As an Alter Bridge fan, you're already well aware that The Last Hero is coming. In just two weeks, the band will unleash their fifth album on the rock world. The team at TheAlterBridgeNation.com were lucky enough to be given some time with the record, and we are delighted to share with you what to expect come October 7th.
The Last Hero opens with the ominous tinkering of Myles on his electric guitar, a sound undoubtedly familiar to those of us who have had "Show Me a Leader" on repeat since it was unveiled last month as the album's lead single. Having barely absorbed this haunting carousel of notes, we are thrown into the path of the album's opening chords—heavy, tragic, and littered with impressive drum frills and heart-wrenching guitar bends. A rousing verse leads into an impassioned chorus with a unique stutter-start rhythm. The song perfectly sets the tone for the album: it is defiant, frustrated, and insubmissive.
of dirty riffs and downtuned guitars"
With "The Writing on the Wall" we enter this record's dungeon of dirty riffs and downtuned guitars. As one of the longest and darkest songs on the album, "The Other Side" includes one of Alter Bridge's spookiest bridges ever. We do not emerge from this underworld until "My Champion", an uplifting anthem in classic Alter Bridge form, which calls each of us to overcome our life's obstacles. The pace picks back up for the more traditional "Poison in Your Veins", a sleazy 1980s-style power jam boasting one of The Last Hero's many catchy choruses.
This leads us to "Cradle to the Grave", which kicks into gear with perhaps the most beautifully tragic chord progression Alter Bridge have ever written. The melody and lyrics play in tandem to weave a tapestry of life and death, as Myles sings "there's no way to deny / the brevity of life." The dynamism of The Last Hero continues with "Losing Patience" as its dour verses contrast the choruses' glimmers of hope. Following that we are treated to "This Side of Fate", a solemn rock odyssey highlighted by stellar guitar solos by both Mark and Myles.
highlighted by stellar guitar solos"
If "My Champion" is this album's anthem, "You Will Be Remembered" is its ballad—an inspiring tribute to all who have served their country. "Crows on a Wire" dives headfirst back into the gritty underworld, with an aggressive chord ascension transforming an otherwise genial chorus into a furious onslaught of discontent. This brings us to the upbeat "Twilight", in which a more positive melody masks its forlorn lyrical subject. In the album's penultimate track we find ourselves assaulted by the brutal "Island of Fools", packing a soaring chorus and dual guitar solos.
In a nod to Fortress, The Last Hero closes with its title track, a ferocious epic that asks, "who will save us in the end? Have we lost our last hero?" There is obviously plenty more to say about each of these tracks, which we will feature in the upcoming song-by-song reviews over the next two weeks. But what is The Last Hero like as a whole? Read on to find out!
Lyrically Alter Bridge have managed to capture the present-day sociopolitical climate without fixating on the specific political issues that can be so divisive. In fact, one can appreciate how each song stands on its own without any political baggage. Thematically much of the album feels directed towards those in power who would hold us down and divide us. There's a general sense of unrest. It paints a picture of a populace making their last stand, as if the world is lost and we've got one shot to get it back. It's desperate and urgent. Somehow hopeless and hopeful at the same time.
Musically The Last Hero is as heavy as ever, but not gratuitously so. It's arguably Alter Bridge's most dynamic work to date—haunting and sultry at times, yet slamming and gritty at others. Despite this diversity in composition, the album is almost universally loud. (It's not for the faint-of-heart or the sleep-deprived!) Along those lines, The Last Hero is very vocal-forward. Myles's voice is generally elevated in the mix, and those who prefer layered vocals will be happy to hear a whole choir of Myles singing throughout much of the record. Luckily this does not prevent the instruments from shining through. Producer Michael "Elvis" Baskette has once again done a standout job making Alter Bridge sound their best.
Instrumentally, we are treated to some of the band's most intricate work to date. Mark has certainly established his chops on the last few Alter Bridge and Tremonti records, but on The Last Hero he's solidly virtuoso-level. His playing is crisper than ever, at times reminiscent of John Petrucci or Joe Satriani. But that doesn't mean Mark has confined himself to cold, calculated speedwork; he still pulls out his traditionally lax picking style from time to time. Myles displays some of his best leads yet, including solos on "This Side of Fate" and "Crows on a Wire". The rhythm section are also at the top of their game, and as tight as ever. Brian holds things together with an unyielding rumble, and even pulls some neat tricks like the bass dives in "Poison in Your Veins". Flip sits squarely in the pocket with his most varied and least predictable drum work yet.
With Myles and Mark having spent so much time recently with Slash and Tremonti, many may wonder what impact these projects have had on Alter Bridge's sound. Naturally there are similarities, given that Myles writes vocal lines for Slash and Mark composes the majority of the music for Tremonti. With that said, The Last Hero stands squarely on its own as an Alter Bridge record. It has the cohesiveness of Blackbird and the progressiveness of Fortress, with elements of One Day Remains and AB III scattered throughout. One can even hear influences from other bands. The guys have written some of their darkest, meanest riffs yet, which may reflect their recent affinity for Gojira; and "This Side of Fate" shines with the madness of a Muse song.
Ultimately, it's clear that Alter Bridge have stepped up their game with The Last Hero. The album simultaneously pays tribute to their previous efforts and proves that they are eager to surprise their fans and explore new frontiers. Perhaps most importantly, this record is a grower. It takes many listens to truly absorb, which means it has staying power. Whereas a typical top 40 hit is instantly catchy and quickly wears out, The Last Hero will surely stand the test of time.
"Can you hear the marching, the beating of the drums..."
Songs to watch
- Cradle to the Grave
- Crows on a Wire
- This Side of Fate
- Island of Fools
- The Last Hero
Our heartfelt thanks to Alter Bridge and Napalm Records for the opportunity to review this album for The Alter Bridge Nation!