Alter Bridge
The Last Hero


3.8
excellent

Review

by SowingSeason STAFF
October 10th, 2016 | 111 replies


Release Date: 2016 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Alter Bridge's most politically-motivated album to date is also one of their strongest.

For being on the brink of the most important and potentially dangerous political season of our lives, I’ve heard too few musicians stepping up and making their voices heard. In a year of pop-punk revivalism that has included some of our generation’s most politically outspoken bands, it’s actually quite surprising how silent the outcry against this election has been from a musical standpoint. That’s why when Alter Bridge dropped The Last Hero, it became –essentially by default – my own personal soundtrack to America’s broken political system. As we find ourselves ushering either a criminal or a demagogue into the oval office, there is chaos abound: riots are happening right outside of our windows, social injustices are being swept under the rug, and terrorism of all forms is quietly on the rise. If you’re not frightened, or at least concerned, then you might want to take a closer look around you. Alter Bridge appears to understand the urgency of what is happening, and that’s why The Last Hero carries some extra weight at a time of such heightened fear and uncertainty.

No matter where you stand in terms of your values, this album is not meant to sway you to the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s more observational; gathering tones of desperation and frustration while placing them atop some of the best and most technically precise hard rock currently residing within the mainstream realm. Mark Tremonti lays down some of the best riffs and winding solos out of his career with Alter Bridge, while Myles Kennedy alternates between rougher vocal cuts and his trademarked, perfectly-pitched wails. The high level of energy, bolstered by Phillips’ fast-paced and diverse drumming techniques, are really what Alter Bridge have always been about. So although the band hasn’t exactly branched off into new territory to express their concerns, it’s a style that fits comfortably within the content of the album nonetheless. Longtime fans may find that this record is more of a mainstream reach than their past few outings – which probably won’t sit well with those who felt Fortress was the perfect middle ground for these guys – but if it worked for them on Blackbird, then this record isn’t far behind in terms of overall accessibility.

The Last Hero is a grandiose album that possesses thirteen tracks totaling well over an hour. Once again, this isn’t exactly new territory for Alter Bridge, and that’s why a lot of the same strengths and flaws from previous outings once again make their respective ways to the surface here. While ripe with melodic highlights and incredible instrumental work, it feels a bit too bloated for its own good at times. Overlong tracks ‘The Other Side’ and ‘Cradle to the Grave’ provide unnecessary padding both within the songs themselves and to the record as a whole. It feels like Alter Bridge is striving to cram as many riffs and solos as they can into each track, even when it’s not a fitting direction in which to take the music. This results in would-be straightforward rockers or ballads almost always evolving into an exercise in epic songwriting; and after a while it just gets tiring. They’d be better off biding their time with such ambitious bids, but that has never been the Alter Bridge way. On the bright side, The Last Hero is an album that, in spite of its trekking towards the more accessible side of hard rock, minimizes its sacrifice of technical precision.

Alter Bridge’s fifth album really hits its stride when the band combines memorable songwriting with practical instrumental contributions. While ‘My Champion’ may be almost too digestible with its mellower tone and stadium-rock feel, that’s not exactly what I’m referencing here – instead take middle ground tracks like ‘The Writing on the Wall’, ‘Show Me a Leader’, ‘Crows on a Wire’, ‘Twilight’, and ‘Island of Fools.’ They’re not quite winding epics, but they still provide a hearty serving of drums and electric guitars to satisfy your deepest hard rock cravings. ‘Crows on a Wire’, for example, is perhaps the best song on the album – offering up a blistering introduction that continues throughout the background of Alter Bridge’s most politically geared song to date: “They’re waiting just like crows on a wire, they pry and conspire…that’s all they do / Baiting to consume and devour the glory and power they gave to you.” While ‘Crows on a Wire’ features lyrics that are somewhat veiled and poetic, similarly stirring tracks such as ‘The Writing on the Wall’ seem a lot more pointed with their intentions: “You’re the great disturber, so crass and out of line…now tell me who will suffer for all your crimes" / The writing’s on the wall, that the end will begin.” Lyrics like this surface throughout, and they couldn’t feel more relevant to the current climate in the United States. While political albums tend to be largely hit-or-miss, Alter Bridge’s even-keeled, observational approach prevents The Last Hero from coming across and either disingenuous or unnecessarily preachy.

While the more modest songwriting foundations seem to yield the strongest moments here, that isn’t to say that The Last Hero doesn’t have some tremendously epic moments that pay off. For instance, the opening track ‘Show Me a Leader’ features some of the longest and most complicated solos on the record, but it never feels like it is being stretched too long or being inflated with unnecessary instrumental cuts. In fact, it comes across as The Last Hero’s mission statement, highlighting Tremonti’s shredding ability alongside Phillips’ machine-gun styled percussion while laying down the lyrical foundation for what is to come – “Who’s intentions are pure, unpersuaded" / We need a hero this time, or we will never survive.” As a whole, the track is a representative blend of everything you’ll hear during the record, and it succeeds on all fronts. Outside of the other obviously epic choice – the barely under seven minutes closing track and album namesake – there’s the incredible and imposing ‘This Side of Fate.’ ‘This Side of Fate’ begins with some lighter acoustic picking before erupting into a gorgeous, sweeping combination of symphonic sounding synths and electrical guitars breakdowns. The track twists and winds over a stunning soundscape, filled to the brim with heavy rock and even progressive influences while never straying too far from the gentler acoustic sound that brought it all into fruition. Near the song’s pinnacle, Kennedy delivers one of his best vocal performances since Blackbird’s title track – and that’s saying a lot. It thus goes without saying that The Last Hero’s problem with larger-than-life bids isn’t that they can’t pull them off, it’s merely the frequency with which they try to do it.

