Review Summary: But oh, what a machine!
The first time I ever gave Mark Tremonti, and, by extension, most of the remaining members of Creed sans Stapp, the slightest chance was when I spun Blackbird
in its entirety an embarassingly short time ago. My preconceptions about a slog through a beige sea of post-grunge nonsense shattered, I immediately knew that actually hearing the titular "Blackbird" live was a bucket-list item I absolutely must
cross off. And cross it off I did, just a few months ago, inside of a cramped, sweaty, standing-room-only venue in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. I still have the "Alter Bridge: The Last Hero
" guitar pick thrown by Myles Kennedy in the console of my Mazda to remember that moment by.
But a delightful moment of fanboyish excitement was far from the only thing I took away from that concert. Perhaps more importantly, Mark Tremonti himself was instantly elevated from "underappreciated talent" to "guitar hero and musical inspiration" in my assessment. It was not just the notes that he played that stuck with me; it was the way he smiled the entire show, the way he jovially interacted with the crowd, the way he so effortlessly manipulated every aspect of his instrument as if it was an extention of his very being.
I made it a point to return to Mark's lengthy and prolific output, and quickly found that "Tremonti," the band, was, as most side projects are, an excellent demonstration of a single musician's technical abilities, but mostly unnecessary in the shadow of the main act - in this case, Alter Bridge. All I Was, Cauterize, Dust,
it didn't matter - it reached the technical heights, but not the excitement, of that deafening night in Birmingham. This one is different, however - A Dying Machine
sees Mark Tremonti rise to a level previously unscaled - not as a guitarist, but as a musician.
If that seems like a contradictory statement, listen to Dust
first, then A Dying Machine
"Bringer of War" might not be an immediate indicator of this, even if it is a solid and enjoyable Motörhead-esque opening metal number. "From the Sky" and the title track follow in raucous rock fashion, but it's "Trust" where things take a more mature turn - The riffing slows down for more intricate lead work, the bass guitar is brought forward to the front of the mix, and Tremonti steps up to showcase his abilities as a songwriter and vocalist (what a vocalist!). And from here, A Dying Machine
meanders through any rock sub-genre it well pleases, from lilting balladry to nu-metal chugging to even pop-punk frolicking. The interesting thing is not how varied the album is, but just how successful Tremonti is at it all - so much so, that to call A Dying Machine
a "metal" album would be to sell roughly 30% of the album very short. That's not to say that Mark Tremonti's abilities as a guitarist are downplayed in any way: they certainly do not sound less powerful when things get slower, nor do they get simpler when things get more upbeat. But the newfound interplay between Tremonti's vocal melodies and his guitar work results in something greater than the sum of its parts - nowhere is this more evident than in "The First The Last," the kind of radio-ready rock number you will actually want
to hear on the radio (make it happen, Napalm Records). By the time I reached the heavy-industrial closer of "Found," I felt like I had been taken on a journey rather than merely made an audience. If Tremonti's past works are industrial design theses, A Dying Machine
is a backroads thrashing in a Porsche with its top down and its radio blaring - and I don't ever want to leave the passenger seat.
None of this is to say that A Dying Machine
is flawless - there's an over-reliance on the standard radio-rock composition and structure of "verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus" here, which is oddly noticeable given its nature as a concept album. And while on the subject of concept albums, the lyrics of certain songs don't always impress outside of the context of the larger narrative, especially the bizzarely sophomoric opener "Bringer of War." But it is really hard to fault something with this much heart and soul - A Dying Machine
is a whopping sixty-one full minutes of hard-rock goodness and easily matches or surpasses anything Mark Tremonti has done or contributed to in the past. A Dying Machine
is as well-oiled as rock & roll gets - and is a strong contender for the best rock album this year.