Almost a spectacular epic of rock and metal, Alter Bridge's fifth album is a triumphant return.
There was a time a few years back when I would always immediately name Alter Bridge when asked about underrated bands. For almost a decade, the American hard rockers flew under radars as just Creed 2.0, garnering a passionate yet somewhat minimal fanbase, but the last few years have seen a shift in music that has seen them start to accumulate deserved recognition. Now, it’s fair to say that Alter Bridge is perhaps the definitive hard rock band of our time, starting with 2010’s AB III, growing with 2013’s Fortress, and perching firmly on the throne with The Last Hero. With music as good as this, who can challenge them?
You’ll be hard pressed to find a better opening track this year than lead single ‘Show Me A Leader,’ in which lead guitarist Mark Tremonti makes his guitar sing in ways not heard since peak Slash in the best showcase of the whole record. With a thunderous chorus and some excellent vocal harmonies between Tremonti and lead singer/rhythm guitarist Myles Kennedy, ‘Show Me A Leader’ perfectly signals the band’s intentions for what follows. ‘The Writing On The Wall’ then introduces a more thrash-metal sound as developed over recent years, demonstrating the four talented musicians in perfect sync with each other translating their abilities into some damn fine music.
‘My Champion’ is a real change of pace after the heavy opening – it’s a lighter and more rock’n’roll-type affair, akin to past songs such as ‘Before Tomorrow Comes,’ but still featuring plenty of fantastic instrumentation to match the softer lyrical approach, which speaks of inspiring bravery and persistence when life gets too tough. It may be neither the most unique or profound song, but it still works a treat in showing that however good Alter Bridge are at the heavy, they can match the other side of the coin just as well. ‘Cradle To The Grave’ mixes the more mellow sound (as mastered before with their near-transcendental fan favourite ‘Blackbird’) and heavier guitar work to be a highlight of the album, lyrically somber (“How am I to carry on? / All we have is lost”) and musically powerful. ‘This Side Of Fate’ continues on in a similar but progressive, experimental, and mesmerising way. Is there anything that this song isn’t‽. A simply stunning monster, this is perhaps the finest track of the year in the genre.
The Last Hero may sound cheesy in concept – its overall theme is of heroes, leaders, role models, and saviours; an album that seeks to honour the brave, inspirational, and respectable – but musically it is far from it. ‘Crows On A Wire’ descends into heaviness with thunderous drumming from Scott Phillips standing as a particular highlight here, and whilst the likes of ‘Show Me A Leader’ may vehemently lambast the lack of nobility and honour, ‘You Will Be Remembered’ is perhaps the most praise-filled track on the album. An ode to servicemen and women, its words may be a little cheesy but that doesn’t matters when the band is demonstrating such musical prowess.
And what a closing salvo the album has. ‘Twilight,’ ‘Island Of Fools,’ and the title track itself are perhaps the heaviest of the record, closing the full circle in thunderous style. ‘The Last Hero’ in particular is much like ‘This Side Of Fate’ in its epic and progressive nature, showing an Alter Bridge willing to expand and adapt its music by expertly combining varying rhythms, riffs, and tones coherently and cleverly. This isn’t progression for the sake of it, it’s intelligent musicianship.
Bar a few more hollow fillers, there’s a lot to love here, however some less distinguishable blemishes (notably ‘The Other Side’ and ‘Losing Patience’) tarnish what is so nearly a masterclass of metal. It’s a shame that the somewhat overstuffed nature of this album knocks it from the rating pinnacle that several songs very much deserve. This is both some of Alter Bridge’s best and most lethargic work.
When The Last Hero soars, it is a musical journey of biblical proportions, it can be a force to be reckoned with at times. At times light and uplifting and at others dark and crushing, Alter Bridge refuses to rest on laurels by crafting what just falls short of their finest album yet. I’ve been searching for the top rock record of the year, first thinking it was from Modern Baseball, then The Hotelier, and most recently Black Foxxes. Now, despite the occasional stumble, The Last Hero is right up there.
The Last Hero is out now via Napalm Records