Review Summary: An exceptional hard rock album that finds Alter Bridge at a creative high.
Alter Bridge didn’t have to make an album like Fortress
. They could have continued to make minor tweaks to the winning formula they built on Blackbird
and still produced quality music, as AB III
demonstrated. They could have played it safe and still written great songs. However, anyone who expected this album to simply be “AB IV” will be pleasantly surprised. Not only is Fortress
better than its predecessor, it’s the most musically accomplished album the band has put out.
Mark Tremonti is a man on a mission on Fortress
, delivering what is, aside from Blackbird
’s title track, his most inspired work to date. He embraces his abilities as a riff machine, consistently balancing heavy, intricate, and often technical guitarwork with the right amount of melody throughout the album while avoiding the monotony that often plagued his solo debut. Fortress
features his best collection of solos since Blackbird
, and Tremonti never feels too restrained or held back, displaying his talent whenever he gets the chance. The lengthy, emotional solo in Bleed it Dry
in particular shows how great his phrasing has become. Tremonti also makes his debut as a lead vocalist in Waters Rising
, and it’s more dynamic and interesting than anything on his solo album. His vocal performance is more confident, the soft-heavy transitions are more fluid and Myles appearing as a “guest” vocalist in the bridge gives the song even more depth.
On the rest of the album, where Myles takes the lead, he matches Mark’s improved guitarwork by getting more diverse with his vocal melodies. He gets plenty of chances to display his marvelous high-pitched wail, but he also makes more use of his lower register this time around. The dark ballad Lover
, a track clearly influenced by his days in Mayfield Four, is a showcase for Myles that lets him utilize the full extent of his range. Overall, the diversity in the songwriting allows his vocals to be more differentiated than they were on AB III
, particularly in the choruses. There are plenty of catchy hooks to be found, but the choruses try less hard to be epic and thus fit the songs even better. While there are still anthems abound on Fortress
, tracks like The Uninvited
benefit from avoiding an epic, dramatic chorus where it wouldn’t have fit. Myles also continues to contribute more guitarwork to the band, as multiple songs feature him and Mark trading off solos and he more than holds his own.
is the sound of a band inspired, a band willing to experiment and break out of a successful formula to grow as artists. Every member strives for improvement on this album: the drums are more memorable and diverse, and thanks to the improved production the bass is finally audible, leading to several standout moments. With the band chemistry being as good as it is, the band is able to successfully attempt multi-part epics. Cry of Achilles
, the progressive rock-leaning opener, immediately dispels any fears of the band playing it safe with a captivating acoustic intro, diverse riffing, a spirited performance from Myles, and a pair of ripping guitar solos. The album’s 8-minute title track avoids the comparison to Blackbird
by being a different beast altogether, with a similarly epic feel but a heavier focus as the song reaches its midpoint and Mark and Myles perform a guitar duel reminiscent of 80’s metal.
Technicality aside, the songs in Fortress
are just fun to listen to, being both layered and memorable. Peace is Broken
marries a rapid-fire riff with one of the catchiest sing-along choruses in the band’s catalog, while Calm the Fire
is a huge, bombastic anthem that’s full of energy and carried by a powerhouse performance by Myles. Despite Fortress
being by far the band’s heaviest album yet, no two songs on the album sound alike and each has something unique to offer. Even All Ends Well
, the only traditional ballad to be found on the album and easily its weakest point due to its cliché lyrics, manages to have a winning melody that elevates it.
There were high expectations for Fortress
, and Alter Bridge has managed to surpass them, creating an album that fans wouldn’t necessarily have predicted to come from them. While inevitable comparisons will arise between Fortress
, it’s ultimately irrelevant because Fortress
never tries to be another Blackbird
. What Fortress
does is set a new standard for the band going forward, one of continual growth as artists and the willingness to step out of a safe formula to make memorable hard rock in an era where that kind of music is in short supply. Alter Bridge still has plenty of surprises left in them, and if Fortress
is any indication, those surprises will be well worth discovering.