Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Tremonti's 'Dust' - Album Review

Mark Tremonti is one of this generation's best guitarists, and he is back with his third solo album Dust less than a year after releasing Cauterize (which I reviewed here). The two albums were recorded together, and released separately for maximum impact. I am glad that Tremonti decided to release the albums separately, as opposed to releasing a double album, as I feel this gives the music greater exposure and gives the fans more time to digest the songs. It is rare that anyone has time to sit down and listen to a double album all the way through, so treating the two albums as totally separate releases was wise. That being said, the two albums are definitely companion pieces, and you can tell that they were recorded together. The albums have very similar sounds, and the excellent production from Michael 'Elvis' Baskette is heavy and powerful. There are differences between to two however. While Cauterize was more diverse than 2012's All I Was, Dust is more focused on the heavier side of Tremonti's playing and has more in common with his debut solo release than Cauterize, while still feeling connected to it's brother album. Cauterize is the light, and Dust is the shade - both albums going hand in hand to create one big body of work that oozes classy songwriting and a tonne of technical ability. The thing that sets Tremonti apart from many other guitar heroes is that he is, first and foremost, a songwriter. He never sets out to be the fastest player in the world, or fill his albums up with meandering and tuneless instrumentals that show off his unbelievable playing; no, Tremonti writes good quality hard rock and metal songs, and has been doing so since he first hit the scene when Creed released their debut album in 1997. Tremonti rose to fame with Creed, but it has been with Alter Bridge that Tremonti has really been accepted into the arms of metal fans as a true guitar hero. The band's heavy, anthemic, and often slightly progressive songwriting gives Tremonti plenty of chances to spread his wings. During the band's downtime however he works on his own albums, which also showcase him as singer as well as a guitarist and a songwriter. While his voice will never be as good as either Scott Stapp's or Myles Kennedy's, it has power to it that suits the heavier material he writes for his own solo albums. Tremonti's solo material is clearly influenced by his fan of thrash and other heavier subgenres of metal, but still retains the sense of melody that his songwriting has always possessed. Backed up once again by guitarist Eric Friedman, bassist Wolfgang Van Halen (although Tanner Keegan is currently touring with the band), and drummer Garrett Whitlock, Tremonti has created another heavy album that will only reinforce his status as a modern guitar hero.

The album opens in fine fashion with the heavy My Last Mistake, which has a riff that sounds like Tremonti has been listening to some classic Iced Earth recently. The furious palm-muted bursts of galloping that lock in Whitlock's precise drumming really help to build up the energy as the song leads into a fast verse which has an extremely commanding vocal performance from Tremonti. His voice is getting better all the time, and this song probably showcases him at his best. The song's chorus is memorable without overshadowing the song, as the whole piece flows nicely with a strong coherence. The Cage is a much more riff-based song, with a memorable lead hook that is reprised throughout, and some fantastic drumming from Whitlock. His beats are almost blast-like in places, and gives the song an extremely heavy and thrashy feel which suits Tremonti's playing. While this is definitely a solo project, the other three musicians on the album all add to the overall sound and are key parts of the album's feel. This song is instantly memorable with a rather epic chorus with catchy vocal lines, and an really explosive solo that showcases why Tremonti is so revered by guitarists. Once Dead follows, and continues on with the fast metal vibe with another thrashy riff that almost contains some tremolo picking at one point. While the majority of the song is fast, it takes a slower turn in the chorus to produce something extremely memorable . Slower choruses often work well, and help to emphasise the vocal lines, which here are very catchy. This song, and the two preceding it, do a great job to get the album off to a relentless and high-energy start. Things take a slower turn in the album's brooding title track, which leaves the thrash energy behind for something that would not sit out of place on one of Alter Bridge's albums. From a chiming clean guitar intro to the wall-of-sound chorus - which makes good but subtle use of vocal harmonies from the other musicians - this song is full of emotion, which stands in stark contrast to the metal of the opening numbers. It works just as well however, and gives Tremonti to show off his slower, more progressive guitar style with bursts of bluesy lead and effects-heavy chords. This is one of the strongest songs on the album, and one of the strongest songs Tremonti has written for his three solo albums. The heavier vibe returns with Betray Me, but the speed of the opening number is replaced with a more mid-paced groove that adds another dynamic layer to the album. As with most of Tremonti's compositions, the vocal lines are very memorable, and this song is no exception with another strong chorus that oozes melody from the heavier surroundings. This song also makes me realise how powerful the guitar tone that Tremonti and Friedman have used for this album is. It takes no prisoners and they, along with Baskette, should be congratulated for the powerful sound.

Tore my Heart Out has a slightly doomy feel, as Van Halen's bass often rings through, and the moody clean guitar melodies in the song's intro also enhance this feeling. It does not always remain this way however, as the song soon evolves into another strong mid-paced rocker with a really memorable riff mid-way through that comes out of the blue and knocks the song out. The song's chorus is another winner, with lots of strong vocal harmonies. The lyrics and delivery is a little earnest, but the guitar playing is very strong, with some really atmospheric playing that sits well beside the harder riffs. Catching Fire is another stand-out number, and a song that stood out to me the first time I listened to the album. The chorus is easily the best on the album, with very strong melodies and some high vocal harmonies which I assume are from Van Halen. The song is less heavy than many of the others here, but benefits from being extremely catchy and the fact that it whips up plenty of energy. That being said, the song's breakdown is possibly one of the most furious metal moments on the album, and comes out of the blue to great effect. This is another songs that ranks up there as one of the best from Tremonti's solo catalogue so far. Never Wrong is the first song on the album that fails to make any big impression on me. It is a little dirgy, without any real standout melodies. It has a dark atmosphere to it, with some nice clean guitar sounds, but the song just is not as catchy as the others found here. The song itself is not that bad, and I think it speaks more for the quality of what else surrounds it rather than the song itself. That being said, it is not great, and definitely fails to hold it's own on the album. Rising Storm is stronger, and gets the album back on track with a fast riff that has a slightly unusual rhythm that works well. The song's chorus has a strange, bouncy feel to it that does not really fit in with the vibe created on the rest of the album, but it still works quite well. The album's final song, Unable to See, is another slower song, but it works well with a strong emotional vocal delivery After a couple of songs that see the album's quality dip somewhat, this song comes along and ensures the album ends on a high. Tremonti does the heavier thrash material well, but he also excels at these slower numbers. The subtle lead guitar playing that Tremonti adds to this song really enhances the mood, and really brings out the best in his vocals. It also contains a really strong guitar solo that starts slow, and then explodes into flurry of shredding at it's climax. Overall, Dust is another strong album from Tremonti that shows a different side of his playing and songwriting from his day job. With a new Alter Bridge album around the corner, it may be sometime before we hear another Tremonti solo album, but with two in quick succession we have more than enough to enjoy for now.

The album was released on 29th April 2016 via FRET12. Below is the band's official lyric video for Dust.

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