I thought I’d take a slightly different tack with my next Through the Years piece. Instead of tracking a singer or band’s career, I thought I’d take a look at the career of my favorite guitarist, and track the different bands he’s been in throughout the years and the albums he’s been featured on. Most know Mark Tremonti best as the guitarist of Creed, which was one of the last mega-selling rock bands of the pre-iTunes era. But he went on to form Alter Bridge from the ashes of Creed and they made their own mark on the rock world. Recently, he has also formed his own eponymous band with himself as the lead singer and guitarist, which serves as a kind of solo project for him and has its own unique traits.
First, of course, we have to start with Creed. Lead vocalist Scott Stapp and Mark Tremonti had been classmates in high school, but hung out in different groups and didn’t really get to know each other until they both ended up at Florida State. Two years later, the band was in its familiar incarnation with bassist Brian Marshall and drummer Scott Phillips, and played several small venues throughout Tallahassee. Their first album, My Own Prison, was self-released in 1995 and got the band noticed by major label Wind-Up Records, who signed the band, reworked the album and rereleased it in 1997, launching their rise to fame. Creed is often thought of as one of the first post-grunge bands, and My Own Prison could be thought of as a bridge from the grunge era. It has a gritty sound that is characteristic of most grunge bands, but has the straightforwardness and vocal power that would carry Creed in future releases. “What’s This Life For” stands out as one of its more uplifting songs. My Own Prison, in my mind, features the band finding their voice, and serves as a rough draft for future releases where their sound is more fully formed. There aren’t many “killer guitar” moments, but we do get a glimpse of Tremonti’s singing talent on the title track.
Human Clay followed in 1999, and in my mind is one of the best albums Tremonti has been involved with. His heavy and forceful guitar playing on “Higher” forms the solid foundation of my favorite Creed song. That heavy, honest sound continues on “Are You Ready?” “What If,” and “Say I.” Human Clay also shows the band’s more introspective side too, on songs like “Faceless Man,” which contemplates the nature of the Christian God. It also features one of my favorite Tremonti/Stapp moments at about the 4:35 mark, where the reflective lyrics and acoustic background guitar give way to a small eighth note flourish from Tremonti, and the song kicks into high gear for good, with Stapp belting out the same lyrics he just sang. The soft/hard transition is a cool contrast that I think defines the essence of the song. We also get the first mini-solos from Tremonti, as Stapp encouraged him to do so more often, most notably on the smash hit “With Arms Wide Open.”
Creed went through some internal strife in the intervening years, but came out of it long enough to release Weathered in 2001. Bassist Brian Marshall departed the band for still-unspecified reasons, and Tremonti recorded both the bass and guitar parts for this album. Many fans aren’t fond of Tremonti’s bass parts, but I think he has at least one standout moment on “One Last Breath,” where the bass and guitar parts mingle to a nice effect. Overall, while the album maybe isn’t as consistently excellent as Human Clay, it definitely has its high points, and stays true to the sound that made Creed famous. Tremonti still largely sticks to mini-solos on Weathered, such as on “Stand Here With Me,” and “Don’t Stop Dancing.” But probably my favorite moment of his is another soft/hard contrast in the intro of “My Sacrifice,” where he starts out with his clean electric guitar tone, then flips on the distortion and pumps up the jam. Sadly, the same internal turmoil that led to Marshall’s departure splintered the band in 2004, and Tremonti would have to find a new home for his guitar mastery.
Fortunately, he found it quickly, enlisting singer Myles Kennedy and welcoming back Brian Marshall to form Alter Bridge. In some ways, One Day Remains (2004) is a return to the gritty, less-produced sound of My Own Prison, which is evident on “Find the Real,” and “Metalingus.” But in other ways, the album shows Tremonti’s progression as a guitarist, as he finally has the freedom to do full-length solos, such as his face-melting epic on “Open Your Eyes,” which is still one of my all-time favorites of his. Most of the songs were written during Creed’s aborted fourth album sessions, so Kennedy doesn’t really feel like a full member of the band just yet, as he rarely plays guitar and the lyrics don’t have little pieces of his style that would be seen on later records.
Blackbird followed in 2007 and showcases a more familiar and polished sound from Alter Bridge, and features the title track that many fans consider to be the band’s magnum opus. Myles Kennedy finally gets to show off his guitar skills, and has a brilliant call-and-response solo with Tremonti that finally shows that the band has evolved into a cohesive team. “Rise Today” also features an amazing solo. This album also returns to the slick production values heard in Creed’s last two albums, though some of the One Day Remains-era grittiness remains intact on “Ties That Bind” and “Buried Alive.” Overall, though, Tremonti’s sound on the first two Alter Bridge albums is somewhat different than when he was in Creed. His sound in Creed was very heavy and solid, and soared to great heights like on the ballads in Human Clay. He’s still heavy in Alter Bridge, but his sound is more technical and nuanced, and in my opinion shows his skills as a musician even more.
