3. The Last Hero
5. One Day Remains
They are all honestly so close though, I believe the weakest Alter Bridge album is still a very, very good album.
I believe Fortress is their strongest though. It's got a consistently high energy through most of the album and it was a true step up in terms of instrumental and compositional complexity. It may also be the most well-produced album that Elvis has been involved in, as the guitars didn't have that muddy "wall of sound" feel and I could actually hear the drums and bass on every track. I liked Mark's daring to forgo the wah pedal and include only one descending legato run on the whole album. I'm glad he reincorporated those trademarks afterwards, but for this album it seems to have forced him to really think about the composition behind each solo. Bleed It Dry is easily the best solo he has ever done, and Cry of Achilles and Fortress are my 2nd and 3rd favourite Alter Bridge songs (though the order of the two changes quite often). I also like the increased involvement by Myles on guitar is this album, but in terms of riffs as well as solos. There honestly isn't a single filler track for me, and the only song that feels out of place is All Ends Well - not because it's bad (I think it's ok, not their best ballad though), but because it's the only track that betrays the energy the rest of the album maintains.
ABIII, The Last Hero and Blackbird are all extremely close, and my rankings of those three do change from time to time. TLH has all the complexity of Fortress but not quite the consistent tone and energy. The best tracks on TLH are better than the best tracks on ABIII (I consider This Side of Fate and The Last Hero to both be top 5 AB tracks, and Cradle to the Grave and Island of Fools would both be somehwere in the top 15). However, the worst tracks are also weaker than the weakest tracks on ABIII, as I'd say that Poison In Your Veins, Losing Patience and You Will Be Remembered are all weaker than Make It Right or Breathe Again. I originally considered Twilight the weakest song on the album, but I must admit it has grown on me quite a bit since then. I don't understand the criticism that the album is "too Tremonti", because I feel people are making a very linear assumption that heavier = Tremonti. Many of the heaviest riffs on this album were written by Myles, and all-in-all I'd say the first 3 AB albums had much more Tremonti than TLH. I'd actually call the album possibly the best collection of Myles' guitar chops since in 25 years, as some of his riffs and solo on this album are simply incredible.
But ultimately, I gave ABIII the slight nod over TLH due to being more consistent. It's weird that many people consider ABIII a disappointing album, because I think it's very unique and it's what converted AB from being a great band (in my mind) to my all-time favourite band. This album has much of the tightness of early AB crossed with hints of the progressiveness and complexity of later AB. The dark tone of the lyrics and the music itself is right up my ally, and I think it may be Myles' best album vocally outside of MF4. I suppose it doesn't have as many standout tracks as other albums, which is probably the big killer for many people (that being said, Slip to the Void and Words Darker Than Their Wings are all-time AB tracks), but it definitely does benefit from being listened to as a whole. Unfortunately it is let down by the production, as it is probably their worst produced album. The drums are very buried in the mix, there are too many echo-effects going on with the vocals in songs like Make It Right, and some songs (such as Still Remains or Show Me A Sign) are amazing tracks that I believe have never translated that well for most people due to their very flat production. Despite that, this album will always have a special place for me, even if it's just a timing thing for me though (like I said this was the album that converted me into an AB obsessive).
It feels like sacrilege to have Blackbird down as the second-last album, because the title-track is the band's masterpiece and probably my favourite song of all-time. It's also their most polished album, as it's the only one that was written without a specific deadline. Each song feels immaculately constructed and there's not really much to pick at. The production is also pretty good by Elvis' standards - the guitars are too muddy in places but most of the time I can at least hear all of the instruments (unlike ABIII or TLH). It may also be Mark's best collection of solos (Fortress comes close though), and I guess it's a testament to how long they spent writing the album. I suppose the only reason it doesn't rank higher is that it still has the early AB sound which was centred around uplifting choruses and positive messages. There's nothing wrong with either of those elements (they are actually part of what got me into the band), but I do feel AB evolved once they opened their music to darker tones and themes. I used to reason with this being lower than ABIII by saying that it had weaker filler tracks, but to be honest I'm not really sure if One By One and Break Me Down are any weaker than Make It Right or Breathe Again. I definitely do feel like one of those two songs needed to be sacrificed to make room for New Way To Live, which is way too great of a piece of music to be wasted as a b-side. If that track was on the album proper, and they had decided to record the original, darker version of Buried Alive (I still enjoy the current version, but after watching a recording of that original version I can't listen to the track without feeling consciously aware that there could have been a better version) this album could have ranked as high as 2nd for me. However, like I said, my rankings do change from time to time, and sometimes it does climb as high as 2nd. But often it sits here at 4th.
I have ODR in last place, not because it's a bad album (it isn't, I think it's great) but because of the obvious fact that it wasn't true AB yet. It's very much a (post-Creed) Mark Tremonti solo record, but still a great one at that. But the band began to find their sound and identity once they incorporated Myles into both guitar playing and songwriting duties. This added a whole new layer to their sound and it's why I can't rank ODR above what came after. That being said, there are some great tracks here (The End Is Here is a great precursor to some of the AB epics that followed on later albums), and it's definitely the most accessible AB album - I doubt I would have felt encouraged to get into the band if not for the sound of this album. Even though the single-guitar sound is part of the reason why I rank it below other albums, it probably also benefitted the mixing stage a lot, because it definitely does feel a lot less crowded than some of Elvis' efforts (it's sounding like I'm hated on Elvis here - I'm not. I love the guy and think he plays an important part in the workshopping and songwriting stages of production for the band. I'd just like to here him pass the mixing and mastering stages off to someone else).