When Creed imploded, guitarist Mark Tremonti, bassist Brian Marshall and drummer Scott Phillips set out to form a new group, recruiting a vocalist Myles Kennedy to fill in the gap. With so many shared members it could very have been Creed in all but name. But Kennedy brought so much vitality to the group as a both a singer and songwriter that Alter Bridge was a new deal right from the start.
The band’s fourth album ‘Fortress’ is yet another refinement of the distinct style Alter Bridge have been carving out for themselves since 2004.
Since their previous release ‘AB III’ (2010) the band have devolved into a number of side projects. Creed reformed and toured, Tremonti released a solo album, and Kennedy recorded an album with Slash (the subsequent tour included two sold out gigs in the Olympia earlier this year).
Given how much time the lineup has devoted to other projects, it may seem like ‘Fortress’ was rushed out to remind people that Alter Bridge hadn’t gone away. And, on first listen, it does appear to be little more than a band treading familiar ground rather than trying something new. There aren’t many tracks that immediately jump out as anything that fans won’t have heard on ‘AB III’ or ‘Blackbird’.
Cry of Achilles opens with a spaghetti westerns style Spanish guitar intro before building up to a onrush of driving rock riffs. There are echoes of a track like Rise Today from ‘Blackbird’ as the riffs swell and the drums pound, and Kennedy’s voice pierces melodically through it all.
Addicted to Pain has even more echoes of similarity, but this isn’t a sign of Alter Bridge getting lazy after nearly ten years in the business. This is what works for them. And ‘Fortress’ is nothing if not workman-like, pounding busily at a familiar set of riffs and licks to polish them up just enough and make them look new.
Elsewhere Lover moves from its tender opening strains and a soft vocal delivery reminiscent of an acoustic Foo Fighters song to a sweeping, anthemic chorus. It’s basically everything that Alter Bridge do well as a band, and the same could be said of ‘Fortress’ as a whole. It flows effortlessly from moments of delicate grace to huge rock hooks and melodic choruses.
Kennedy’s lyrics dive far deeper into real human emotions than Creed ever did with all their illusions to theology (whether they claimed to be a Christina band or not). Creed frontman Scott Stapp sang about hope, overcoming odds, about getting the best out of life.
Myles Kennedy sings about pain, misery and personal heartbreak; emotions that practically drip off his voice and lend just enough kick to make sure Alter Bridge are more than just another run of the mill rock band. Add to that the fact that he has one of the biggest vocal ranges in contemporary rock, belting out colossal sweeping numbers like Peace is Broken in a key that Axl Rose must wish he could still reach.
Meanwhile Tremonti dutifully shreds away at his guitar, rolling though a series of infectious riffs and blasting off into swooping solo after swooping solo with competent ease. The album flows so seamlessly that its construction appears effortless.
Since their early days Alter Bridge have drawn acclaim as a live act, and as ‘Fortress’ progresses, it isn’t hard to imagine the songs blasting their way through an arena or stadium, rousing even the most passive audience into an outburst of emotion. Waters Rising breaks over the listener like a tidal wave, while Farther than the Sun burns its way out of the speakers like a shooting star.
Alter Bridge may not be the most ground-breaking act out there, but instead they’ve distilled their sound down to a pure form heavy metal that is endlessly listenable and enjoyable. The sheer proficiency of their ability is evident on songs like Calm the Fire and Cry A River that flow over the listener, building with pace and restraint from a single note to a colossal wall of sound.
The title ‘Fortress’ is an appropriate one. Alter Bridge have found their niche, and with their latest album they’ve fortified their position there.
If you like Alter Bridge, you may like Irish heavy metal band Root.