By Craig Haze
LA based metal revisionists White Wizzard come storming back on their new album, Flying Tigers. A big step up from 2010’s Over The Top, the band’s new release confirms that their adoration for NWOBHM and hard-edged 80s metal hasn’t diminished one iota. It also shows a dramatic improvement in composition and songwriting, with the second half of the album stacked with dynamic progressive passages—adding some maturity and gravitas to their formerly good-times aesthetic.
Flying Tigers opens with a couple of scorchers: “Fight to the Death”, with its rebel-rousing individualistic themes of yore, and “West L.A. Nights”, which celebrates the hedonistic promise of the band’s hometown. Both tracks incorporate plenty of early 80s NWOBHM riffing along with the anthemic melodiousness of LA metal from the same era. Big guitars with great propulsive riffs, thumping drums, the ever-present throbbing bass-lines and Wyatt Anderson’s superb wailing vocals are all captured in their rough-hued glory. The album has a crisp early 80s polish, so you get all the instrumental prowess—the shredding rapid-fire licks and backline interplay—without the vocals being clipped. And although you sacrifice a little heftiness to capture all that interaction, Flying Tigers still sounds decidedly punchy.
The great big arena-worthy power-ballad “Starchild” arrives next, and it’s an absolute gem, with soaring heartfelt vocals and solos combining to ensure its lighter-waving status. “Flying Tigers” bursts in with a flourish of galloping guitars and a corpulent bass-line, before dedicating itself to some grand interweaving solo and bass work that’d make Maiden damn proud. “Night Train to Tokyo” and “Night Stalker” follow on, both full of the parries and thrusts of NWOBHM aggression mixed with more harmonious tempo changes set against the back and forth roll of sparkling riffs and solos.
As great as those first few tunes are, it’s at the midway point in the album (if I were listening to an LP I’d be flipping sides right about now—nice sequencing lads!) that things begin to get real interesting. The remaining six tracks, beginning with the momentous “Fall of Atlantis”, are laid out as an epic progressive suite with interlinking mystical and extraterrestrial themes. Obviously that’s an ambitious endeavor for a band known more for their fist-pumping anthems (there’s always the pressure to match fans’ expectations by coming up with more of the same) but what could easily have been an overconfident misstep actually hangs together exceptionally well.
Exuding a more power metal vision on the progressive pieces, the band power through the highly evocative “Blood on the Pyramids” before hitting their stride on “Demons and Diamonds”. With shifting vibrant passages and undulating moods, the nine-minute track shows a real depth of musicality and arrangement prowess. There’s a brief, jazzy, Rush-like jam on “Dark Alien Overture” and a menacing celestial romp on “War of the Worlds”. The album ends with the rousing anthem of “Starman’s Son”, with its delicate acoustic intro and stirring finish highlighting a band making full use of their newfound confidence and sonic capabilities.
White Wizzard have been criticized in the past for being stuck in a retroactive loop and although Flying Tigers isn’t a huge stylistic shift, it is chock full of new ideas. Stacking the front half with some damn fine rollicking metal tunes only accentuates the swerve the band take to produce a more inventive collection of tunes on the second half. It shows real promise for their future direction (should they decide to go that way—but clearly there’s a huge 80s concept album just waiting to be made). White Wizzard have had a bumpy ride so far, with band members changing regularly, but I hope they can stick together from now on because if Flying Tigers is evidence of anything, it’s that the band are easily capable of producing infinitely more complex material while retaining that traditional 80s sheen that makes them so compelling in the first place.