Sound — 9
So. Alter Bridge's anticipated fourth album has just come out, and after reading some pretty vague and downright uninformative reviews on the internet by people who obviously don't know the band very well at all, I've decided to take it upon myself to talk about "Fortress." The recording quality of this album is on par with "ABIII," if not a little better. The musicality is top notch, the song writing is BETTER than "ABIII" and emotion is genuine and amazingly deep. In my opinion, the previous AB albums have had many dead spots peppered with moments of sheer brilliance and epic writing (I'm looking at you songs such as "Break Me Down," "Brand New Start," "Make It Right" and "Down to My Last). Gone! Are the cliched fillers and the I, V, vi, IV chord progressions. This album is pure Alter Bridge concentrate: from the colossal bass of Brian Marshall, to the rhythmic precision of Scott Phillips, the banshee vocals (and impeccable guitar playing-but we'll get to that later) of Miles Kennedy and the pure shred modern rock tone of Mark Tremonti. Before I launch into a track by track, I'd like to just say, this album feels like more of a natural progression from "All I Was" (Tremonti's solo album) than "ABIII." The riffs are darker heavier and definitely thrash inspired. Moving on... 1. "Cry of Achilles" - Wow. So I thought "Slip to the Void" was the greatest album opener ever... But I was wrong. Oh so wrong. This song grabs you by the balls from the get go with an amazingly delicate nylon string melody, which is then taken and metamorphosised into a brutal hard rock riff. The chorus of this animal is unbelievable, chilling with nuances of hope in the world ("something beautiful is still alive"). Miles dives in with the first guitar solo, and Tremonti tops of the song with an outro solo which is probably my favourite on the album. His sweeping ascending chromatic minor appregios are something we've never quite heard from Tremonti, and it's a very fresh lick to kick off the album. So... All down hill from here right? Not quite... 2. "Addicted to Pain" - Clocking in at 4.16 (the third shortest song on the album), theres a reason why this was released as the first single. "Addicted to Pain" is a really good indicator of what the album is like, it's similar to "Isolation" (and "ABIII") in this regard. The "drop" to half time in the chorus is massive, the guitar solo is also very cool and the riff is incredibly reminiscent of Tremonti's thrash influences. 3. "Bleed It Dry" - Continuing in the thrash tradition, "Bleed It Dry"'s main riff sounds like we've stepped into a Children Of Bodom/Trivium album. You've never heard alter bridge play this hard before... I was half expecting metalcore screaming to follow. The breakdown in this song is very powerful, and definitely my favourite part. Tremonti's melodic and bluesy solo is fantastic. However, this isn't really my favourite track on the album. Honorable mention to its cool 3/4 verse. 4. "Lover" - Now for a change in mood completely! Lover was the song that I thought would be a filler, but turns out to be one of my favourites (there are many surprises like this on the album). I'm a huge fan of Miles' previous band Mayfield Four and this song is like stepping in a beautiful time machine. The vocals in the verses are super eerie with the song building up and packing a punch by the emotion filled ending. The absence of guitar solo and hard riffs is a nice dynamic compared to the previous three tracks. 5. "The Uninvited" - So from thrash, to Mayfield Four, to Tool... Just kidding. Of course comparisons will be drawn between the main riff and Tool, but I feel this is unfair considering the rest of "Uninvited" is pure Alter Bridge awesomeness. Another great anthemic chorus, with the bridge featuring a fantastic math rock breakdown. The changing time feels in the verse really make this song something different. 6. "Peace Is Broken" - This song is kind of an odd one for me. I've listened to it at least 15 times in the last couple of days so it's definitely had time to grow on me... But it hasn't. I really want to like it... But at this point on the album the riff and feel of the song feels more of the same. So to me, this is the first real "filler" track of the album. I really do like the tempo and the layering of the verse though... I just don't think it's as good of a song as it could be. 7. "Calm the Fire" - So, after the last song, "Fortress" needed a game changer. And here it is, in the amazing masterpiece that is "Calm the Fire." We open again with a nylon string, and Miles pulling out those early Jeff Buckley influences again. It then builds through very innovative use of the suspension chord into one of the coolest motifs on the album which climaxes in Miles and Mark playing two contrasting riffs against each other. The verse is very similar in feel to songs like "I know it hurts" and the prechorus definitely packs a punch. It's the meaty half time drop of the chorus which made me go "HOLY S*** THIS KICKS A-S" on the first listening with the almost spat tag of "all we need is a little love". Simple, yet amazingly written song, probably my favourite vocal performance by Miles on the album. 