Friday, 11 October 2013

Alter Bridge's 'Fortress' - Album Review

I have been aware of Alter Bridge for quite a few years now but I have only been a fully-fledged fan for about the past three. The first time I heard Blackbird I did not really take to it, but a revisiting a while later turned me around. Seeing the band live in 2010, supporting AB III, helped to cement my love for them. Alter Bridge are, at least here in Europe, one of the biggest hard rock bands around and as a result the hype surrounding Fortress has been ridiculous. I do not think that any album could realistically live up to the excitement but Fortress has given it a bloody good go! Unlike many reviewers, I cannot say that I think that this is their best album (that still is Blackbird in my opinion) but I do think this is their most varied to date. I would not say that I was in any way disappointed by this album - as I really enjoy listening to it, but I do feel that prehaps I do not love it as much as I should. I guess I just succumbed to much to the hype! There are no real stylistic departures here but a few tweaks to the sound just help keep things fresh. The fact that the band has been away for a year or so probably helps. Frontman Myles Kennedy has of course been busy touring with Slash on the back of the Apocalyptic Love album and guitarist Mark Tremonti released his first solo album, the excellent All I Was, last year and has been touring that. Tremonti, and Alter Bridge rhythm section Brian Marshall and Scott Phillips, have also done some shows with their previous band Creed. The time away working with others has probably helped Kennedy and Tremonti to really focus where they wanted Alter Bridge to go musically and the result seems to be slightly darker and heavier. Fortress is definitely a more technical record than anything the band has done before and certain songs have a progressive vibe too. As with their last couple of albums, this has been produced by Michael Baskette who has done a good job in getting a big sound from the band.

Fortress gets off to a good start with Cry of Achilles. Some nice Spanish-style classical guitar starts things off before the big rock guitars come in and get things going with a chunky riff. Kennedy is really on fire throughout this album and demonstrates why he is one of the best vocalists in the genre at the moment. Cry of Achilles is quite a dynamic song. The choruses are more in the traditional hard rock vein while the verses are much more stripped-back with some excellent rhythmic drumming from Phillips backing up some simple arpeggiated guitar lines. Lead single Addicted to Pain follows and this is the most classically-Alter Bridge song on the album. It comes racing out of the gates with a big riff and is sure to get the blood pumping. It is easily the catchiest song on the album and the chorus is massive and will get stuck in your head after only a couple of listens. Tremonti also finds the time to include a rather tasty solo. I feel that he is actually quite an underrated guitarist, which seems odd since he has been in two of the biggest rock bands of the past couple of decades. Bleed it Dry is up next and this sounds like something that could have come from AB III which was a much moodier album than the previous two. Again, there is another strong chorus here that really opens up on repeated listens. It slows down towards the end and sees Kennedy singing over a very simple guitar line before Tremonti shows us he can play a solo with genuine emotion that just drips with the blues and it becomes one of the album's more beautiful moments. The next highlight is the heavy The Uninvited. The main riff has a groove that Alter Bridge have never really had before and this one of the songs on Fortress that sticks out as been obviously new a new sound for the band. I think it works really well but a melodic chorus helps to remind us who wrote the song. Phillips' drumming throughout this song is very inventive and I am glad he gets a chance to show off his skills here. Overall, it just feels like the band have tried something new and as a result I feel it is one of the album's best tracks.

Peace is Broken follows and this is another song that sounds like classic Alter Bridge. I really like the main/verse riff and Kennedy uses some of his impressive range to make the vocal melodies stand out over the fast guitars. The chorus is, of course, catchy and melodic but some nice guitar leads that sit just under the vocals add some extra depth and act as a counter-melody to Kennedy's strong voice. Calm the Fire is up next and this is another example of the band trying something a big different. It has an acoustic intro with some haunting vocals from Kennedy sung in falsetto. While not being terribly original, it just seems fresh and new - and it works very well. It is not long before the song kicks on through the gears and starts to rock out. Something about this song just reminds me of Queensr├┐che too, but I just cannot put my finger on exactly what. Tremonti gets to sing the next song Waters Rising. Anyone who has heard his solo album All I Was will know that he is a more than competent singer and he does a good job here. Unsurprisingly, this song has a similar vibe to his solo material but it still fits in well with the Alter Bridge sound. It was another one of the album's highlights as it is just so catchy! The verses are clean, with Tremonti's clear vocals demanding attention, before the big choruses take off and - for a minute - we almost forget about Kennedy. That is, until his unmistakable tones help to make the bridge so eerie and the powerful. However, Tremonti has made his mark as a vocalist here and I would not be surprised to see him take the microphone more in future. Farther than the Sun takes the album back into a more simple hard rock territory. It is very reminiscent of the material on their 2004 debut album One Day Remains and firmly displays the band's post-grunge roots. Still, the song is full of melody and I can imagine that it would go down very well live with the whole crowd singing along with the big chorus. The next highlight is the epic title track that closes the album. While not reaching the hights of Blackbird's title track, this comes close and contains everything that makes the band great. Within the near eight minute track length, we have: clean passages with heartfelt vocals, massive choruses with soaring vocals, big guitar riffs, delicate clean guitars, and plenty of excellent solos. It is a bit much to take in all at once, but over time you start to see just how much this song contains. Overall, Fortress is another impressive album from Alter Bridge. It does not quite contain the pure songwriting excellence of Blackbird (which I think will be considered an all time rock classic in time) but it sees the band being inventive and trying a few new things while still remaining true to their original sound. Excellent stuff!

The album was released on 30th September 2013 via Roadrunner Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Addicted to Pain.

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