Twelve years and four albums in, Alter Bridge’s style ticks a lot of boxes for a lot of people. Their huge, kitchen-sink-’n’-all anthems blend mainstream hooks with manicured metal, and choruses machine-tooled for radio and stadiums. Guitar god Mark Tremonti’s swathes of metallic riffs and soaring solos are never knowingly underplayed, and Myles Kennedy’s high-pitched, soulful vocals give this most American of bands a populist edge over others in Generation Download. All these tropes are here on album five. The follow-up to 2013’s dark and heavy Fortress sees the band reach deep for their most earnest, political album to date.
The Last Hero loosely explores the theme of heroism within their crunching, thrilling sound-world. Opener and first single Show Me A Leader sees the band in typical, towering form. ‘Well they’re selling another messiah here tonight/But we’re all way too divided to buy it,’ Kennedy sings. With the whole world in the shit at the moment and a highly divisive race on for the White House, it’s reassuring to hear a prominent rock band plead for good leadership.
Writing On The Wall, heavy as hell and complete with neo-classical verse and catchy chorus, is a jeremiad aimed at climate change deniers. Downtuned is exotic and dripping with contempt, while The Other Side targets fundamentalist ‘martyrs’ and religious nut-jobs of every creed (‘You think that heaven’s gates are waiting, but only hell will come’).
Amid the polemic is the penchant for hope that made the Blackbird song Rise Again such a fan favourite. The bright, major-key My Champion is as whole-hearted as it is conventional. In an age seemingly defined by endless armed conflict, You Will Be Remembered is timely and resonant. Dedicated to those who ‘sacrificed it all’ and with a simple, massive three-chord refrain, this one could catch on in the mainstream in the way that, say, Winger’s Miles Away did during the first Gulf War or, in the wider pop world, Enrique Iglesias’s Hero captured the troubled zeitgeist after 9⁄11.
Bob Dylan or Joe Strummer this stuff ain’t, but then what is? Some of the 13 tracks don’t quite land (Crows On A Wire, Poison In Your Veins), and Mike ‘Elvis’ Baskette once again produces this all to within an inch of its life. But while Alter Bridge’s confection may be too rich for some, The Last Hero is a worthy follow-up to Fortress. It’s a bold, bombastic rock album that really chimes with our troubled times. Alter Bridge got issues, and that’s a good thing.