Review Summary: this Fortress will stand strong for years to come...
I am an absolute Alter Bridge super-fan, so I had to manage expectations for this album. The first single "Addicted To Pain" absolutely ripped, so I had high hopes coming in. But as for the rest of Fortress? Well, let's just say that Alter Bridge has raised their own bar.
I will be the first to admit that AB's last album ABIII had some great individual tunes in it, but the overall piece seems a bit bloated and had a tendency to meander somewhat aimlessly at times. However, on Fortress, Alter Bridge not only seems more focused, but they have also completed their evolution into a metal band, albeit a extremely melodic one. The barn-burning opener "Cry Of Achilles" gives vocalist/guitarist Myles Kennedy a chance to show off his guitar skills as the track begins with a Spanish flamenco clean-guitar intro before Mark Tremonti and the rhythm section of bassist Brian Marshall and drummer Scott Phillips join in and instantly flip Kennedy's intro on it's head as "Cry of Achilles" thunders ahead on an off-kilter groove and powerful riffing. I also like how Myles and Mark mostly sing this track harmony style, and the chorus is just begging to be screamed out by arena-sized crowds.
It is obvious that Alter Bridge was, to quote Pat Boone, "in a metal mood", as the foundation of this Fortress is laid down by some of the heaviest songs Alter Bridge has ever written, as "Bleed It Dry" and "Peace Is Broken" both exude thrash swagger, while "Farther From The Sun" simply crushes, albeit slowly. Alter Bridge are still master "ballad" song-writers though, and "Lover" shows that off perfectly. I really like "Lover" in particular because it as a whole seems darker than previous AB soft songs, and it has a cool bluesy tinge running through it. Mark Tremonti takes over the mic for "Waters Rising" and it works beautifully. "Waters Rising" does change halfway through and turns into a powerful dose of heaviness.
To be truthful, the only song I don't like on Fortress is the penultimate ballad "All Ends Well". To me, the beginning of "All Ends Well" sounds almost exactly the beginning of "Waters Rising", except for a key change. "All Ends Well" just really doesn't connect with me. The album closing title track is the best song on an album filled with them (think the title track of Blackbird, but a bit heavier). The guitar solos halfway though are absolute ear candy, and the chorus hits me very deeply.
I really like most of the lyrics on Fortress. Several songs, like "Bleed It Dry" and "Waters Rising" hint at apocalyptic scenarios, while "Addicted To Pain" addresses abusive relationships. There are plenty of meaningful lyrics for listeners to connect with, and it's a nice change from the standard hard rock/metal fare of partying and girls, etc. Kennedy and Tremonti are simply one of the finest guitar duos in rock/metal today, and Marshall/Phillips form a colossal rhythm section that often enhance the songs on Fortress with their respective parts, instead of just serving as the rhythmic companion for the fretboard and vocal fireworks.
I simply love Fortress. I think it's the best Alter Bridge album yet (although Blackbird is a VERY close second). It's certainly the heaviest, and at times the most dynamic. Most of these songs will fit nicely live in AB's live sets, and there will be a few that will a strong radio impact, although I'm not sure if Alter Bridge really cares about the radio. For any doubters who still hold onto the fact that everyone except Kennedy are members of Creed, I think if you haven't been convinced that Alter Bridge is a stand-alone project that can hold their own well above and beyond Creed, then Fortress will hopefully convince you. Alter Bridge is a band that has hit a new high in their musical/song-writing prowess, and they show it in spades on Fortress. Alter Bridge the rock band has become Alter Bridge the metal band.