8. "Waters Rising" - I was a little worried about Tremonti getting his own song, especially after Chris from Muse kind of made "2nd Law" stop dead for two tracks and make me lose interest completely. But I'm happy to say that this short outing doesn't ruin the flow of the album at all. It is probably in my mind another "filler" song, but at this point I dont really care because I'm still getting over how amazing calm the fire is. Miles comes in during the breakdown and saves the song at the end in an awesome way. 9. "Farther Than the Sun" - In previous AB albums, things begin to dip into more fillers here, but instead we get a sickly drop B Deftones riff... Cool? You bet! This song really swings in an interesting way and the duel solo by Miles and Mark is ridonculous. I couldn't even tell who was who, which really does say something for the was Miles tackles his solos on this album. Finally I identified the more appregiated jazz influences of playing "through the chords" that Miles is known for and was amazed that his solo was my favourite one! Both are kick ass though, tremonti does some radical things I've never heard done so tastefully. 10. "Cry a River" - With this title I was expecting a ballad. I was pleasantly surprised... And I wouldn't be shocked if this or "Lover" would be the next single. It's the shortest on the album and really packs a punch. Just a great riff, a great hook and another fantastic Alter Bridge song! There is a lot of anger in the lyrics, as well as bitterness. 11. "All Ends Well" - Yet another suprise! I was here expecting a "Life Must Go On" styled I, V, vi, IV tune (AB do a lot of these in the past), but nope! Just another clever chord progression with another amazing vocal performance by Miles. The melody of this song gets stuck in my head, and man does he sing high in this one. 12. "Fortress" - Obviously a lot of people will compare this to "Blackbird," and this is a fair call. Both songs open very similar, they both have anthemic chorus's with the tag buried in there, but I think fortress is a great closer for the album. The double time section was quite a shock and again, the duel solos are just top notch musicality. The fade outs towards the end were a little odd though. When the song finished I was left with a feeling of "oh... Thats it?" It really left me wanting more... I guess thats a good thing?
Lyrics — 8
By now we all know Miles Kennedy. He is a machine. Everything he brings melodically is amazing, so we don't really need to talk about that. His lyrics on the first two albums were kind of hit and miss for me, but since "ABIII" I think he's been given a lot more of a creative leash from Tremonti, and it definitely shows. The lyrics are themed to the album, a lot darker and quite heavy with themes of loss, despair and confusion in love. I feel that whilst "Blackbird" seemed like a very optimistic album, "ABIII" seemed like somebody's struggle and disillusionment with religion, faith and the world. "Fortress" seems more personal... As though it's about the pain we feel when we are at odds with people we love. "Cry of Achilles" has the optimistic feel of "something beautiful is still alive" and the rest of album seems to try to debunk this (aside from "All Ends Well"-optimistic and about that although things in life hurt we live on at the end of the day). The song "Fortress" seems to sum up the central thesis of the album, which in my opinion is this: we create a fortress in our mind of memories and ideas from the past that we need to hold onto before making judgement and causing pain to the ones we love. However, what happens when this fortress is broken? I dunno. Something like that.
Overall Impression — 9
To conclude, Alter Bridge are probably my favourite modern rock band of this new generation. They are fantastic writers, musicians and players of their instruments. Another thing I really respect Alter Bridge for is being able to respect good songwriting over technical prowess (Dream Theater anyone?... No?). Everything on this album feels refined, organic and natural. The three year wait since "ABIII" has been totally worth it and I cant wait to see this band again and again touring these new songs (it'll be interesting to see which ones they include live). I'm not going to rate this against the other albums because I feel they're all different, but personally "Fortress" is my favourite now. The stand out tracks in my opinion are "Cry of Achilles," "Addicted to Pain," "Calm the Fire," "Farther Than the Sun," "Cry a River" and "Lover." In saying this, there are only really 2 filler tracks (on previous albums there are usually like 4 - BIG IMPROVEMENT!) These guys have produced another incredible album which will live on for years to come and I really hope this propels our favourite little band into the stratosphere!