As I watch the news and debates this fall, there’s little doubt in my mind that moments from this record will creep into my thoughts. It’s not a generational album that will unite a population the way Bob Dylan did back in the 60s or, in my humble opinion, the way we saw Green Day pull it off with 2004’s protest album American Idiot. This doesn’t come close to that level of cultural magnitude, and it’s not meant to be that kind of an album anyway. This isn’t a rallying cry; it’s a set of songs that prove the band is witnessing what we are and that they’re equally as upset about it. The Last Hero is about corruption in the government and our society’s need for humble, level heads who can figure out a way to correct it. Musically, they’re not stepping way outside of their usual approach either, they’re merely creating the album that they wanted to make while weighing in on one of the most divisive and uncertain moments in American history. In a time where the most influential voices in music seem to be disengaged for whatever reason, Alter Bridge’s The Last Hero provides us with a great – if at times flawed – record whose meaning is even bigger than the music that comprises it.



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user ratings (266)
Chart.
3.5
great
other reviews of this album
tiesthatbind (4)
"Can you hear the marching, beating of the drums?"...

cman23kid (4)
Not far off the usual path, AB hit the nail on the head with their politically-charged and anthemic ...



Comments:Add a Comment 
RaylanCrowder
October 10th 2016


72 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Excellent review

Digging: Devin Townsend - Empath

Toondude10
October 10th 2016


13827 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Still feel that this is a bit on the safe side but it definitely grew on me a bit.



Good review as always Sowing

FullOfSounds
October 10th 2016


15771 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Good review as always Sowing [2]

cman23kid
October 10th 2016


27 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Awesome review, looks like i've got a lot to live up to!

BeetleKing
October 10th 2016


15 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Fantastic review. If this was a song or two shorter it'd be an easy 4.5. Nonetheless, this continues to grow on me. The title track and This Side of Fate are up there with some of their best songs.

gordodustin
October 10th 2016


263 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

First and foremost, this review was about 2 full paragraphs too long and hard to read in places. Also, I disagree strongly with you saying that this album has Tremonti's best riffs, as I believe Blackbird and Fortress far exceeded it. Overall, good review though, just needs some of the filler cut out.

SowingSeason
Moderator
October 10th 2016


30254 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

The filler in this review is an artistic statement about the filler on the album.

Digging: Glen Hansard - This Wild Willing

gordodustin
October 10th 2016


263 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Touche haha. This album could have easily done with 11 or 12 tracks. I think My Champion and Poison in Your Veins are probably the worst songs AB has ever done.

SowingSeason
Moderator
October 10th 2016


30254 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

Glad you bought it ; ) or at least pretended to.



Yeah I feel like I could trim this down to a superb 9-10 track album. Could probably be a 4.5 without some of these songs.

ShMaLeB1196
October 10th 2016


3 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I was really skeptical about this album after "My Champion" was released. I've listened to it once and actually thought this wasn't too shabby. As of now I like Blackbird and Fortress more, but it's better than ABIII and their first one.

Storm In A Teacup
October 10th 2016


26499 Comments


how comparable is it to Rise Against? That's my favorite political band.

iloveyouall
October 10th 2016


6319 Comments


don't write any more than you'd willingly read

tiesthatbind
October 11th 2016


7441 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Nice review, man. I won't be going into nearly as much depth on the political stuff in my review but you've summed up a lot of what I love about the album.



Although the length isn't a problem for me (shocker, right?), I could see cutting a couple tracks if I had to but they definitely wouldn't be The Other Side or Cradle to the Grave. Those are easily two of my favorites on here.

kbridges
October 11th 2016


88 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Might bump this down to a 4 but it's still rock solid and has some downright epic moments. These guys never disappoint.

iswimfast
October 11th 2016


1475 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

i am really really disappointed in this.

EvoHavok
October 11th 2016


7683 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Great to see ties and iswim in the same thread just like old Alter Bridge threads. I haven't checked this out yet. Singles have me worried but some of the recent feedback looks promising.

In what way, iswim?

SowingSeason
Moderator
October 11th 2016


30254 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

Really looking forward to your review for this ties. You're the real Alter Bridge expert. I just got a wave of inspiration from this and wanted to write.

iswimfast
October 11th 2016


1475 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

It's actually a little hard to say. The songs are really claustrophobic, there is no room for the melodies to breathe and it feels muddy and soupy.



And then songs like Cradle to the Grave and This Side of Fate where they slow it down rely are reasonably good but then for some reason they've fallen in love with Myles' holding every note for a unreasonably long time. He's always done it, but on here it kills the momentum of the songs. Like I understand the chorus of This Side of Fate is designed that way, but it stops it dead in it's tracks for me.



All in all it's probably just that I don't like it.

Atari
Staff Reviewer
October 11th 2016


24541 Comments


I had no idea this band had so many highly rated albums

not usually into mainstream rock, but there are some exceptions. I'll give this a shot

Digging: The Tallest Man on Earth - I Love You. It's a Fever Dream.

danielcardoso
October 11th 2016


11770 Comments


nice feature. album is nice, a bit too much filler but has some solid tunes.



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