Alter Bridge is one of the most unique bands in hard rock today. Formed nearly a decade ago, the band has built a cult-like international following, despite the fact that their record label experiences can best be described as tumultuous. The band’s fourth studio album, Fortress, will be released on September 30th around the world, although AB fans in North America will have to wait until October 8th to hear the band’s latest release. Those who have already heard the first single, “Addicted to Pain,” are likely chomping at the bit to hear the full album, and with good reason.
Fortress is, quite simply, one of the best hard rock / heavy metal records to be released in recent memory. While “Addicted to Pain” may end up being the most impactful single in the band’s history, Fortress is a 12-song collection that does not need radio airplay to make hard rock music fans stand up and take notice.
In a recent interview with Music Radar, Myles Kennedy and Mark Tremonti revealed that, because “Addicted to Pain” was the clear-cut choice for a single, it afforded the band the freedom to expand their boundaries on the rest of the record. The end result of this creative freedom is a musical masterpiece that is likely to stand the test of time alongside other classic heavy metal albums.
Fortress begins with a fingerpicking, nylon-string guitar intro that was incorporated into the opening track, “Cry of Achilles,” after the song was already written. Sweet and melodic, the intro leads you to believe that you are about to hear a song in the vein of the AB classic, “Broken Wings,” but the tracks on Fortress are anything but predictable.
You can feel your pulse start to race as “Cry of Achilles” transitions from the acoustic intro into a fever pitch of crunchy riffs and thunderous drums, a feeling that is similar to a roller coaster drop after a slow, methodic climb. Heavy, melodic and moody, “Cry of Achilles” features unexpected twists and turns that are commonplace with prog rock bands like Dream Theater, but nothing so intricate that you need to be a musician to appreciate what the song has to offer. Kennedy and Tremonti’s guitars lay the foundation for the spectacular vocals that the world has come to expect from the dual-threat frontman.
“Addicted to Pain” features an infectious melody over blood-pumping guitar riffs. Kennedy’s vocals harken back to the days of 80’s metal, as does Tremonti’s stellar guitar playing (see full HRD Review).
You don’t have to get very deep into the album to realize that Alter Bridge has gone beyond the realm of modern-day hard rock into classic heavy metal as you listen to “Bleed it Dry.” Most songs that are as heavy as “Bleed it Dry” nowadays, feature screaming or growling. Kennedy proves with his powerful, brooding vocals that singing still has a place in metal. “Bleed it Dry” will make fans of classic Queensryche and Rainbow (with Ronnie James Dio) feel like they have traveled back in time, as will the track that follows it – “Lover” – which is a lot darker than the title would suggest.
“Lover” seamlessly vacillates between melancholic, raw, emotional power and haunting, airy vocals that demonstrate Kennedy’s massive range. Listening to “Lover” through headphones lets you fully appreciate the subtle nuances that add a layer of depth to the song.
“The Uninvited” almost didn’t make it onto Fortress after drummer, Scott Phillips, pointed out that the hammer-on technique used to create the riff sounded like Tool’s hit song, “Schism.” Ultimately, the band kept it because, as Tremonti says…“everybody is influenced by someone or something – a lot of times, it’s a subconscious thing.” Ironically, the more notable resemblance to another song – Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” – takes place at the song’s outset, and some of the thrash-inspired riffs are very Metallica-esque. However, influences aside, “The Uninvited” is distinctly Alter Bridge.
“Peace is Broken,” which could easily be the next single, is a heavy, melodic track, with anthemic vocal harmonies that invoke the spirit of Iron Maiden and Queensryche.
“Calm the Fire” showcases Kennedy’s spiritual falsetto as well as his unbelievable range. By the time that you get to the chorus, you can’t help but wonder if Kennedy and Tremonti found a lost track off of Queensryche’s epic album, Operation Mindcrime, and put their own spin on it. Not that there was any doubt about the duo’s writing ability, but “Calm the Fire” is proof positive that Kennedy and Tremonti have the potential to be the next Geoff Tate and Chris DeGarmo. Years from now, it would not be at all surprising if Fortress is held in the same regard as Operation Mindcrime.
Kennedy and Tremonti are unique in that both have the uncanny ability to sing lead and also to play lead guitar. On “Waters Rising,” Tremonti’s vocals are front and center. The vocal trade-off between the duo, in conjunction with the dynamic guitar parts, makes this track stand out on the album. Though unlikely to be released as a single, this is the type of album cut that true music fans appreciate.
“Farther than the Sun” is pure melodic metal. With angry, balls-to-the-wall riffs, bended notes (a la Zakk Wylde) and shredding dual guitars, the heaviest song on the album should be a concert crowd pleaser.
The album concludes with “Cry a River” – a radio-friendly track in the “Addicted to Pain” mold, “All Ends Well” – a slower, more lyrically positive song that gives listeners the chance to catch their breath after an non-stop barrage of intense energy, and the title track “Fortress” – a dynamic song highlighted by vocal harmonies and the battling dual guitars of Kennedy and Tremonti.
It may seem a bit strange to say that a band with a cult-like international following is underrated, but Alter Bridge does seem to be flying under the radar a bit, at least in America. Building on the momentum that was created with ABIII, the release of Fortress should absolutely propel Alter Bridge into the upper echelon of hard rock and heavy metal bands.