Alter Bridge review – a stunning, symphonic metal band reborn

Royal Albert Hall, London
The bombastic arena-rockers’ overblown songs are pushed to new limits of sonic excess in a thrilling collaboration with the Parallax Orchestra

There was a time when the Albert Hall seemed to exist solely to give Eric Clapton somewhere to play every now and then, but recent times have seen the prestigious venue become a more achievable goal for the less cosily iconic. Always classier than their arena-rock peers, Floridian quartet Alter Bridge arrive here accompanied by the 52-piece Parallax Orchestra, confirming that everyone involved knows the Albert Hall is a venue designed to host spectacles, not just gigs.

At the forefront of what we might call modern classic rock, Alter Bridge have spent more than a decade establishing themselves as masters of the bombastic, semi-metallic anthem, with plenty of earnestness and humble charm thrown in. For unclear reasons, the band’s UK fan base is particularly rabid and, as a result, tonight feels like a sustained celebration of love between fans and musicians, replete with hysterical shrieking every time endlessly likable frontman Myles Kennedy opens his gob.

Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge at the Royal Albert Hall
Endlessly likable … Myles Kennedy. Photograph: Jo Hale/Redferns

If there’s one thing Alter Bridge do well, it’s explosive bombast – you half expect to spend the evening dodging chunks of ceiling, as already overblown songs are pushed to new limits of sonic excess. The effect of this extra noise, however, is stunning. From the opening slow-burn rush of Slip to the Void onwards, conductor and musical director Simon Dobson miraculously manages to enhance these blustery slabs of epic post-grunge with his arrangements. At times it’s as if Alter Bridge have transformed into a symphonic metal band, replete with John Williams-esque eruptions of soaring strings and parping brass.

Kennedy and guitarist Mark Tremonti don’t bother to conceal their delight: during a magnificent Ties That Bind, Tremonti’s cheek-splitting grin is a thing of disarming wonder. The rarely played Words Darker Than Their Wings is nothing short of revelatory, one of the band’s greatest songs reborn amid the lush sweep of the cinematic backing; the penultimate Blackbird, Alter Bridge’s most affecting epic, is absurdly thrilling in this new form.

It doesn’t all work so brilliantly. Before Tomorrow Comes remains a pedestrian soft-rock ballad that needs more than some orchestral touches to make it interesting. Similarly, songs from 2016’s stodgy and overproduced The Last Hero were heavy-handed enough to begin with: several extra layers of instrumentation turns This Side of Fate into a confused barrage of competing crescendos. Overall, however, this is a sumptuous triumph and proof that more really can be more.

• At Usher Hall, Edinburgh, on 5 October. Box office: 0131-228 1155. Then touring.


Dom Lawson

The GuardianTramp

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