It’s been a couple of years since we last had an album from Mark Tremonti’s self-titled side-project. Since then, Alter Bridge have released another album, headlined the Royal Albert Hall with an orchestra and given a headlining-worthy performance at Download. Tremonti has always been an outlet for the man himself to unleash his inner metal beast so with A Dying Machine, his first ever concept album (including his works with Creed and Alter Bridge) and an accompanying novel, he’s set to return with a bang.
With Dust not quite hitting the lofty heights of Cauterize’s all-out aggression and overall quality, A Dying Machine doesn’t tip the balance back. But it’s for one simple reason: if you’re expecting a straight-forward metal album like its predecessors, A Dying Machine isn’t the album for you. As Tremonti tells his Blade Runner-esque story, he pushes himself as a lyricist further than he ever has, whilst musically he’s not pushing any of his own boundaries but experimenting within them and the band following suit.
As such, there’s a more varied sound with “From the Sky” sounding like it could have come from a past Tremonti record which is revisited on “A Lot Like Sin” with its chugging riff and bellowing vocals. Elsewhere, there’s more light and shade with songs like “Trust” and “Traipse”. Meanwhile, “Throw Them to the Lions” feels like a leftover from The Last Hero and in a live setting, has the potential to sound massive and “The First The Last” sounds like it could have come from an early Alter Bridge album.
Opener “Bringer of War” is doom-ridden whilst the title track is full of angst. Then there’s “Take You With Me”. It’s the last of these three (all of which are singles) which feels odd for a Tremonti album. Whilst it comes nowhere near the pop-metal territory, it does have a very radio-friendly sound to it and is quite the earworm.
Whilst the band ensure to vary the music, Tremonti marries that with pushing himself vocally. He’s come on leaps and bounds since the first album and much like the music, there’s experimentation. Highs and lows, there’s confidence baked into the delivery as he mixes growls with his standard delivery and there’s plenty of “woah-oh” moments and whilst the end of “Trust” does feature an uncharacteristic high note from him, you can’t say he’s not trying something new with his vocals. Thankfully, it’s the only moment he attempts such a note, it feels more of an experiment to find out if his voice can do it and it lands clumsily. Meanwhile, the instrumental track closes out the album and with the aforementioned, is the only faux pas. It leaves the album on a bit of an anti-climax as if there’s something more to follow. Instead, this would work far better in the middle as an intermission.
The guitar work is the usual high standard with its signature Mark Tremonti sound. There’s no escaping that. Again, he’s not pushing his technical ability to its limits like he did on earlier albums but plays with everything he’s known for. Monolithic, chunky riffs batter against Eric Friedman’s stellar rhythm guitar. There’s a melodic slant to the songs and nothing is incredibly heavy. For the most part, the songs sound different to Alter Bridge but nothing feels heavier. Instead, Tremonti have made their first hard rock album with a couple of metal moments.
From a production standpoint, it suffers from the same issue as The Last Hero and World on Fire (Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators) had: it’s over-cooked. Whilst Kennedy’s own solo album showed a touch more restraint with its singer-songwriter/Americana sound, Michael Baskette’s hand is all over this. “Desolation” feels like it’s trying to do too much with acoustic sections sloppily pasted in to add variation to the song but doesn’t add depth, yet elsewhere there’s too much going on in each song and for the most part throughout the record, the bass is buried.
As a solo project, Tremonti haven’t advanced their core sound but do show how they can experiment with what they’ve put out with the man himself focusing more on pushing his vocal abilities and relying on familiarity for guitars. Indeed, it’s one of the most varied albums Mark Tremonti has put out and could have benefitted this time around of attaching his forename to the album. Naturally, there’s some songs that are going to work very well in a live setting but if you weren’t a fan before, this won’t change your mind. Regardless, it’s still a high standard of work from the band and it’s an enjoyable listen and if you want a varied and flexible album to show everything Mark Tremonti is capable of, you can’t go wrong with this one.
A Dying Machine is released on 8th June