thats exactly what I was hoping to hear. I know that some shades of Natty CXL are darker than others from the beginning, so I was just wondering if your boots just happened to start out exceptionally dark.
I think the speed hooks make my Alden boots look like boots. It gives them a more casual/tough feel that can be covered up when you want to dress them up a bit. For me, the speed hooks do what they are intended to do and speed up the process of putting the boot on and lacing it up.
My all-time favorite alden that I have seen in person is a whiskey wingtip bal (not sure what last it's on). It is an amazingly beautiful shoe that blows anything else I've seen in person out of the water (should note that I live nowhere near an Alden store and I only know one guy other than myself that owns any pair of Alden's, so the only pairs of Alden's I've seen IRL are my one pair and his numerous pairs).