‘Cauterize’ and ‘Dust’ epitomise a no-frills, uncompromising and masterful amalgamation of rock n roll, soaring melody and speed metal. Creed and Alter Bridge guitarist Mark Tremonti fronts the solo-project-turned-full-fledged-band Tremonti, who have built themselves a spot in the rock and metal history books with the release of this double album.
I was raised a rocker. From Kiss to Bruce Springsteen, Cold Chisel, Midnight Oil and Guns N Roses, my life since had been a perpetual tug-of-war between metal and rock. As I age, my taste refines and expands, but I never found that perfect amalgamation of the two… until I first heard a band called Alter Bridge back in 2004. As an avid WWE fan, Edge’s theme song Metallingus—an Alter Bridge classic—was so enticing. It was not heavy metal, neither was it hard-rock and it rocked my fucking world.
Alter Bridge was formed of the former members of Creed with new singer Myles Kennedy and a distinct heavy metal bent. They quickly became my favourite band and have made all other rock and metal bands suffer in comparison. That was until Mark Tremonti announced his solo album in 2010.
Everything the light touches is his kingdom. Everything he touches turns to pure gold. He is a Grammy award winning songwriter with some pretty impressive accolades. Guitarist Magazine voted the solo in Alter Bridges 7-and-a-half minute epic Blackbird as the greatest of all time, beating the likes of Eddie Van Halen, Slash and Jimi Hendrix.
Tremonti released their debut album All I Was in 2011. They were fast, highly technical, accessible and all feature soaring guitar solos. The album made a big splash in the heavy music world, uniting fans from rock, speed metal and even grunge (thanks to Creed).
This time around Tremonti entered the studio with over 20 tracks prepared. Ambitious and confident he was not spitting out filler tracks, it was decided they would all be recorded and the tracks were equally parted between Cauterize and Dust, released about a year apart. There are no grand parallels or deep-running motifs that contrast these two-parts of one recording session. They are but 20 tracks that Tremonti split evenly among 2 releases.
The records seamlessly splice speedy metal assaults with darkened ballads to create two albums that occupy a unique place in the world of heavy music. Tremonti’s deeply introspective lyrics and gloomy tones and chord progressions create a very personal incarnation of metal I have yet to come across elsewhere.
And holy shit, Tremonti can pack a punch. He has the unmatched ability to create high energy, incredibly technical riffs that are also captivatingly melodic. It is high intensity freeway music that is sure to leave a few sorry souls with shocking speeding fines. With little regard to their album of origin, here are a few highlights in Tremonti’s care package of heaviness he has delivered.
Radical Change, Arm Yourself and My Last Mistake are blisteringly heavy tracks that are also fun. They feature crafty drumming patterns and fills, shred solos, distorted vocals and an unrelenting pace. These are definitely show-openers that maintain the pace of the albums.
In contrast, songs such as Another Heart and Rising Storm are larger in sheer scale, characterised by medium-pace, big vocals and chunky basslines that make you question where the hell this music fits into the guitar universe.
The bloke can do no wrong. On Cauterize, Tremonti slowed it up with a heavy track, weighing in at only 79 beats-per-minute on Flying Monkeys. It’s loud, it’s furious, it’s slow. You read that right. The verses compel you to head bang, but in slow motion. Only he could do this.
One of the few criticisms I have of Tremonti is that some of his song openings often blend together. Songs like Tie the Noose, The Cage and Once Dead require a degree of familiarity to distinguish them from other tracks on the albums. Though they build into great tracks, there is a sense of uneventfulness at the beginning of some tunes. This does little to diminish the quality of the songs in their context on their respective album, however.
Perhaps what makes Tremonti most unique are their ballads. Mark Tremonti can write very emotional songs that yank on the heart strings before writing a single lyric. At the same time, these tracks remain both metal and original concurrently—20 years in Creed will do that to you. Interestingly, however, is how Mark can write completely original ballads that saturated with nuance and innovation as opposed to easy and safe ‘four chord’ progressions.
Dark Trip (from Cauterize) is a unique track in Tremonti’s career catalogue. It opens with clean tones and a soft pace that builds up to a frighteningly melancholic chorus, thanks the a loud, distorted bassline from Wolfgang Van Halen and the soaring background vocals of Eric Friedman. The solemn acoustic riff is complemented by the thoughtful solo that climaxes the song. This is a real thinker and one you need a little preparation for—maybe a nice dinner or a long, lonely night drive.
My favourite song of Tremonti’s (and probably anyone else’s) is Sympathy, a heartening ballad of a man recalling his life, satisfied with his choices despite being different to those he grew up with. /Sympathy, my friend, abandoned me again/ he sings cheekily to his doubters. The opening riff is striking and instantly fills you with a very strong sense of introspection, satisfaction and nostalgia. I listened to this track on loop as I lined up at customs, preparing to travel the world for 7 months on my own for the first time. This track transcends anything Mark has ever done, but I am confident in knowing that he will outdo this feat on his next release.
But there is one song.
One song stands out from the rest like a monolith rising from a tumultuous sea: Dust. Like Alter Bridge’s centrepiece Blackbird, mentioned before, this is a career defining track. Mark without a doubt delivers the most commanding vocal performance of his career in this larger-than-life epic about the loss of a close friend’s confidence. The track melds Tremonti’s two predominant song-writing styles: the belters and the ballads. Mark’s solo is passionate and expressive, Whitlock’s drums are huge, Van Halen’s bass is loud and Friedman’s backing vocals are ominous. When a songwriter this unique has a band this talented, their best music becomes some of the best music period. And I truly believe this track, along with this album and its pair, is a masterful display of musical prowess unprecedented in the genre(s).
After all the time we spent
Rewriting the rules that now we bend
The whole damn thing has turned to dust
You left us alone, defeated us
When I was in the UK last year I had the privilege of seeing Tremonti’s headline show live in London. There were no fancy onstage theatrics, no pyro, no sets and minimal banter. Between songs, it is evident that Mark Tremonti is still making the transition from backing vocalist to frontman, but as soon as Garrett Whitlock counts the band in for their next track, Tremonti delivers a performance devoid of flaw. They grasp the audience—which ranged from toddlers to a bulk of twenty-somethings and even elderly couples—with a hard and fast opening half and a rather soft closing half. The performances of ballads Sympathy and Providence were awe inspiring, and the emotion in the room was astounding. There was no need to dress this show up. The music did all the talking and the audience was theirs.
Mark Tremonti is undoubtedly one of the greatest and most respected guitarists in the rock world today and has been immortalised in his music. Armed with a technically-talented and performance-driven band, Tremonti is the amalgamation of 70 years of rock evolution.
With Cauterize and Dust, Tremonti have produced some utter classics in the genre, despite being a lesser known band in the wider metal universe. As opposed to most double-albums, this is truly all killer, no filler and deserves its own walk in the history of heavy music.