The Phoenix rising from the ashes or (flames) is an allegory often used to symbolise rebirth. The original story of the Phoenix tells us of a mythical, fantastical bird, large as an eagle with scarlet and gold plumage and a melodious cry. Making its home near a cool well, it would appear every day at dawn, singing a song so beautiful it would make the sun god, Apollo, stop and listen. Only one Phoenix existed at a time and, general consensus has it, would live for around 1000 years before building a pyre nest and being consumed in flames. After 3 days the rebirth would occur with some sources having the Phoenix arising from the ashes (or flames depending where you read it). Whether or not such a fantastically scarlet and gold feathered, light-reflecting, spontaneously-combustive, immortal creature ever realistically existed is not today’s issue, I am just using it to set the scene, okay?
U.S. hard rock band, Alter Bridge, could be said to have risen from the ashes of the mega successful Creed (see where I’m going now with the Phoenix thing?), formed in 2004 from the ashes of a now defunct Creed (due to a terminal falling out with Creed frontman Scott Stapp) by ex Creed guitarist, Mark Tremonti. The band consists of Tremonti (guitar & backing vocals) and fellow former Creed members Brian Marshall (bass) and Scott Phillips (drums and percussion). They invited former Mayfield Four frontman, Myles Kennedy (lead vocals & rhythm guitar) to join them in the band and the line-up was complete. Alter Bridge took their name from an actual bridge close to Tremonti’s home on Alter Road in Detroit and released their debut album, One Day remains, to mixed reviews in 2004. They followed this up with their sophomore release, Blackbird, in 2007. This album was released to much critical acclaim and, to this author at least, it remains one of the best hard rock albums around and includes the title track which contins a suitably epic solo that is regularly voted as one of the best of all time. Alter Bridge’s third album, ABIII, was released in 2010 and followed up by a lengthy touring schedule. In my opinion, whilst containing some of the band’s best work, as a whole, it just fails to come up to the standards of Blackbird. So this month sees the release of the band’s fourth studio album, Fortress and, I for one, was extremely excited to see if Alter Bridge could build on the success they have had so far and produce something that exceeds even Blackbird in its brilliance. By the way, did I say I am a massive fan of this band so I am going to try and be as completely objective as possible, putting aside my overwhelming love of prog, hard rock is a favourite of mine and Alter Bridge do it so well.
Since the release of ABIII all the band members have tackled differing projects. Whilst the instrumentalists of the band reformed Creed with Scott Stapp, Myles Kennedy renewed his association with Slash and released Apocalyptic Love in 2012. Mark Tremonti released his solo album, All I Was, in 2012 and Scott Philips was a member of hard rock super group, Human. January 2013 saw them enter the studio to begin writing and recording Fortress. Being a sucker for a good album cover, I was already excited before hearing the album for the first time, after numerous listens I feel ready to compose my thoughts and review the album. I guess you’ll already know what my first impressions were but I duly removed my fanboi cape and got down to the business at hand, listening to the album copious times to winkle out every nook and cranny, every nuance and complexity of Alter Bridge’s latest work and, summarily, we have arrived at this point, let the review begin!
Album opener Cry of Achilles begins with a gentle, acoustic, almost classical guitar intro before the shackles are off and we hit top gear, a great, powerful riff kicking in, the unmistakable sound of Myles’ voice comes in low key. This is classic Alter Bridge, a brilliant chorus with Kennedy’s voice soaring high, the classy guitar underpinning it all, a slight interlude building up ready to explode into one serious mother of a solo. This album has hit the ground running with an epic opening track, another fine solo firing us to the end of the song. Addicted To Pain was the first single released from the album and holds true to Tremonti stating that Fortress would be a album of high energy music, a crunching, seriously heavy intro is followed by an insistent riff that flies along at a hectic pace, another quality chorus fitting in neatly, this seems heavier than previous Alter Bridge releases but still has a serious melody. A crashing, heavy interlude is followed by a down and dirty solo, one of those that makes you sad you never learned to play the guitar, know what I mean? That strong chorus repeated before a thunderous ending to one serious monster of a song. Pounding drums and staccato guitar herald Bleed It Dry, followed by a heavy, swaying riff. The unique vocals of Myles Kennedy taking on a serious rock god vibe, another hint at a heavier direction for Alter Bridge and one they pull off with aplomb. Everything winds right back with an almost acoustic interlude and gentle vocals before another epic solo, this one seriously bluesy and laid back before soaring into the heights like that eponymous Phoenix rising from the flames. The heavier edge returns with a repetitive hit of the chorus before bombastic guitar thunders into the stops at the end of the track. A slow, strumming guitar leads us gently into Lover, low key vocals follow with a small slice of very bluesy guitar. The vocals lift us higher as the guitar crashes into the song. The ever exceptional vocal talent of Myles Kennedy is spectacularly evident here on this seriously excellent track, one that could become a hard rock anthem. Everything is pared back again to the delight of the opening before the vocals and guitar power in again, such a catchy chorus, powerful but emotional, you are seriously getting the idea that Alter Bridge have reached another level with this release, an epic track. Now, back to the heavier vibe, Uninvited slams into being with a industrial riff that leaches into a staccato, backgound, guitar over which another strong vocal holds your attention. The industrial vibe carries on throughout the song, short bursts of guitar covered by a heavy vocal sound, backed by the badass drumming. It all synchronises well with the feel of the track that barrels along at a reckless pace before a sudden ending. Peace is Broken has that great mix of heavier, staccato guitar and thunderous drums paired with the fantastic voice of Myles, no more apparent than in the soaring chorus. The song flies as though shot from a gun, fat paced but musically excellent. A short interlude builds through both the guitar and a strong vocal to the end of the track and another brilliant solo.
