Mark Tremonti, best known as the guitarist and primary song-writer for Alter Bridge, released his second solo album Cauterize this month. It follows his debut solo effort All I Was, which came out in 2012 to reasonable acclaim. His solo music contains a lot of what makes it into Alter Bridge, but it’s that little bit heavier and grittier. And of course, it features Mark himself on lead vocals.
Ok, so first thing’s first – the new album, in many regards, is a clear step up from his debut. Vocally, he has come a long way in the last three years, to the point where he is now a completely convincing lead singer with a great edge to his voice. This is evident throughout the album – it’s not just the strength in his voice, but the range of styles that he employs. For me, this is one of the most pleasing things about the album as it was something that held his debut back a bit.
The music itself is also more engaging and consistent than on his first effort. The riffs are tight, and the melodies are big. Opener Radical Change launches straight into the riffing, bypassing any sort of introduction and immediately kicking off with what is essentially some top-notch thrash metal. The prominence of this sort of music is something that certainly helps distinguish his solo outputs from his work with Alter Bridge, and it really does permeate throughout the whole album.
The title track, Cauterize, is the next highlight for me. Again the thrash-infused riffs get the blood pumping, but it’s the hugely infectious chorus that really gets me on this one. The same can be said for the first single from the album, Another Heart, which also superbly demonstrates Tremonti’s ability to infuse his riffs with some nice groove, particularly in the instrumental section and guitar solo which gets me banging my head every time.
My favourite track, though, has to be the closer Providence. It is not a particularly long song, clocking in at 5:44, but it is hugely epic and one of the very best songs Tremonti has done, including his work with Alter Bridge. I don’t think it quite tops Blackbird, for me, but it’s not far off and actually has some similarities. The acoustic verses are gloomy and atmospheric, the chorus is enormous, and the song as a whole is heart-wrenchingly intense emotionally. It also features, in my opinion, his best singing, putting in a hugely powerful and convincing performance. I could listen to this song over and over (and have on more than one occasion played it again as the album finished).
I’ve picked out some highlights, but really every song is very strong. If I have one (very small) criticism of the album, it’s that it can get a bit relentless, bordering on samey. I love the riffs and the choruses, but as much as I enjoy the thrash influence, it can get a bit much. One of the things I love about Alter Bridge is the mix of moods, and that’s something that is not quite here for most of Cauterize, though fortunately comes in more towards the end of the album. Quieter moments, such as in moody rocker Dark Trip and quasi-power-ballad Sympathy, do provide some respite, but even those have big choruses, and some of the songs have a tendency to run into each other a bit. The sound on the album is really top-notch, probably the best of any of his outputs, but again it lends to itself to the risk of indistinguishability.
Everything else about the album is, largely, what you would expect. His guitar playing continues to be great, both in terms of the quality of his riffing and the elegance of his performance. Lyrics are also solid, as we have come to expect from him. Overall, this is a great album that sits right up there among the best work he has done. With such top-quality music coming from him at the moment, both in Alter Bridge and now his solo work, I’m very excited to see where he goes next.