This review was originally written for GetYourRockOut.co.uk
Alter Bridge are now no longer young upstarts, or indeed middling metal bands, but are making the transition into arena rock behemoths. Whilst in many ways The Last Hero picks up from where Fortress left off, there's no sense of complacency, and in playing to their strengths they've laid a blueprint for upscaling their music to suit the live environment they now find themselves conquering.
Opener Show Me A Leader is typical Alter Bridge, epic picking intro, complete with wailing lead, giving way to an almost Dream Theatre-esque riff before Myles Kennedy's distinctive vocals take centre stage. Kennedy is in the form of his life here, pitching beautifully between knowing snarls and soaring high notes. The chorus - bound to be a crowd pleaser when the band heads out on tour - sets a more defiant and hopeful tone for the whole album than we've previously seen.
The contrast of the darker tone and gnarly riffs with Kennedy's most optimistic and defiant lyrics yet give the album a unique vibe within the band's catalogue. The likes of The Writing On The Wall and Poison In Your Veins both boast gut-busting Tremonti riffage and contumacious vocals, the listener in the latter being told "it's time for you to rise and be much more". Meanwhile Twilight sees the band entering the realm of political commentary. 'Tomorrow is contingent on the tolerance of every heart' - clearly calling out the likes of Trump on his plethora of bullshit, and probably the most compelling of Kennedy's lyrics. Just the right side of cheesey, they're saved by the sincerity with which Kennedy tends to infuse all his songs. Not just a commentary for commentary's sake but more a venting of his psyche, dealing with a larger theme with a still deeply personal approach.
The lighter-in-the-air ballades that Alter Bridge do so well return too. You Will Be Remembered a letter to loved ones lost in the vein of ABIII's In Loving Memory. The stand out track though is My Champion. Featuring a cascading lead intro and a genuinely uplifting chorus, it's slightly evocative of Bon Jovi, albeit with a much dirtier amp. Though the title flirts with power ballade cliche, it does well to stay the right side of it and was ultimately the track I hit the repeat button on the most.
Most interesting though are the more expansive tracks. The atmospheric Cradle To The Grave deploying acoustic guitars to create a Dance of Death era Iron Maiden vibe, and This Side Of Fate is equally ambitious. Violining intro and picked verses showing a characteristic deployment of dynamics to create the desired emotional response in the listener. Alter Bridge are becoming extremely adept at telling a story through not just the lyrics, but the music itself. There's a prog like Iron Maiden middle section again and they experiment with song structure to great effect, Kennedy's vocals truly soaring. The penchant for story telling surfaces again in the closing title track.
These more impressive, experimental songs hint of the band's possible future direction. Further exploration of the more expansive material could indeed be an extremely fertile field to plow. The Last Hero is a typically accomplished affair for the band. The only minor quibble would be Tremonti's lead work. Always crisp and technically impressive, it nevertheless lacks the real soul or gravitas of say, an Alex Lifeson solo. He should break out the blues albums and heed Peter Green's advice to Gary Moore of playing 'every other lick' to avoid becoming too much of a shredder, and set off those more epic tracks with some truly soulful lead work. Nevertheless, The Last Hero is yet another sterling piece of music from the boys from Florida.
Show Me a Leader
The Writing On The Wall
The Other Side
Poison In Your Veins
Cradle To The Grave
This Side Of Fate
You Will Be Remembered
Crows On A Wire
Island of Fools
The Last Hero