To clear any confusion now, I am a huge Alter Bridge fan. Growing up listening to them, they have been one of my greatest influences and I have loved every released record that the Florida metal band have graced the public with so far. When you mix together the “vocalist of the year” Myles Kennedy 3 years running and the ‘Best Guitarist of 2015’ Mark Tremonti as voted for in the 4th and 5th Loudwire Annual Music Awards respectively, you know that you have the potential to create something special. So, like many fans I have been eagerly awaiting the release of their fifth studio album ‘The Last Hero’. And with three years between their last album ‘Fortress’ and the new release. The wait has most certainly been worth it.
It’s always great when you see a magazine you read frequently gush over one of your favourite artists. In fact, Rock Revolt Magazine go as far as to say “Your next Iron Maiden or Metallica is here; it’s Alter Bridge” now that is a bold statement if I have ever seen one, but I get entirely where the writer is coming from. Those two bands mentioned were some of the greatest in their respective times of entry, and they are still well with us today, releasing great music as usual. And that’s the same with Alter Bridge. As the magazine says, “We have one of the greatest bands of the 2000’s right here in front of us”. I do not know many other bands that put this much quality into their own work, ensuring each entry is better than the last, they’ve beaten the curse of fans complaining that “they don’t sound like the old Alter Bridge” as they always are evolving for the better of everyone.
Sitting down for my first listen I was not sure what to expect. Hearing a few of the singles released previous to the full album, they appeared to be rather hit and miss and gave the impression that this album may be pushing for a more radio friendly, cheesy rock vibe. Especially with the Major key anthem ‘My Champion’ with it’s uplifting style and cliché chorus line “you’ve gotta keep fighting and get back up again”. Was nearly sick in my mouth hearing that. It really did worry me, had the Alter Bridge I have learned to love left me with a 10 track money grabbing mainstream record?
However on release my doubts were silenced within the first three tracks. The album opens with “Show Me A Leader”. Tremonti debuts his 7 string guitar with Alter Bridge on this track, starting it off with a spanish influenced clean intro, and then out of nowhere he punches you in the face with the heaviest sound the band has had to date, all dials turn up to 11, the chords come in with a second guitar soaring over, you feel every hit of the drums, every note on the bass, and before you have time to pick your dismantled jaw off of the floor, Myles’ first solo of the album is already upon you, and my lord is it beautiful, it gives off a sense of despair in these dark times setting the tone for the rest of the album right away. The song doesn’t let up from this point until the 1:40 mark, where we hear Myles’ vocals for the first time in three years and, like a fine wine he has indeed improved with age. His clear voice cuts ever so smoothly through the drop tuned guitars and manic drums providing that sense of hope that the album tries to convey. His sustain in the chorus lines are incredible along with the harmonies provided by lead guitarist Tremonti. This is the first album where Myles Kennedy has actually planned out his guitar solos beforehand, where originally he started off solos with improvisation, and once I heard his solo to close out ‘Show Me A Leader”, you can see that he’s done his homework, it fits perfectly into the song with seemingly no effort to it.
You have to give credit to producer Michael “Elvis” Baskette, who has worked with Alter Bridge on their last 3 albums and also has produced the latest albums by Slash and Trivium. He has created a masterpiece here especially with the mixing, everything is clear and fits together with no complaints. He is able to bring order to the chaos of the music, shaping it all together into an experience. You can sense every beat throughout the album, every kick drum is like a punch in the gut, every note on the guitar is a slap in the face, and when it all comes together in choruses it’s a full on body slam to the ground, rattling your organs, but in the good way. Metalwani hit on this as, in their review they say “Alter Bridge know how to balance their dynamics”. I think this is half thanks to the skill of the musicians themselves, with them knowing exactly how best to play to help form the perfect mix, but without Michael Baskette behind the mixing desk, they wouldn’t have been able to create such a great dynamically sounding album.