The delightfully low key opening to Calm The Fire and the soaring vocal that builds alongside the great guitar blends into a brilliant guitar run that then underlay the vocals. A strong but more laid back riff underpins a serious classic rock vibe. Another fast paced song, yet it leaves the heaviness of some of the previous songs on the shelf and wears it’s more mainstream colours with pride. I ask the question, is there a better or more unmistakable voice in rock today, another stellar vocal performance key to the brilliance of this track, more than ably backed up by Kennedy’s fellow musicians. A nice, mellow guitar introduces us to Waters Rising, overlaid by similarly low key vocals before the kick to the solar plexus hits you with another dynamic riff, the two distinct styles alternate throughout the song, a cool, echoing guitar counter pointed with Kennedy’s mellower vocal before the dominant, epic guitar and stronger vocals take over, a great chorus once again. The high energy, heavier vibe of this release once more apparent as another inspiring solo cuts in before the track rocks out once again. A crashing cymbal and incessant drum beat followed by a hard hitting riff kick in Cry a River. We fly through to another seriously melodic chorus, the fast pace seriously addictive, you just go with the flow of this grandiose and powerful track. Some sweet guitar underlays the rapid beat of the drums before that guitar soars off into a seriously bluesy solo, remember, rock n’ roll ain’t noise pollution. Possibly the heaviest, unrelenting riff of the album greets you to usher in Farther Than the Sun, an epic metal guitar sound hitting you in the gut but always petered out by one of those well thought out and anthemic choruses. A rhapsodic drum beat flows into the most powerful solo on the album yet, seriously ballsy. The chorus is sung out again as the track comes to a compelling conclusion. We now reach the penultimate track, All Ends Well and we are presented with a great hard rock ballad, it is a really forceful anthem, the vocals reaching out soulful and emotional. This is standard territory for Alter Bridge but a territory they inhabit with increasing aplomb and brilliance, producing almost a ‘lighters out’ moment. Seriously skilled musicians playing with a heart and soul not always heard on a lot of modern rock music, trust me, you will find yourself singing along to this song. The passion and emotion are worn on the sleeve throughout this great song and it has a suitably strong ending. The album finishes with the title track, Fortress, and, I for one, am expecting great things from this song as it brings inevitable comparison with the epic Blackbird. A nice acoustic intro is overlaid by a great bluesy guitar and low, emotional vocals, everything is looking good so far, a hard and heavy riff and strong vocal lift the track up to the chorus but it never loses that fantastic pared back feeling emphasised by soulful vocals. When finally un-caged, it is a hard edged, bluesy song with seriously heavy undertones. I have to be honest, I love this song even before the power riffing of the interlude evolves into just the best solo you have heard this year, words fail me (surprising I know!) to describe just how good this song is. Someone hauls hard on the breaks and a superbly slowed down but suitably bombastic break in the incessant pace is delivered. Not for long though, power riffing and huge vocals break the reverie before a classy ending to this monster track.
What a superb, stunning and brilliant follow up to ABIII. This album is so impressive I found it hard to extract my fanboi persona from myself whilst constructing this review but do feel I have been objective whilst reviewing it, please have a listen and make your up your own mind. It is, in my opinion, the hard rock/metal album of the year by a long shot and is up there in my top 5 of any genre. To my ears, Fortress lays the monkey of Blackbird to rest once and for all. It is most definitely Alter Bridge’s best album to date. In fact, stop reading this review and go and buy it will you!!!