Tremonti and company surprised the rock world by reforming Creed two years later, and the resultant album Full Circle (2009) seems to reflect the way the bandmembers viewed each other at the time. Tremonti has stated in interviews that he has not felt like a close friend of Scott Stapp’s for nine years, and they rode on separate buses and largely conducted themselves as two separate units during the tours supporting this album. That is kinda reflected in the record, as I have often described it as having an “Alter Bridge featuring Scott Stapp” sort of sound, with Tremonti and the others not really focusing on returning to their unique Creed sound, just swapping out one singer for another. While Full Circle was a solid record, Creed didn’t feel like a cohesive unit in the same way that it did in the past. They did experiment some, with an unconventional guitar tone in the title track and the acoustic driven “Rain,” but it’s hard to say this record measures up with the heights they hit on Human Clay. Right now, the future of Creed is in question, but Tremonti has talked of a possible thawing of relations between him and Stapp. Part of me thinks that Creed has served its purpose and reached its natural end, but time will tell if that’s the case.
Alter Bridge’s third album, with the super-creative name AB III, was released in 2010 and once again showed the band moving in a slightly different direction. Most of AB III’s songs are united around the theme of someone struggling with their faith in different parts of their life, and being forced to question those things that they have always considered absolute truths. Like Creed did in the previous album, Alter Bridge gets a little more experimental here as well with different rhythms and sounds, and it gives the album a little more flavor than the previous efforts. This is evident right away on the bass-driven intro to the first track, “Slip to the Void,” a sound unlike anything heard previously. Myles Kennedy’s whispered vocals in said intro add to this. Tremonti uses his clean guitar tone as a contrast to his distorted tone more often in this album, in songs such as “Ghosts of Days Gone By.” There’s also some hints of the tall, shiny Creed-era guitar sound in “Life Must Go On” and “Breathe Again,” so it’s probably no coincidence that those are my favorite songs on the album. “Words Darker Than Their Wings” hints at future vocal offerings from Tremonti as he does a call-and-response vocal part with Kennedy, which also in a way calls back to Blackbird.
After Myles Kennedy got tapped to lead Slash’s solo band during its tours, Tremonti took took the opportunity in 2012 to form his own band/kinda-sorta solo project, and released All I Was that same year. He recruited Eric Friedman to play rhythm guitar (who’d been a touring member in the Creed reunion), Garrett Whitlock (ex-Submersed drummer, with Friedman) to join him on the album. Bassist Wolfgang van Halen would join later, with Friedman playing most of the bass parts on the album. The sound on All I Was almost sounds like what I was expecting the Creed reunion record to sound like in some ways, a blend of his previous efforts. It retains the weight of the Creed sound (“Giving Up”) while adding in the technical and solo-driven subtleties that characterize Tremonti’s work in Alter Bridge (“The Things I’ve Seen”). All of it comes together to form one of his most engaging records to date. One of the most interesting moments on here occurs in the title track, with its weirdly syncopated main riff that I swore was a result of them trying out some time signature that I’d never heard before. But, in fact, when I went to Tremonti’s listening party in Orlando for their second album, the man himself confirmed that it is in fact in 4/4, which blew my mind.
On Fortress (2013), Tremonti got back to being inventive, the result of which is perhaps Alter Bridge’s most experimental album. There’s all sorts of stuff going on here: a stop-and-start intro (“Calm the Fire”), a song with rolling eighth notes that reminded me of progressive rock band Tool (“The Uninvited”), a song with an acoustic section reminiscent of Mexican acoustic duo Rodrigo y Gabriela (“Cry of Achilles”), and even a song where Tremonti takes the vocal reins for the whole song, something he’d never done before in Alter Bridge (“Waters Rising”). Most bands might get bogged down or incoherent when doing that much experimenting, but Alter Bridge knows exactly where the line is and pulls it off expertly. The result is an album that holds the listener’s interest from start to finish, and is probably their best.
The sonic variety of previous albums even bleeds into his solo project, with Cauterize (2015), as the second half of the album is more melodic and less relentlessly hard-hitting than All I Was. Songs like “Sympathy” show him pushing to extend his vocal range, and overall the album seems like a progression, if not as cohesive as his first “solo” record. His lyrics are a little subtler on this album, too. His next album with Tremonti the band, entitled Dust, will drop this year and is expected to be a companion piece of sorts to Cauterize, as the songs on Dust were recorded during the same sessions. I will be very interested to see what direction Alter Bridge goes as well, as they are supposed to tour and drop a new album either this year or 2017. It’s awesome to see Mark Tremonti releasing music at such a furious pace now, while still maintaining the high level of quality we’ve come to expect from him for almost 20 years now.