While the talented quartet comprising the hard rock phenomena that is Alter Bridge, the band did not set out to create an album with an evocative, thought-provoking and unassailably pertinent theme – that’s what the result of their creative labours has produced.
The band’s fifth studio album The Last Hero was released on Oct. 7 worldwide and has already generated widespread critical and popular acclaim for its superior musicianship, breathtaking emotional intensity, and powerful message.
As the title suggests, thematically, the album is an exploration of heroism and leadership, looking at the subject matter from a number of unique and challenging angles: a lack of heroes, the need for heroic leadership, the celebration of heroes on the battlefield and in our communities and tapping into the hero within each one of us.
“It wasn’t something that we were conscious of immediately and I think what probably influenced this overall tone of the album was the current political climate here in the United States. I have never seen anything quite like this before. This has been quite eye opening. And the [presidential] election did directly inspire the song Show Me A Leader. We had already put that song together music-wise and [guitarist] Mark Tremonti had the ‘show me a leader’ chorus idea. I was staying at Mark’s house at the time and the TV was on in the other room and I remember there was some kind of campaign coverage on and I literally took the first line of the first verse off what I was listening to. Essentially the song just reflected how disillusioned I was feeling by what I was witnessing,” said vocalist/songwriter Myles Kennedy from his home in Spokane, as he rested up before Alter Bridge headed to Europe for an autumn tour.
“And so that song came together and then as the writing process continued, it’s just so loud down here right now with what’s going on in the news with this campaign and this election. It has just become impossible to shut it out and I think that partially infiltrated the writing process. But the theme wasn’t something where we set out and said, ‘let’s write a record about dealing with the hero concept or leadership.’ It was truthfully just a snapshot of what was going on in our heads and lives at the time.”
Known for being able to balance sometimes brutal heaviness with a melodic effusiveness that straddles the line between classic sounding hard rock and metal, Alter Bridge continues their remarkable legacy of creating music that makes one think, makes one feel and yet still can compel a raucous round of head banging.
The achingly powerful ballad You Will Be Remembered is the band’s unapologetic, but also non-jingoistic tribute to not just the men in women of the military and emergency services, but local heroes in every community. Conversely, Poison in Your Veins is an epic, metallic call to action for those beaten down by life encouraging them to live life to the utmost, to believe in themselves and their dreams.
While the world may seem harsh, and the timbre of some of the songs on The Last Hero dark and heavy, ultimately, as with the band’s four previous albums, Alter Bridge songs are about hope, perseverance, and the innate power for good within each person.
“I think Mark and I both subscribe to the concept of being optimistic. We’re not blindly optimistic, but for me as the main lyricist for Alter Bridge I don’t wake up every morning feeling like everything’s wonderful. But it’s good for me to write songs that have a positive outlook because it helps to remind me of the good things in life. It’s a mantra to help keep me strong if I start to backslide into negativity. Listen, we never set out to be the Tony Robbins of rock and roll, but I think that it’s just that the themes we tend to write about are really things were are trying to have in our own lives,” said Kennedy.
“Again, it’s not like I wake up and say life is terrible and I have to talk myself into positive thoughts because I don’t think life is terrible. But it can be difficult at times and sometimes, as the phrase goes, I have need to ‘buck up, little camper.’”
The evidence of the potency of this attitude is how it has allowed Alter Bridge’s music to become so meaningful in the lives of their fans.
“I think a lot of the themes and a lot of the songs make people feel the same that we do when we write them. Maybe these songs resonate with people on that deep of a level. What’s fascinating for me is when we meet fans who have been with us for such a long time, and some have tattoos of our song lyrics on their bodies and express how profoundly the songs have affected their lives. I think there is just some sort of universal element to the songs that, at the end of the day, has found a place in people’s lives,” Kennedy opined.
Alter Bridge rose from the ashes of the wildly successful alternative rock band Creed in 2004. When the band’s lead guitarist Tremonti, bassist Brian Marshall and drummer Scott Phillips parted ways with controversial lead singer Scott Stapp, they knew they wanted to continue writing, recording and performing together. Tremonti has been a fan of Kennedy’s former band, The Mayfield Four, and brought him into what became Alter Bridge. The album One Day Remains was released later that year, followed by Blackbird in 2007, AB III in 2010, Fortress in 2013 and now The Last Hero.
Creed reformed for an album and tour in 2009, and in 2010 Kennedy became frontman for Slash’s solo band, Slash: Featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, recording two studio albums and a live album, while also touring the world. Tremonti has released three solo records under the Tremonti banner, including last year’s Cauterize [read our interview with Tremonti here: http://www.musiclifemagazine.net/tremonti-releases-heavy-melodic-new-album].
Kennedy admits that early on the band’s history, they got a boost from a seemingly unlikely source – pro wrestling. Not long after One Day Remains came out, the Canadian wrestler known as Edge (real name Adam Copeland) used part of the song Metalingus from that album as his new theme song. He kept using it until his retirement in 2011. Songs from that album also appeared in two Marvel movies in 2005 – Elektra and Fantastic Four – as well as the Madden NFL 2005 video game.
“I really think the connection with Edge was a pretty big deal, way more than I realized at the time. Years later I still hear the story of people telling me that that they discovered this band through Edge and his theme song. So that’s been great. We were on tour not long ago and Adam showed up for a gig and hung out for a bit. The relationship and connection has been really good for us overall,” Kennedy explained.
As most of the universe knows, Slash reunited with Axl Rose and Duff McKagan to tour with Guns ‘N Roses throughout most of 2016. Kennedy said he and his fellow bandmates in Slash’s band knew late last year that the reunion was happening, but that the time had already been set aside for the Alter Bridge writing, recording and touring cycle.
“We usually have this sort of thing planned out well in advance. I think I knew, as did the rest of the Conspirators [including Canadians Todd Kerns and Brent Fitz] by the fall of last year about the GnR reunion,” he said, adding that there has been talk of their band getting back together again at some point.
“We actually had communication about a month or month and a half ago about reconvening in the next year to 18 months. So the door is definitely open.”
And on the subject of the Conspirators Canadian content, Kennedy said he is continually dazzled by the high quality of musicianship he experiences with players hailing from the Great White North.
“I know from spending so much time with Todd that he is a musical powerhouse of a guy. He and Brent are two of the finest musicians I know. There’s just something about Canada and musicianship. Ian Thornley is a friend of mine and he’s another example of someone with an insane amount of talent. I met him about 18 years ago. We did a tour with my old band The Mayfield Four along with Big Wreck and The Watchmen, and it was really something else to watch Ian play night after night. Just wow,” he said.
With so many in the music industry, particularly in North America, claiming that the concept of the ‘album’ is dying on the vine, Kennedy said he and his bandmates never even considered not releasing a full album’s worth of new material.
“I think part of it is we do believe that the idea of an album as a journey and a form of art is still important. But part of it also is it’s the only way we know how to do it, given where we come from and what our generation was raised doing, which was going out and buying albums and listening to them from start to finish. So the idea of writing a song and putting a single out and then not having an entire, substantial body of work to back that up just seems so foreign. Hopefully that idea won’t completely die. As a music fan I would hate for that to happen,” he said.
And with an album that is as memorable, compelling, deep and musically still heavy as hell, it’s not going to die if Kennedy, Tremonti, Phillips and Marshall have anything to say about it.
For more information on Alter Bridge and The Last Hero, visit https://www.alterbridge.com.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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