Sound — 8
Tremonti was formed in 2012 by Mark Tremonti as a vehicle to record and release the music he was writing that wasn't appropriate for his existing musical projects at the time. While he intially stated that his solo work would be a "thrash metal" project, it has instead turned out to be heavy rock with strong elements of speed metal - not quite crossing the line into the realm of thrash metal. Brian Marshall left the newly formed band in 2012 and was eventually replaced by Wolfgang Van Halen, son of EVH, first just on live dates but eventually declared a full member of the band by Mark Tremonti, who has also praised Wolfgang's prowess on bass several times in interviews. "Cauterize" is the band's second full-length studio release, with 10 tracks that clock in at 44 minutes. The album is being released on the FRET12 label. The first official single from the album is "Another Heart," which was released in March 2015. The second single, "Flying Monkeys," was released in May. According to interviews, the album was recorded simultaneously with another album which will be released, possibly titled "Dust." The release date of "Dust" has not been confirmed.
The album opens up with the track, "Radical Change," which is basically an immediate audio-assault from the second the track begins. The opening lines, "please just one more chance, I've just failed again/ question everything, never understand," caught my interest and show this song (like most of the album) have an introspective quality to the lyrics. "Flying Monkeys" is the second single from the album, and has some of my favorite riffing on the album, which is very heavy on the groove. The title track, "Cauterize," is one of the heaviest tracks on the album and makes me immediately reconsider whether this album could be called thrash metal instead of hard rock. There is some interesting (unconventional) lead guitar work going on with this track, and then the track ends with a clean instrumental outro that wasn't what I expected from Mark Tremonti. "Arm Yourself" is pretty fast and heavy out the gates, and has some interesting wah/ phased stuff used sparingly on the track. Once again, I found myself surprised by a slower passage in "Arm Yourself." "Dark Trip" opens up as a slower, cleaner track - even when the guitars get heavier, the tempo stays pretty slow and the heavy guitars act almost like a drone of distortion as a backdrop to the lyrics and the acoustic lick being played through much of the track.
The lead single, "Another Heart," is a quirky track with some tempo changes going on and some really deep stuff going on with the lyrics on this one. This track has probably the most memorable riff from the album, as well. "Fall Again" is a kind of oddball track, with the opening being some reversed delay before Tremonti's vocals come in with a lot of reverb and a mostly clean strummed guitar. The guitar sound gets heavy and HUGE on this track, with the line "I think I lost my way... you think it is so easy?" sticking with me after the song closed out. "Tie the Noose" opens with some fast, heavy riffing that is more familiar to me as far as what I expect from Mark Tremonti. The guitar solo from "Tie the Noose" is a kind of reminder of what I'm listening to - a phenomenal guitarist's "side" project - which is easy to forget when you hear the songwriting and vocals going on with this album. "Sympathy" is a softer track, relatively speaking, and much more of a vocal track than a guitar track. The album closes out with the track, "Providence," which oddly enough is my favorite track - it isn't what I would have expected as my favorite track going into this album, but I really enjoyed the progression, lyrics and composition on this one. Overall, the album is well-mixed and the material has a lot of variety in it.
Lyrics — 8
Mark Tremonti's vocals are SO much better than on his previous album - he has seriously grown as a vocalist. His actual vocal style reminds me a little bit of Myles Kennedy but without the annoying high pitch whine. The vocal performance is spot on for the album, and the vocal processing used is done in good taste and seems to add value to the songs. Eric Friedman and Wolfgang provide backing vocals, and the fact that they don't really stand out is a good thing on this album, I think. Not saying anything about Wolfgang or Eric Friendman's vocals, only that their backing vocals are only used to add emphasis to vocal lines, etc.
As a sample of the lyrics, here are some from the single, "Another Heart": "It's a shame you sold your lies before God/ What our eyes have seen, or have you forgot/ Where's your values, were they all thrown away/ Where's the reason you will suffer today/ Hard on the brain/ Tear at the walls to find it/ Toss it away/ Find me another heart/ Break the inside/ Hurt in a way you'll like it/ Eager to find/ Find me another heart/ Learn a lesson from the words that you speak/ Feigned forgiveness 'cause the wounds are too deep/ The end's a lonely place and now it is here/ Live your final days alone with your fear." Those are some very introspective lyrics - I wonder if they have anything to do with the drama with Mark's ex-bandmate, Scott Stapp.
Overall Impression — 8
Honestly, the weak point on this album to me is Wolfgang - and I hate saying that because I've been rooting for him, in general. I think he's in a weird predicament where it looks like he got his gig with Van Halen by the band arbitrarily replacing Michael Anthony and he really needs to prove his chops. I think he definitely did that with Van Halen if by no other means than being motivational to his dad and uncle. When I heard live Tremonti recordings with Wolfgang I wasn't impressed, but I thought that was partially because he was coming into songs that had already been completed and recorded by another bassist. What I found with "Cauterize" is that Wolfgang does truly play bass like a rhythm guitarist (as has been said), which unfortunately does a disservice to the music. Moving on, I felt like the album had a lot more sonic variety than I expected, and I found myself impressed with things I wasn't even expecting from Mark Tremonti. A few examples were the deep and introspective nature of the lyrics, some of the softer and slower passages, and the awesome vocal performance. I think this is a serious improvement from his last album, and I look forward to hearing what he does next. I'm patiently awaiting to hear "Dust," or whatever the next album ends up being called.