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Bonnet + Malmsteen = One damn good album - 81%

jerkov, January 7th, 2004

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.