When Alter Bridge sat down to begin work on their latest album, there must have been a bit of fear in them. How do you follow Fortress? Actually, they must do that with every album because somehow, they manage to make each album better than the last.
Reconvening after Myles Kennedy took on the world once more with Slash and the Conspirators and Mark Tremonti unleashed his inner metal demon with his self-titled band, there’s a sense of renewal, excitement and anticipation on The Last Hero. Tipped for a long time to be headlining the biggest festivals the rock world has to offer, if they had another Fortress, it could be the best thing they’ve ever done or it could stall their climb.
Thankfully, Alter Bridge know what they’re doing. The Last Hero, just like every other album which followed it, contains all the Alter Bridge hallmarks whilst moving things forward just enough so it’s not a carbon copy of that which came before. Massive, chunky riffs? Check. Bombastic drums? Check. Thick bass grooves? Check. Arena-worthy choruses? Check.
A lot of Alter Bridge songs are about finding hope or overcoming adversity and whilst those are there with songs like “My Champion” and “You Will Be Remembered”, Myles Kennedy’s lyrics take aim at the problems the world is facing in 2016, namely in society and politics with songs like “Show Me a Leader”, “The Last Hero” and the sniping “Crows on a Wire”. With lyrics like “They plot and conspire”, it’s not hard to imagine who he’s directing his ire at.
I will admit that after one playthrough of the album, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. In the past, especially with AB III and Fortress, I was dumbstruck at the quality of music on the discs, immediately reaching for the play button. But here, not so much. I had to let it germinate. With each listen, it got better and better, taking hold. I’ve tried to pick out which songs will be played on tour but it’s hard to single out a handful, it seems they may well have been influenced by Kennedy’s time with Slash and made an entire album designed to be played live.
Conspicuous in its absence however, is the lack of that big ballad which is normally the standout track of past releases such as “Watch Over You” and “Wonderful Life”. “Cradle to the Grave” almost hits the mark but the aggressive, jet-fuelled chorus and the momentous bridge prevent that. Even up until the last track plays its final notes, you hold out hope that it will rear its head and it never does – “You Will Be Remembered” comes close before dashing your hopes. However, with the afore-mentioned songs, the band have a couple of great ones in their arsenal and it’s pointless to do it for the sake of it.
Then, there’s the musicianship on display. It’s this which has led people in their droves to this band. Whether it’s the duelling guitars of Mark Tremonti and Myles Kennedy on songs like “Island of Fools” and “Poison in Your Veins” with their crunching and chunky riffs, their individual tones and trademarks apparent a mile off for even the most casual of fans. Or the deep bass tones from Brian Marshall and Scott Philips’ powerhouse drumming. Philips may be stuck behind a kit but just like any guitarist, his personality and individualism shines through and he may well be one of the most overlooked drummers in rock at the moment.
Alongside the music, we have Myles Kennedy’s vocals. Turning in another stellar performance, years of touring and recording with two high profile bands has turned his impressive voice (and I’m talking from his Citizen Swing days) into monolithic presence. Listen to the first Alter Bridge album and this one and you’ll hear the refinement which has developed on his pipes. His lyrics, too. Still rich in imagery and relatable, he addresses them to the listener, thought-provoking and asking you to take a look around your life and the outside world, see what is wrong.
The Last Hero is a statement. A statement of what is wrong with the world. A statement for modern rock. Five albums in and with no end in sight, Alter Bridge have always strived to deliver and they never fail. Their quest for the top has gained traction in recent years and rightly so. This album is irrefutable proof that they belong in the upper echelons of rock’s greatest acts. Certainly they’ve managed to carve their niche of being one of the best modern rock acts, the world is theirs for the taking.