Grammy award-winning guitar hero Mark Tremonti’s musical pedigree (Creed, Alter Bridge) is testament to a work ethic and enterprising flair that are second to none, and he continues to expand his horizons with A Dying Machine. His fourth release as Tremonti is a concept album based on an idea that came to him suddenly while he was warming up for an Alter Bridge show in Hungary. He imagined a sci-fi drama set at the turn of the next century, featuring a new technology called “vessels”: lab-grown synthesised humans that begin to resist their owners and reprogram themselves, resulting in war between man and machine. An ambitious concept for a musical work, and not only that but the album is designed to accompany a novel, which Mark has been writing with author John Shirley.
Tremonti, Alter Bridge and Creed are all situated on the rock side of the rock/metal border, but Mark Tremonti can’t resist a muscular metal riff. It’s that trademark crunchy heaviness that has always, for me, elevated his solo albums above the rest of the hard rock pack, and A Dying Machine is no exception; there are some absolute bangers on here. Opener “Bringer of War”, the title track “A Dying Machine”, and “I’ll Take You With Me” are huge, heavy anthems that contain a ton of replay value. The thrashy verse riff to “I’ll Take You With Me” is audaciously placed but works brilliantly; a perfect example of how Tremonti uses heaviness to transform a solid rock song into something much more exhilarating. His song-writing skills have not suffered here from the tracks being tied into a concept album. The hooks are gorgeous and subtle as ever, leaving you constantly thinking: how the hell did he come up with that?
So, while it all sounds like Tremonti, does this album represent a development in his sound? Musically, the main departure is perhaps in the recording’s emotionally-charged atmosphere. Although I haven’t yet seen the book, apparently there is a tragic love story woven into the plot, involving the hero vessel who was created and programmed by a man to love him following the painful void of his wife’s death. The music is filled with heart, while Mark’s passion for the story really shines through in the lyrics and in his vocal delivery. Vocally, he may play second fiddle to Myles Kennedy in Alter Bridge, but he’s a very talented singer in his own right, and in A Dying Machine he allows more emotion than usual to colour his rock snarl. There are several songs that would definitely be described as ballads – notably “Trust”, “As The Silence Becomes Me” – but they are never too sentimental, and even when there are clean guitars and pathos going on, Mark manages to sneak in enough massive riffs to keep everyone satisfied.
Check out the official “A Dying Machine” lyric video here.
It’s risky to attempt a concept album. The ocean of rock music is littered with the shipwrecks of releases that foundered on lengthy self-indulgence, and even bands with good concept ideas face an inevitable barrage of skepticism from anyone who is not a die-hard fan. Tremonti manages to avoid the pitfalls; although the album is rather long (14 tracks and 62 minutes), there aren’t really any weak songs, and the ones that don’t quite gel may work better when the book becomes available. There is a prolonged instrumental at the end – “Found”, which has an industrial/synth/sci-fi vibe – but it actually forms a nice cinematic outro to what would otherwise have ended quite abruptly. An album that is written alongside a novel is an excellent idea, but not everyone will read Tremonti’s book, so the key question is whether the record works as a stand-along piece. With the quality of these songs, it undoubtedly does.
So, has Mark Tremonti’s ambition paid off? In my view, triumphantly so. When a concept album works, it really works, and Tremonti’s brave artistic vision has resulted in a hard rock showcase of the highest quality. The book will be a must-read, too.
A Dying Machine Track Listing:
01. Bringer Of War
02. From The Sky
03. A Dying Machine
05. Throw Them To The Lions
06. Make It Hurt
08. The First The Last
09. A Lot Like Sin
10. The Day When Legions Burned
11. As The Silence Becomes Me
12. Take You With Me
Run Time: 61:55
Release Date: June 8, 2018
Record Label: Napalm Records