The next few tracks keep up this pace, becoming darker as we go on into “The Writing On The Wall” Myles’ sustained shout at the beginning is unbelievable, his haunting vocals really shine on this track. Over the disgustingly heavy guitars and bell chimes, he hits some notes that truly send a shiver down your spine, listen out for the way he sings the last words out on each chorus line. You can really feel the anger within Kennedy as he cries out against those who deny the science of climate change and global warming. It really adds more to the track, with him truly releasing this aggression and emotion more so than I have heard on an Alter Bridge song previously. In fact the last I heard him this pissed off in a song was about elephant poachers in his collaboration project with Slash in the track ‘Beneath The Savage Sun’; well worth a listen if you haven’t already. With ‘The Writing…’ they truly show that they’re not letting this political drive bring down the quality of songwriting that they have established over their 12 years of music, and it certainly hasn’t impacted their sound. If anything, it’s enhancing how they can convey more dark emotions into their music, and seeing them live in Leeds last year, you can tell that they’re fueled by this anger. After countless listens my stomach still churns throughout this track. This is followed by “The Other Side” which gives you that last beat down before we come down to he much more uplifting “My Champion”
This is where I believed the album might drop in quality, having heard the single on it’s own before, I didn’t enjoy it then, surely I won’t enjoy it now, but now it’s placed just after 15 minutes of face-melting metal, it acts as a very welcome bit of respite. The previous three tracks had left me lying on the floor in a pool of my own sweat, but ‘My Champion’ caused me to “Get back up again”. Every album before ‘The Last Hero’ always has it’s more pop influenced radio hit. But they definitely hit the nail on the head with this one, if anything, it’s just too catchy, and it’s always good to hear more of the band on Radio 1 on a gloomy Wednesday at 2pm Still, the lyrics may drone on slightly, but it’s a welcome reprise. I especially love the way Stereoboard put it “a Queen-esque classic rock diamond that’s tailor made to underscore slow motion sports montages”. Although the reviewer doesn’t touch on whether he enjoys the track or not. A little more detail could’ve gone here as I’m still wondering whether it’s any good or not from that. They make it sound nothing like Alter Bridge with that description, I’m just happy I heard the song before reading that.
The first half of the album’s track list closes with ‘Poison In your Veins’ and ‘Cradle To The Grave’, bringing you right back up to the heavy, borderline thrash style set in the beginning, and the album continues marching forward. No matter how brilliant the previous songs are though, nothing comes close to how the album finished. In glorious fashion, the last two tracks ‘Island Of Fools’ followed by the title track ‘The Last Hero’ are probably the best and most satisfying end to a hard rock/metal album I’ve heard. The band take all the momentum they’ve built up over the last 11 tracks and let it loose upon you. It’s clear how Tremonti has brought across his metal influences and a change in style from his solo project onto these songs. Bringing to the forefront his chugging drop tuned crazy riffs and harmonic bends. The harmonies between the pair are unrivaled on this track, with Tremonti’s clean vocals slicing their way through the mix to match Kennedy’s vocal prowess. A worthy part to listen for is the killer riff used for ‘Island Of Fools’. I’ve never heard anything so disgusting in all my life of listening to Alter Bridge.
