Alcatrazz – “Breaking The Heart Of The City: The Very Best Of Alcatrazz 1983-1986” (2017) review
Alcatrazz – Breaking The Heart Of The City: The Very Best Of Alcatrazz 1983-1986 (HNE Records, 2017)
A heavy metal band formed in Los Angeles in 1983 Alcatrazz is a perfect example of a band that was perhaps too good to make a big name for itself. Formed originally by ex-Rainbow vocalist Graham Bonnet, Swedish guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen, former New England bassist Gary Shea and keyboardist Jimmy Waldo, and ex-Iron Maiden drummer Clive Burr, who was quickly replaced by former Iron Butterly and Alice Cooper drummer Jan Uvenna, Alcatrazz recorded three studio albums, each with a different superstar guitarist, and one live album, between 1983 and 1986. Despite having incredible players Malmsteen, Steve Vai and Danny Johnson on lead guitar, Alcatrazz never achieved commercial success. They did, however, leave an amazing musical legacy, as evidenced by this new three CD set released by Cherry Red Records, UK, on their HNE Recordings Ltd. imprint.
Disc one is devoted to the Malmsteen years, and includes seven tracks from the band’s debut 1983 LP “No Parole From Rock ‘N’ Roll” along with six tracks from 1984’s “Live Sentence.” The disc is filled out with three demos from “No Parole” and a tune recorded as part of Malmsteen’s audition. The first track on the disc is probably Alcatrazz’s best known tune “Island In The Sun” which, like most of the debut LP was written by Bonnet and Malmsteen, and got lots of exposure as a video on MTV, and features amazing guitar work by Malmsteen, including one of his finest solos. All seven of the tunes from “No Parole” are memorable, mostly because of Malmstten’s guitar, including “Hiroshima Mon Amour” which became the band’s second video and was especially popular in Japan, where the band enjoyed a huge following throughout its lifespan. Also memorable is the six minute tour de force “Kree Nakoorie” filled with yet more amazing guitar work from Malmsteen. Like the studio album, “Live Sentence” features Malmsteen front and center. Especially memorable are the five and a half minute “Desert Song” and “Evil Eye” with its intro reminiscent of Love Sculpture’s “Land Of The Few.” Three incredible instrumental demos from “No Parole” showcase Malmsteen’s guitar virtuosity, “General Hospital,” “Incubus” and “Big Foot.” The disc closes with “S.O.S.” one of the tunes Malmsteen performed while auditioning for the band.
Disc two opens with seven tracks from 1985’s “Disturbing The Peace” featuring Malmsteen’s replacement on lead guitar, Steve Vai. Best known of these tunes is “God Blessed Video” with Vai’s guitar front and center. The second studio LP was produced by Eddie Kramer, best known for his work with Jimi Hendrix. Compared to Alcatrazz’s debut studio offering, “Disturbing The Peace” is more of a mixture of heavy metal and more restrained numbers such as “Will You Be Home Tonight” and “Desert Diamond” which feature larger roles by keyboardist Jimmy Waldo. Alcatrazz’s third and final studio album, released in 1986, “Dangerous Games” featured Danny Johnson on lead guitar, Vai having departed to join David Lee Roth’s band. As with its predecessor, “Dangerous Games” is a pleasant mixture of heavy metal and mellower, more restrained tunes. “Its My Life” is a showcase for Johnson and his fiery metal guitar as is “Witchwood.” These tunes are interspersed with lighter numbers such as “Undercover” and “Night Of The Shooting Star.” The LP includes more accessible, commercial takes such as “Blue Boar” with its Who like introduction and the album’s title track. Disc two is rounded out by the inclusion of six demos featuring Vai, two recorded live, “Set Me Free” a cover of The Kinks’ classic and the heavy “No Imagination” and four instrumentals, three showcasing Vai’s guitar virtuousity, “Blue Boar,” “Double Man” and “Rider” as well as the short, one minute aptly titled “Jimmy Wildo Instrumental” with the keyboardist at the fore.
Disc three is probably the most interesting part of this set, consisting of twelve previously unreleased tracks, recorded during the Malmsteen years. Among them are two takes of the heavy, guitar driven “Incubus” and no less than three takes on the extended number “Knee Nakoorie” which found its way onto the debut LP. Another especially interesting track is “Too Young To Die, Too Drunk To Live” which was also included on “No Parole For Rock ‘N’ Roll.” The rehearsals give wonderful insight as to how the band built its songs and will be appreciated by fans of Alcatrazz and Malmsteen alike. It is this disc which sets this set apart from previous Alcatrazz compilations and is greatly appreciated by this reviewer.
“Breaking The Heart Of The City: The Very Best Of Alcatrazz 1983-1986” is rounded out by a 16-page full color booklet, including an essay by Malcolm Dome, as well as interviews with band members Graham Bonnet, Jimmy Waldo and Gary Shea, as well as many gorgeous photos. The set sounds great thanks to the fine mastering job by Andy Pearce. Housed in a handsome clam shell box, this set will certainly be appreciated by fans of Alcatrazz, Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai and Danny Johnson, as well as heavy metal lovers in general. Many, many thanks to Cherry Red Records, UK for yet another impressive anthology.
– Kevin Rathert
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