Within the daily confines of my previous position at my current employer was the morning routine of getting together as a group for a huddle, which involved one of us bringing to the table an inspirational quote to get the team motivated. Since then, despite no longer needing to, this trend has become routine. Not necessarily daily, but still enough to think about how these words affect other aspects of life. This, for instance; at this point, there is probably no one on the planet that doesn’t know that Alter Bridge is comprised of 3 former members of the rock band Creed; since their debut, everything to follow has proven that Alter Bridge is their own entity, and not just ‘that band’ that formed from the remnants of another. Words to remember, author not known: the past is a place of reference, not a place of residence. To see where Alter Bridge is today, how far they have come since One Day Remains, and where they continue to push themselves, is really something to behold; with the upcoming release of their 5th studio album The Last Hero, Alter Bridge continues to solidify themselves as one of the premier musical acts on the planet.
Listeners are about 3 years removed from arguably the finest thing Alter Bridge has released, Fortress, both the album and final track. Exceptional standards to set, but if anyone were to somehow match it or better, it was this group of fine musicians. First single, Show Me a Leader, opens with a phenomenal solo courtesy of grossly underrated guitarist Myles Kennedy, and has shown to be more of a grower than an in your face anthem like ‘Addicted to Pain’ was; a song with a positive vibe, it’s difficult to imagine that this song isn’t a political commentary in some way, with lyrics of
Because a promise is never enough
Show me a leader that
Show me a leader that
Knows what it’s like
We need a hero this time
I know if we’re to survive
We need to know this is not the end
How will we ever get by
It’s getting harder to find out here on our own
Musically, this song is everything we’ve come to expect from an Alter Bridge single; a blistering solo courtesy of Tremonti, a vastly underrated rhythm section, chugging along and holding it all together, complete with a percussive assault with perfectly placed double bass drumming. Despite the song sounding a bit different as compared to Fortress’ first single, Show Me a Leader was the perfect opener, as it really sets the tone that quality will never be absent from an album by these guys.
Upping the positivity brought to listeners, second single My Champion somewhat divided fans, with rumblings that the band had possibly abandoned the dark vibe present in so much of Fortress, despite the unquestionable quality of Show Me a Leader. No questioning the quality of the track, as the upbeat lyrics, an ode to Myles’ parents, and relative simplicity in the music makes it a safe single, if for nothing else to possibly bring in some newer fans or at least get people talking when it’s heard on the radio; it just didn’t, and honestly doesn’t, radiate as greatly as some of their other single releases.
Fear not, however, those of you worried about Alter Bridge softening; The Other Side hits hard from a musical standpoint and more noticeably, a lyrical perspective. The song opens in a fairly unassuming fashion, but once it kicks in, the down tuned, heavy metal riffing (some of their very best) should immediately dispel any notions that this band has gone softer. In a way, vocally and musically it offers sounds similar to Lover and Bleed it Dry from Fortress, as it’s dark, grungy, and Myles begins n his lower register, upping the intensity just in time for the chorus. The main attraction, at least for this listener, was the lyrical content, which could not match the music any better than it does; among the more notable of the lyrics are the following, pre-chorus and chorus respectively:
You think that heavens gate’s awaiting
But only hell will come
Have you gone too far
Who’s to blame
For what you are
If you believe yours is the only way
Then you’re the fool who lives to die
Well you deserve the hell you’re gonna pay
On the other side
Once you reach the other side
Short of actually speaking with Myles himself, these lyrics point to a scathing commentary of religious indoctrination. As relevant a lyrical topic as politics, Myles’ incredible range coupled with his obvious emotional investment manages to help make a song so serious in concept one of the catchiest tracks on the album. Quite frankly, this song belongs on Fortress, and is among their finest.
At this point, it’s fairly obvious to see that Alter Bridge is nearly incapable of releasing subpar material, and it’s further proven in the moments they’ve chosen to slow down; in Cradle to the Grave, the focus is primarily on Myles’ vocals, as they should be, but Tremonti still somehow manages to steal the scene with his impeccable and instantly recognizable solo. But don’t be fooled; you will remember this song because Myles Kennedy is one of the finest vocalists on the planet. Period.
Going back to the heavy, Crows on a Wire is all about the filth of politics and the media, with the point driven home by a killer, menacingly heavy main riff; the opening alone is enough to get the blood pumping and the mind racing:
If you want to step into the light
Well I’m warning you be wise
Nothing goes unnoticed
If you want to lead or be a star
And expose all that you are
Are you sure you want this now
It will only tear you down
Cause they’re waiting just like crows on a wire
They pry and conspire
It’s all they do
If you’ve got a secret deep inside
Nothing sacred or divine
They will always lead you on
A blistering solo, which sounds quite like it came from Mr. Kennedy himself, explodes onto the scene in the last third of the song, giving the listener just enough time to breathe before seguing beautifully into the final chorus, ending another emotionally charged, current events driven monster.
If Alter Bridge has been known for anything, it’s that they really know how to end an album; AB III had Works Darker Than Their Wings, and Fortress had the masterpiece title track: certainly hard acts to follow, but in the hands of Kennedy and Tremonti, it’s no surprise that The Last Hero manages to finish this album off with a bang and somehow, someway, save the best for last. Myles’ highs are as powerful as ever, Tremonti backs up perfectly, and the middle of the track closely resembles Fortress, in that the music is cranked to 11, complete with two epic solos and monster, thrashy, heavy metal riffage. To use a cliché, this closer is literally everything we have come to expect from an Alter Bridge closer: the music is somehow untouchable in quality, despite everything preceding it. It takes a mammoth effort for a band to record twelve exceptional tracks, only to come out guns ever more blazing for the finale, leaving us breathless and longing for the next listen.
There was a part of me that thought that with Fortress, Alter Bridge did it: they managed to make an album that could not in any way, shape, or form be matched in quality. Here’s the thing: The Last Hero is not Fortress, and if the order had been flip-flopped, I would have thought the same thing; that there is no way they are topping this. This is the sign of a band that will forever be known as one of the greatest: the ability to release one masterpiece after another, to make long time fans yearn for just one more track, one more note, just to have it continue. Make no mistake about it: Alter Bridge, the band that was once assumed a Creed side project, is one of the premier musical acts on the planet today, and The Last Hero has cemented their place in history as one of the finest bands to ever play. A place of reference, indeed.
*Note: Lyrics may not reflect the final product; with no linear notes present, all lyrics in this review are based on what the reviewer has heard.