voice, but the band just never took off like it was supposed to. Recruiting the then young Swedish guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen to do all the guitars plus some of the songwriting was an excellent move, but unfortunately old Yngwie moved on to a successful, legendary solo career after cutting Alcatrazz's debut album, forcing the band to recruit another guitar legend, Steve Vai. Maybe the techniques and songwriting of the two guitarists were too different for Alcatrazz to build a loyal following, who knows (actually, Vai only stuck around for one album as well, with some guitarist named Danny Johnson replacing him for Alcatrazz's third and final album, Dangerous Games). I was only a year old when No Parole From Rock 'N' Roll was released anyway, so don't look at me for answers; I'm just here to review the album.
As a metal band, Alcatrazz is definitely on the lighter side of the spectrum; lots of rock 'n' roll-ish keyboard work is present from Jimmy Waldo (who also helped a little bit with some of the songwriting), straight ahead, solid but not-too-complex drumming from Jan Uvena, and the basswork is handled by Gary Shea, who does a good job of providing a backbone to the songs. Of course, Graham Bonnet's trademark vocals are ever present and Yngwie has some blistering solos on here. Bonnet's voice is very hard to describe, combining a very powerful yell with some soothing upper range vocals that must be heard to be appreciated. His voice is just so unique, and many metal vocalists today have obviously been influenced by him; for instance, I sometimes hear quite a bit of Bonnet in such singers as Russell Allen from Symphony X and Harry Conklin of Jag Panzer.
The album kicks off with the single "Island in the Sun", which is a fairly straight ahead mid-tempo rocker, but it achieves classic status behind the amazing vocals of Bonnet and the flashy guitar work of Malmsteen. When Bonnet sings "On an island in the sun/Cool Pacific winds blow....." with the soft backing vocals of "Sail away now....." you can almost imagine being transported to the same island in the video for the song (if anyone's ever seen it). This excellent tune is followed by another, "General Hospital". I love the contrast in Bonnet's vocals in the bridge versus the chorus as he switches characters. The soothing bridge is Bonnet acting as a hospital worker trying convince the restless patient to take his medicine and relax; the chorus is Bonnet acting as the resisting patient, trying to convince the nurse to get the hell away from him. Great stuff. Again, more excellent soloing from Malmsteen; the riffs on the album as a whole are more simplistic compared to the riffage in Malmsteen's solo works, but he is completely unleashed when it comes time for the solos. "Jet to Jet" starts off with a faster, more frantic riff than anything found in the two previous songs, with the keyboard providing some melody as the bass and drums pound away a nice, fast rhythm. Right before the solo, Malmsteen plays some very, very nice neoclassical leads that come out of nowhere yet fit in perfectly. Overall, this is another excellent song. Things slow down a little for the next song, "Hiroshima Mon Amour", with subject matter revolving around the bombing of Hiroshima during World War II. The song starts out sounding like it's going to be a soft, slow ballad, with some Malmsteen leads thrown over the top of some soft acoustic guitar and keyboards, but then things build up nicely with the guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums constructing a nice, crunchy rhythm. This certainly isn't a ballad, this is another mid-paced in-your-face rocker. Another gem, with Bonnet turning in another very impressive vocal performance. The soft, soothing intro is repeated again as Malmsteen begins his solo, but then the crunchy main rhythm of the song kicks in again as Malmsteen works away on the fretboard. There is also a small keyboard solo thrown in for the hell of it. Some weird keyboard effects serve as the intro to "Kree Nakoorie", which builds into a very weird, slower paced, Middle-Eastern sounding verse. This may be Bonnet's best work on the album, as his vocals contribute some Middle-Eastern melodies to the song, which must be heard to be believed. Malmsteen also provides some excellent melodies that directly complement Bonnet's vocals and a very strange mood is definitely acheived through all of this. "Kree Nakoorie" is kind of an odd song compared to the rest, but it is clearly one of the best cuts on the album.
The next track is a very short, minute-and-a-half instrumental written solely by Malmsteen called "Incubus". It starts off as just an acoustic guitar playing a very classical sounding riff, with an electric guitar, bass, and drums kicking in and taking over, providing some more of the same classical-influenced music. This song kind of acts as a dividing line, because the second half of the album is not quite as strong as the first half ---- still good music, but not up to the high quality of the first five tracks. "Too Young To Die, Too Drunk To Live" is a bit faster than "Island in the Sun" or "Hiroshima Mon Amour", but Bonnet's vocals just aren't as powerful as they could be and the song just isn't as interesting as the first half of the album, although Malmsteen does provide some very nice leads in the middle of the song. "Big Foot" is an interesting tune actually about the legend of Big Foot; I love the intro riff and the slow steady rhythm of the song, but again Bonnet's vocals lack a lot of the power he is capable of and they even sound slightly off-key or something. Next up is "Starcarr Lane", which is an improvement over the two previous songs. Bonnet's trademark power is back, and Malmsteen starts the song off with some great riffs and leads. This is another great song, featuring great instrumental performances throughout its entirety and another excellent vocal performance from Bonnet, especially during the chorus. The album closer is "Suffer Me", which ends the album with a whimper instead of a bang. This serves as the ballad of the album, and while Bonnet pours a lot of emotion and feeling into his vocals, the song otherwise does very little to hold my interest. I just find the music boring and uninspired, and even a trademark Malmsteen solo isn't enough to save it.
Overall, this is a great album which I fully recommend to Graham Bonnet and Yngwie Malmsteen fans. This album kind of straddles the line between traditional rock 'n' roll and heavy metal, but it's great music regardless of its classification. There isn't much neoclassical influence on the album (there are a few spots here and there in Malmsteen's playing, but they hardly dominate any part of the album), so Malmsteen fans should expect something a little bit different from the legendary guitarist. Flashy, lightning fast solos are available in abundance though, that's for sure. Unfortunately, this album has been out of print for quite a long time in America, so your best bet is to find a Japanese import CD, which can be probably be found in speciality record shops or through Internet sites like eBay. It's a bit pricey (I bought mine in a store to the tune of about $26), but it should be well worth it to Alcatrazz fans.