If you say that the opener ‘Show Me A Leader’ lays down the gauntlet, then the title track ‘The Last Hero’ takes up that challenge and serves up an undeniable masterpiece. The track itself clocks up at just under 7 minutes and they use every second of it to really prove their point with the album, that they’re not messing about and want everyone else to get their shit together. There isn’t a moment where it dies down with this track, it continuously builds itself up, rolling through, showing us the highest showcase of the full band’s talents. The bass and drums really deserve credit on this track, without their stellar playing this whole song would become a tangled mess as there is just too much going on at once to comprehend on a single listen alone, but that’s not a bad thing, even now, each listen feels fresh and I notice something new hidden away. Myles Kennedy himself takes the first solo and it is the most technical he’s every performed, “Myles ahead” (sorry) of anything else I’ve heard from him, I had to see it live to believe it was him and they hadn’t brought Slash in for a guest appearance. After a more somber bridge and final chorus, we are treated with Mark’s final remarkable solo, and the song ends with the intro riff with vocals sung over, harking back to the previous album’s ‘Cry of Achilles’. On this track, drummer Scott Phillips’ triple pedal kick at about the 3 minute mark matching up with Myles’ wailing is definitely worth mentioning, showing that the rhythm players need some love too
To say that The Guardian is a large source of news that many people trust and read frequently, you think they would do their research when it comes to their music journalism, first of all, in their review of ‘The Last Hero’ they don’t even manage to get the number of the album right, claiming it as their sixth album when it is their fifth. Not a good start really. They keep making the repeated point that the band are “Arena-metal tryhards”, purposefully trying to overwhelm you with their music. This is something I disagree with to a high extent, there is many songs as I have said that release you for some time, such as ‘My Champion’ and ‘Twilight’, giving you a well deserved rest before throwing you in at the deep end. But that’s what many love about Alter Bridge, how they can hit you with everything and the kitchen sink one song, then sing you softly to sleep with the next. And they are hardly trying too hard when they already have the potential to sell out arenas. Seems like someone had a quota to fill in very short time
At a risk of sounding like a full on fanboy, which I’m pretty sure I’ve already done, there are some negatives of the album that stand out quite a bit, especially the order of the tracks, and even a few songs themselves specifically in the second half. Now as I have said, the last 2 songs are fantastic, and being the best two on the album, it’s great that they are there to finish off the icing on the cake. Additionally, the opening few really set the tone too, it’s like a statement from them saying “We are Alter Bridge and we’re not f**king about” but the turning point is after the 6th track ‘Cradle To The Grave’. The album just seems to lose it’s focus a little bit, the songs begin to blend to a point of which they become hard to distinguish from one another. As much as I adore the song ‘You Will Be Remembered’ for its “tribute to heroes” as Myles says himself, and how it’s for those who have put their lives on the line for others. It sounds pretty similar to the few songs before it. Especially the way he uses his voice to sing the chorus lines. As much of a good singer Myles Kennedy is, he can sometimes sound rather nasally, and those tracks highlight how it sounds when this happens, which sort of takes you out of the feel that the previous tracks have set.
Another more personal peeve of mine is how on earth the bonus track ‘Last Of Our Kind’ did not make it onto the standard album. It is included in the deluxe edition, but if you have not had the chance to hear it then I highly recommend you give it a go immediately. It suits the style and themes of the album much more than some of the tracks such as ‘Poison In Your Veins’ with it’s tad too light chorus, or ‘Twilight’ which is attempting to be another upbeat anthem, but seems to have been slapped into the final three tracks without much thought. Loudwire in their review say “Cutting a song or two may have been beneficial” due to the duration of the album. I agree with this to an extent. Yeah, cutting a few songs may have helped with the album, such as the tracks that feel to me as filler such as ‘Twilight’, but surely, if you’re a fan paying for your favourite band’s new release you will want it to last as long as possible. I would most certainly not complain if this album was 2 hours long yet kept the same quality.
In Tremonti’s words, “Every time we do a record, my only goal is for people to simply think it’s better than the previous one” and I think he’s hit the nail on the head here and with this album. Overall, I believe it’s the group’s best work to date, just tipping their previous entry ‘Fortress’. It has all the best parts of the previous releases all tightened up into a neat package, the feel good radio hits from ‘One Day Remains’, the ambitious evolution of the sound they achieved in ‘Blackbird’, the dark tones and edge from ‘ABIII’ and finally the chaos that came from ‘Fortress’. And it all blends so brilliantly. I highly anticipate how they attempt to top this effort with their next release, but only time will tell. One thing’s for sure though, Alter Bridge, with this record, you will certainly be remembered as my champions.