Review Summary: "Sometimes to love someone, you got to be a stranger"
The job of a coroner has always been a morbid curiosity. On one hand, I’m appalled and disgusted that anyone willingly examines a cold, lifeless body for wounds. But at the same time, I’m intrigued by how much information forensic studies can deduce from a dead person. I also see the necessity in catching the victim’s killer, and imagine this sense of urgency inspires coroners to complete their morbid tasks. In much the same way, I feel I owe Tremonti’s newest album a critique of its wounds. It’s difficult to criticize someone’s hard work, especially as a fan of Alter Bridge and Tremonti. His incredible playing inspired me to get into guitar, and his dedication and talent inspired my first steps into music. As they say, it’s better to not meet your heroes - I wish they’d told me this about writing reviews.
Mark Tremonti’s journey as a hard rock guitarist from Creed to Alter Bridge has shaped him technically proficient and tonally distinguished. A Dying Machine
marks his fourth album released under his self-titled offshoot project. Upon hearing this newest release, I’m saddened by a lack of creative growth and have to conclude Tremonti has hit a peak.
The guitar playing showcased within A Dying Machine
is excellent both rhythmically and melodically. Metal fans should be appeased by razor-sharp riffage and ferocious solos. Tremonti’s staple sound resides within blazing riffs and A Dying Machine
contains a masterclass of such (Ex. “Make It Hurt”). You can trace this playing style back to Alter Bridge’s roots, even within their debut album on tracks like “Metalingus”. Follow it further to Creed and even their first album had Tremonti’s distinguishable sound within the riffs of “Unforgiven”.
However, by focusing too heavily on riffs and technical prowess, the chance for experimentation has been choked. Tremonti doesn’t branch out from his skillset, leaving his newest album dry and predictable. The largest factor being song structure. I understand the fallacies in using song structure as a critique, as there are conventions within all artistic expression that help frame the art itself. But A Dying Machine
becomes sickeningly predictable, to the point my ears were screaming for any form of variety. The exception being the instrumental from “A Dying Machine
,” which I loved. I wish the remainder of that song had continued the story being told instrumentally - instead it was rudely interrupted by some muttured lyrics that threw me back into the pre-chorus.
Similarly, the lyrics are painfully ambiguous, and not in a poetic way. I say this in the context of A Dying Machine
being referred to as a “concept album”. Despite this claim, the lyrics are devoid of any essential story building blocks: characters, sense of place, descriptions, etc. Instead, we’re treated to a blasé treatment of themes such as war, death, disorientation, finding strength in desperation, and dealing with the loss of a pet goldfish (RIP Goldie). I’d venture to say the album’s concept was meant to be based on a sci-fi story. Likely machines taking over mankind, with some kind of juxtaposition of man’s inner nature represented through the programmed actions of robots. But even the most liberal interpretation of Tremonti’s lyrics will be hard pressed to envision whatever story was attempted.
On the positive side, Tremonti’s vocal performance is solid and fitting to the genre in a similar execution to Corey Taylor’s within Stone Sour’s context. Having a genuine and engaged vocal performance helps carry Tremonti through the otherwise bland lyrics.
The track mixing is also commendable. Tremonti’s signature effect chain can be heard. Heavy phasing (“Throw Them To The Lions”) alongside deliciously perfected distortion, like a cheeseburger with fries (I promise I’m not writing hangry). Bass is often a lost art for hard rock, so I appreciate brief moments on tracks like “Trust” that punctuate the bass line. However, slower songs like “First to Last” were perfect spaces to hook listeners with a melodic or infectious bass line, and instead all we get are mundane lines enslaved to the root note and downbeat. The drums serve each song well with catchy yet straight forward grooves, such as the driving force behind “The Day When Legions Burned”.
The Bottom Line
With the release of A Dying Machine
, Tremonti indicates he’s reached the farthest point of his creative trajectory. While worth pumping into your car for a high energy rock session, this album offers little to the imagination and brings more of the same to fans of previous Tremonti albums and Alter Bridge. If you enjoy the style, it’s more fuel to the fire. If you’re looking for a new take on the hard rock genre, look elsewhere.
(Side note: Tremonti discusses his creative process in writing this album here: http://www.blabbermouth.net/news/mark-tremonti-on-a-dying-machine-i-tried-to-make-the-music-as-dynamic-and-diverse-as-any-album/)