Review Summary: A tutorial on how to change, evolve, and still please all your fans.
Alter Bridge certainly have an interesting history. From the ashes of the god awful… thing that was Creed came a highly successful and inventive rock band that I think are one of the best at what they do. At the front of it all is Myles Kennedy, one of the best vocalists of our day. He’s accompanied by phenomenal guitarist and backup vocalist, Mark Tremonti, and the duo are two of the best at what they do. Don’t forget the rest of the band, either. This is a band that has a hell of a lot of talent behind them.
In 2013, AB were coming off of the success of 3 albums in a row. Post-Grunge debut ‘One Day Remains’ was certainly not fantastic, but it harbored some real standout songs. Meanwhile ‘Blackbird’ and ‘ABIII’ were both super inventive and absolutely lived up to that potential. So what would happen next? Well, welcome to ‘Fortress’.
AB are definitely an ever changing band. No two albums of theirs sound exactly alike. Yes, every album has the trademark AB sound, but they all change it up. Fortress may be the biggest change in their sound yet. We’re getting a lot darker here, and adding some very progressive elements. This was all present on the last couple releases, but the progressive aspect is much more at the forefront here.
You’ll be able to tell this is a more progressive release based solely off of the album opener and 2nd single, the 6 minute long ‘Cry of Achilles’. I won’t *** with you, this is the best song AB have put to tape, It’s that simple. The song is absolutely epic and honestly inspiring. It begins with an acoustic intro before launching into an onslaught of guitar paired with Kennedy’s soaring vocals, and never lets up for a minute following that. It’s epic, to put it simply. The track takes a couple minutes to get fully started, but once it gets into that first chorus with an absolutely PERFECT performance from Myles… you’ll be sold.
“Don't close your eyes
Something beautiful is still alive
Don't close your eyes
Never turn away and let it die”
To surpass a masterpiece like ‘Blackbird’, ‘Metalingus, or ‘Isolation’ would be no easy feat, but it’s clear that they achieved this with such an amazing song.
Lead single ‘Addicted to Pain’ is next, and this was definitely a great choice to be the lead. It’s a fast paced and heavier tune with a more menacing chorus. The whole track has a great vocal performance from Myles, especially in the bridge, where he sings:
You know it now!
Just tear it down!
You're gonna lose it all!”
The song overall just has some really nice riffage, and lyrics that lash out at someone who won’t stop doing something that’s bad for them. Following on from the lead single are some really memorable deep cuts. ‘Bleed it dry’ isn’t anything too special, but it’s an enjoyable song overall. It’s a bit more of just a simple and by the numbers heavier album cut, but it’s still a good song. ‘Lover’ is another more progressive song, and it’s one of the darkest songs here. It’s about being either literally or figuratively shot by your significant other. This is evidenced in lyrics like:
“The trigger's warm, the chamber is loaded
Lost in a moment
What went wrong?
There's nothing left, this house has been broken
But still I'm holding
I'm holding on”
It’s a really dark song, and features some real emotion coming from Myles, musically, it’s also pretty progressive, like I mentioned. Definitely one of the most memorable here.
After ‘Lover’ follows on a couple more album cuts, ‘The Uninvited’ and ‘Peace is Broken’. Personally, I’m partial to these two songs. Both are just more heavier alternative metal comfort mood at the end of the day, though ‘The Uninvited’ is the more heavy of the two, while ‘Peace is Broken’ is a bit more melodic. Again, they’re both good songs, just not the greatest of AB’s career or anything. That’s kind of the issue with ‘Fortress’ at the end of the day. So many of these songs are just pretty good, with few outside of the obvious ‘Cry of Achilles’ being al time highs.
I’m about to eat those words, however, as the next two songs are both absolutely phenomenal. ‘Calm the fire’ is a 6-minute long track and it's one of the most progressive here. It speaks about how what the world needs is love, and while that message is very cheesy and heavy handed usually, it works here due to some great lyricism and of course vocals from Myles. It’s one of the more underrated on this album I’d say.
Third single ‘Waters Rising’ is among the best here, and one of the most unique of AB’s career. This song is sung almost entirely by Mark Tremonti, with Myles taking the backing vocals this time around. Some may see it is a very nishe song, but I find it to be ***ing awesome. Mark takes a much deeper approach to Myles, and their vocals complement each other so well, especially during the shouting of “Don’t let me drown!” in the pre chorus. It’s overall an epic and apocalyptic song, and I’m glad they took a chance in doing this track, making it a special one.
I don’t really have a whole lot to say about the next 3 songs though. ‘Farther than the sun’ and ‘Cry a river’ are just two more songs of the same nature as others on the album. The former is pretty solid and more energetic, and it reminds me of ‘Come to life’ from ‘Blackbird’. ‘Cry a river’ is probably my least favorite on the album though. It’s not bad, but lyrically it’s a little similar to ‘Lover’ and musically its very similar to ‘Addicted to pain’, both of which are better songs.
‘All ends well’ is a bit of a surprise though. Compared to some of the darker and apocalyptic songs we’ve seen on here like ‘Waters Rising’ and ‘Lover’, this is a very hopeful song in the vain of ‘Life Must Go On’ off the previous album. It’s definitely grown on me a lot, even if it’s not super special. I particularly really love this line on the song:
“If you believe in nothing else
Just keep believing in yourself”
But this glimmer of hope is almost immediately absolutely destroyed by the monster finale of the album. In the same vein as ‘Blackbird’, the song, Fortress’s title track is a 7 minute long epic, though this time, it’s tasked with ending on the album. And man, does it succeed in ending this album on an epic and dark note. The song is dark and about as epic as you could ask for. My favorite thing about it is that awesome guitar solo that’s played by both Myles and Mark. It’s an adaptation of their dueling solos that they do during live shows, and it's pretty sick. The song itself is just about all these fortresses and security that we’ve built for ourselves just absolutely crashing to the ground and falling. It’s dark, for sure, but ‘Fortress’ is about the best conclusion to its namesake album that you could ask for.
“In the end, too far gone, this I can't deny
Still I keep holding on, you know
There's still time
On the outside looking in everything seems fine
But the fortress caving in comes down
On me tonight”
And that brings us to the end of the album. ‘Fortress’ was certainly a little different than what AB had done before, that’s certain. But this is a case of a band doing something a little different that worked ridiculously ***ing well. The darker edge and lyrics. The progression. It’s really great. Yeah, there are definitely moments that aren’t super special, but the standouts of the album make everything worth it. Their best song is on this album, for crying out loud.
Tracks to check out: Cry of Achilles, Waters Rising, Calm the Fire, Addicted to Pain, Fortress, Peace is Broken, Lover