Monday, September 26, 2016

Album Review: Alter Bridge - The Last Hero

Let's start with a moment of honesty. I don't think there was really anyone who could have expected Alter Bridge to become as successful as they have. Sure, they had a bit of a leg up on getting their name out there at first, but there was no reason to think they would become a fairly large band in America, and an arena headliner in Europe. That is a bit surprising, but not at all undeserved. Over the course of their four records together, they have turned themselves into a beast of a hard rock band, establishing themselves as possibly the brightest light burning in the mainstream. In fact, my only issue with them is that they have been slowly drifting further and further into metal territory, which I think went too far on "Fortress". Their last album was too heavy for the band's sound, and suffered from not giving Myles Kennedy enough space to work with.

Now that Mark Tremonti has made three albums with his speed metal/radio rock hybrid solo project, I was hoping that Alter Bridge would tone things down just enough to return to their sweet spot, making delightfully heavy hard rock that still packs a melodic wallop.

I'm happy to say that "The Last Hero" straddles the line perfectly, and delivers on all aspects of what makes Alter Bridge such a great band. If you like the heaviness, there are more than enough big, deep guitars here to keep you happy, but the songs don't forget to pull back just enough for Myles to deliver his huge, uplifting choruses. It sounds to these ears that Alter Bridge has finally found the perfect balance between their heaviness and melody. It's a beautiful thing to behold.

The band announced the album with the release of "Show Me A Leader", which is a propulsive song that has a speed metal type riff, and a pulsing chorus that jerks the song out of, and then right back into the groove, with Myles leading the rallying cry. It kicks off the album, and as good as the track is, it's not even close to being the best "The Last Hero" has to offer. As we progress throughout the album, the songs unfurl their elements to showcase a sophistication and depth most modern rock can't match. These are songs that can fill an arena, yes, but also bludgeon you with big, meaty riffs as well.

It amazes me that after Myles has made four albums with Alter Bridge, and two with Slash, and Mark has made three albums with his solo project, they're still able to infuse these songs with hooks that are this strong, and this fresh. I can speak from experience that after writing enough songs, it's difficult to continue to find new phrasings to keep your songs from beginning to blend together, but that isn't a problem here. Alter Bridge are, amazingly, still in their songwriting prime.

Whether they're pulling out the mind-numbing heaviness of "The Other Side", or the slick melody of "My Champion", there isn't anything that Alter Bridge can't do. These guys have been around long enough that they know how to write songs, so when they up the ante when it comes to how heavy modern rock can be, they're able to reign it in with melody at just the right time. And, unlike my opinion of some of Tremonti's solo work, this is organic heaviness. There's no clashing of speed metal and radio rock here. These songs have all the pieces fitting together beautifully.

In fact, the only thing I can say about this album in a less than stellar light is that it might be a bit on the long side. At 66 minutes, it's a long album, and that doesn't even include the bonus track. There isn't anything on the album that screams to be cut, but I think clocking in at a touch under an hour would make it an easier record to replay again and again.

But if that's all the criticism I can muster, it says a lot about the quality of the record. I've yet to be fully on board the Alter Bridge train. "AB III" is the only album of theirs I fully bought into, but this album is one that could change my mind. It reminds me most of "AB III" of everything in their catalog, which I consider a great thing. Like that album, "The Last Hero" is the kind of heavy rock you just don't hear very often anymore. The music world would be a far better place with more bands putting out albums like "The Last Hero."

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