Despite the band doing split duties, the musicians also playing in Creed, Alter Bridge have done much to become an important entity in their own right since forming back in 2004. Thanks, in part, to the magnificent vocal talents of Myles Kennedy, who has done so much in fronting Slash’s band of late, as well as the instrumental prowess of Mark Tremonti, Alter Bridge have long threatened to release a classic album, and it would seem that in ‘Fortress’ they have finally succeeded. Piled high with brilliantly executed vocal harmonies, blistering riffs and possessed of a swagger that comes from basking in the certainty that you’re playing the best material of your career, ‘fortress’ is a near flawless modern rock record that draws from its myriad inspirations to deliver an exhilarating listening experience that will still be giving up its secrets in months to come.
The opening track ‘cry of Achilles’ sets the tone with its beautifully played acoustic introduction giving way to a searing melee of riffs, distorted bass lines and pummelling percussion all overlaid by Myles’ stunning vocals. Sitting somewhere between Led Zeppelin, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains it is one hell of an opener, the band clearly blazing with inspiration and by the time it has drawn to a close fans will be in an ecstatic state of bliss. ‘Addicted to pain’ does nothing to allay such feelings of ecstasy. As the riff builds into a nitrous-powered beast, Myles blasts forth with the opening line “tell me how it feels to live a lie”, his multi-tracked vocals laden with enough venom to keep things on the right side of gritty, and it is quite impossible to ignore the fact that the man has one of the best voices in hard rock today, whilst the band rage behind him with all the enthusiasm of a youthful outfit on their debut. ‘Bleed it dry’ emphasises the Soundgarden feel, Myles slipping into a minor key whilst the guitars twist and turn around him, only for the writing, sinewy verse to give way to a muscular chorus possessed of real power. In contrast, ‘lover’, is a power ballad that throws everything but the kitchen sink into the mix and yet, contrary to all sense, sounds brilliant. Reminiscent of the magnificently opulent ballads with which Guns ‘n’ Roses made their name, it doesn’t forget to keep the guitars in the mix and the result is a track that combines melodic sensibility and lyrical power with stadium-sizedriffs and a monumentally huge mid-section.
Following on from the over-the-top theatrics of ‘lover’, ‘the uninvited’ opens on a psychedelic note, although the guitars never loiter far behind, and before you know it the band are playing with the sort of riffs previously thought to be the exclusive province of Tool and/or A perfect circle, and it sounds immense. Indeed ‘immense’ is a word you could employ regularly when describing the new album. ‘Peace is broken’ cruises on a white-hot riff, underpinned by one of rock’s tightest rhythm sections, and throws in a chorus so huge you can imagine it tearing the very roof off any venue it is unleashed upon and then, just in case anyone could accuse the band of resting on their not inconsiderable laurels, ‘Calm the fire’ slows the pace and sees Myles expand his vocal range into Muse territory whilst the band indulge in similarly progressive musical feats that perfect marry with this approach. ‘Waters rising’ is closer to the alternative rock of Creed at their best, a song that pares back the vocal harmonies on the stripped-down verse before going for broke on a chorus that threatens to blow the windows out. ‘Farther than the sun’ is one of the bands most out and out aggressive compositions with guitars that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Meshuggah album and whilst the verse allows for a softer vocal approach (it’s hard to imagine Myles employing his voice in a deathly roar) the track is a balls-out rocker that demonstrates that Alter Bridge are one hell of a force to be reckoned with. Keeping the pedal firmly to the metal, ‘cry me a river’ not only bursts out of the speakers with considerable force, but also echoes the Tool-esque dynamics of ‘the uninvited’ giving the album a coherent feel that marks ‘fortress’ out as being head and shoulders above the nearest competition. With the end of the album drawing near, the relaxed ‘all ends well’ gives Myles’ amazing voice plenty of space to breathe away from the sonic battering ram employed by the band elsewhere and then the epic title track closes the album in fine, progressive style, Mark Tremonti’s guitar work edging into elegiac Pink Floyd territory. It’s a brilliantly realised closer that would stand as a highlight if the rest of the album wasn’t so damn good, and it leaves you wanting much, much more.
Alter Bridge are a band who have slowly blossomed over the course of their four albums to date, each record building upon its predecessor and pushing the band to new heights. With the rampant success of AB III it is hardly surprising that the band’s confidence has grown, but ‘fortress’ truly is a step beyond. Playing with a number of genres, from the dynamic metal of Tool to the progressive insanity of Muse, in the hands of a lesser band this album could have been a disparate mess, but in the hands of Alter Bridge not a single note sounds out of place or contrived. Mark Tremonti is on the form of his life, his guitar work frequently exquisite, whilst Myles Kennedy turns in a vocal performance that is simply stunning, and you cannot deny the passion and power that comes from his every note. Alter Bridge may have impressed up until now, but this is a whole different realm, each track showcasing a band operating at the very peak of their powers and the result is an album that can legitimately be described as timeless. This is hard rock at its best – memorable, melodic, searing, beautiful and exhilarating – it is everything you could want from a hard rock album and one that demands a place in your collection.