One of the reasons I’ve always liked every band Mark Tremonti has been in (Creed, Alter Bridge, and now this solo-ish project) is because he is focused on writing songs that have that thunderous rock/metal sound that gets your pulse pumping but also have strong melodies. You’ll never find any of that dumb Slipknot-style rock where the entire song is just relentless drum-pounding and screams. On his latest album, Cauterize, he starts to stretch the boundaries of the sonic places he’s willing to go.
The interesting thing about this record is that it has two distinct halves. The first half features tracks that are much more hard-hitting, with the repeated sixteenth-note drum hits that I often refer to as “headache drums.” These songs are much more aggressive and will appeal to fans of genres like speed metal. This is evident right away as “Radical Change” kicks off the record with a proverbial slap to the listener’s eardrums. “Arm Yourself” unfolds in a similar fashion, while “Flying Monkeys” has a more lumbering pace. “Cauterize,” the title track, is kind of a blend of those two styles, and has an interesting ending where the drums drop out and the distortion is turned off the guitar part. The guitar plays the main riff and interacts with Wolfgang van Halen’s bass in an interesting way.
Just as the speed metal thing is starting to get a bit repetitive, “Dark Trip” acts as something of a bridge to the second half, where the songs are much more melodic and nuanced (well, as nuanced as Mark Tremonti can ever be). I can tell that he is trying to stretch himself as a singer. On “Fall Again” and “Sympathy,” there are several moments where he pushes into the upper register of his vocal range. You can hear that he’s putting a lot of effort to get up that high, but it pays off and doesn’t sound like he’s pushing too hard. “Sympathy” is my favorite song on the album, probably because it reminds me a lot of his work with Creed, where the hard-rocking parts of his songs had a smoother sheen beneath the surface. Other interesting sonic moments in the second half of the album include the end of “Providence,” where Tremonti experiments with vocal multitracking and layers his voice over itself, something I never thought I’d hear him do. “Fall Again” also has some interesting studio effects on the guitar part in the intro and outro. Tremonti’s trademark solos are all over this album though, with his characteristic “flying fingers” style in “Tie the Noose.” The other solos on the album are equally good, but a bit more nuanced, like some of his and Myles Kennedy’s solos in Alter Bridge.
The other big theme in this album is that the music gets way more emphasis than the lyrics most of the time. Throughout the album, there are moments (even entire songs) where it’s clear the music was recorded at a higher volume than the vocals, and thus becomes the foreground of the song while the vocals recede a little. “Sympathy” and “Fall Again” are exceptions, but the album operates more often like “Flying Monkeys,” where the vocals sound further away than the guitar part. This pattern is upheld in the lyrics themselves, which are opaque and vague, sometimes so much so that they could literally be about anything. This bugged me a little while listening to the album, because I’ve always liked the messages of Tremonti’s lyrics in the other bands he’s been in, but that little extra shot of directness and creativity that Kennedy and Scott Stapp always provide him is largely missing from Cauterize.
That said, I think this album is a solid second effort that shows that Tremonti is willing to step out of his comfort zone a bit and experiment with different sounds and songwriting styles, like the single, “Another Heart,” hinted at . While this album is not as strong top-to-bottom as his debut record, All I Was, it’s probably a little more sonically interesting and still merits a buy it rating. I’ll be interested to see if he continues his subtle experimentation on his third record, which will be entitled Dust and will contain the other songs recorded during the Cauterize sessions. I heard (well, tried to hear) many of these songs at the listening party the band held in Orlando to promote the release of Cauterize. I do remember hearing some sounds I didn’t expect. Dust is supposed to come out next year, so we won’t have to wait long to hear if the trend continues.