On the face of it, this new studio set from Alcatrazz represents the band’s emergence from 34 years in cold storage. But even if they haven’t managed to record a studio album since 1986, Born Innocent comes after numerous partial reincarnations of the band since vocalist Graham Bonnet first reactivated the name in 2006 for a Far East tour.
The man whose lack of long hair once marked him out as a controversial choice as Rainbow’s frontman is now 72 years old. But, better late than never, he has managed to recreate Alcatrazz’s powerful live sound on record, free of the soft-focus 80s sheen that rather dampened the radio-courting melodic hard rock they touted back then.
In fact much of Born Innocent is very metal indeed, albeit with Bonnet’s curious lyrical themes lending the sound a refreshingly idiosyncratic edge. Polar Bear is driven by an Iron Maiden-esque gallop, with twin-guitar flourishes, symphonic harmonies and synth washes peaking over pummelling double bass-drum volleys, while we hear the story of an old Inuit man going off into the wilderness to sit and wait for death’s icy grip to take hold, at which point the titular animal will ‘take him to where he’ll be born again’.
Next up, London 1666 benefits from the same blend of thundering power metal and tall tale, as a winningly gnarly riff is spiked with squally licks while Bonnet urges us to ‘take what you can and flee from the flames’ amid the panic of London’s great fire. Well, it beats just writing about trying to get off with girls.
This being the band that once included (separately) young guitar hopefuls Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai, they seem to be aware that some potent displays of guitar wizardry will be expected, so they’ve invited a number of notable fret-frazzlers to contribute at various junctures.
Thus Japanese ace Nozumu Wakai sprays molten metal over Finn McCool, a song written around an Irish Warrior myth, the late Bob Kulick lays skilful licks across his composition I Am The King, and Annihilator’s Jeff Waters shreds manically on the furious anti-royalist tirade Paper Flags.
Tight riffs and breathless energy also characterise the Vai-penned Dirty Like The City, although Alcatrazz’s best-known alumnus doesn’t actually appear on the record. All told, this is a record that exudes a frankly indecent amount of vim, vigour and sharp songwriting from men far too old to know better. Born Innocent, then, but determined to die with their boots on.