The first thing that strikes you during the sumptuous, slow-build to opening track ‘Slip To The Void’ is how perfect the marriage of Alter Bridge and The Parallax Orchestra is; Myles Kennedy’s vulnerable, melancholic introduction is subtly embellished by the swells of strings before the dramatic introduction of the guitars and the rest of the band is powerfully bolstered for the heavy verse, with perfect accentuation following on the middle eight.
Add in the glorious, stately setting of the Royal Albert Hall, a perfect mix and unfussy editing (Steve Harris take note) that allows each cut to breathe a moment before moving on to the next, and you are already assured that Live At The Royal Albert Hall (Napalm) is going to be perfect. The uptempo rock of ‘Addicted To Pain’ continues the feeling that this is a great idea; epic stabs and slashes building additional drama into this already powerful beast.
Of course the obvious comparison is to S&M (Vertigo), and it has to be said, it seems that Alter Bridge have learned the lessons from their Metal brethren. The orchestration works with, rather than against, the base material at all times; there to serve the music and add drama, power, and adornment, never competing with tracks, though it is true to state that Alter Bridge’s music rarely enters the tight and taut, fraught with no additional space thrashery of Metallica, and is material which in turn lends itself to allowing the orchestration a greater scope to enhance. Visually, too, the famous old venue serves to enhance the feeling of witnessing something superior, while the sight of Mark Tremonti rocking out, as much a master on his instrument as anyone on the stage, in front of a wall of cellos and violins is one to be enjoyed.
It has gone pretty much unnoticed that Alter Bridge have quietly and most excellently gone about their business of becoming one of not just the biggest, but best acts our world has to offer. It’s not just that very few could carry this off with such aplomb, grace, competence, and majesty, it’s also that very few have the songs that really lend themselves to being as successful in this environment. Across the twenty-one song performance, Alter Bridge go from crunching rock anthems, to the heroic Zeppelin triumph of ‘Cry Of Achilles’, to a delicate, goosebump-inducing rendition of ‘In Loving Memory’ which is delicately and discretely handled by all concerned, back to neck-snapping metal, and, under the expert lead of conductor and musical director Simon Dobson, the Parallax Orchestra find a way to enhance each and every track, with special note for truly mesmeric lengthier, darker journeys of ‘Fortress’, ‘Words Darker Than Their Wings’ and ‘Blackbird’, where truly are the definitive renditions of those songs. This really is an Alter Bridge set for the ages, covering all five releases.
If there is a gripe, it is that, on the DVD version, interview segments intersperse and break up the concert footage and take you out of the magic at intervals, though this could be personal preference rearing its head here. That said, the segments themselves are interesting and worthwhile, giving insight into the preparation, composition, and above all meaning that the concept, venue and holistic idea really mean to all involved – not just the band, but their manager who spawned the vision, the orchestra and the musical directors.
Live albums exist in a strange space in the rock / metal conscience… those of yesteryear are venerated, those of the twenty-first century, with a handful of exceptions, are treated as stocking fillers, curios and add-on’s. Alter Bridge Live At The Royal Albert Hall deserves its spot in the pantheons of the GREAT live albums, the Live After Death’s, No Sleep Til Hammersmith’s of this world. A truly majestic, moving and masterful release, Live At The Royal Albert Hall is an essential live monument that serves as a fitting peak (so far) for one of our greatest acts that one only hopes could open the door for future collaborations.