Alter Bridge’s previous album, The Last Hero, had the deck stacked against it from the start. How do you follow an album so perfect as Fortress? Simple answer: you can’t. Regardless, The Last Hero was a great album in its own right and at the end of the day, it was more Alter Bridge and when it comes to a band like them, you can’t have too much of a good thing.
And with everything that has followed that album, both for the band and especially Messrs Kennedy and Tremonti on their other musical efforts, giving a new album some breathing space was needed. With Walk the Sky, a new creative process was brought in, which, when you’re half a dozen albums in, can raise good and bad points. Why fix what isn’t broken but at the same time, a fresh take might be just what was needed. This pulls from both strands. At times, the album borders on contrived, suffocating in the pursuit of perfection. Elsewhere there’s effortless moments pulled straight from the Alter Bridge playbook.
What’s immediately obvious about this album is, lyrically, it’s not quite so dark as its predecessor. Instead of looking at the world at large, they return to their bread and butter of a more insular, personal world. Possibly the more stranger aspect is, after one listen, it simply washes over you and nothing jumps out, dripping with that classic Alter Bridge stamp. But continue listening to it and scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find it. Even from a musical standpoint, it’s less moody, featuring more light and shade and the quartet at their most experimental. As a band that have never made the same album twice, it’s simply their latest progression and they’ve opted for more space and atmosphere.
With several listens now, all those classic numbers are there and the ones for the live environment are obvious. Brooding and brimming with power, “Wouldn’t You Rather” is a perfect set opener and once you can get past Kennedy’s vocals being filtered and essentially sounding trapped, it’s one of their best songs in recent years and continues with the knock-out punch of “In the Deep”. Then, there’s “Godspeed”, and despite the low mood of being dedicated to Mark Tremonti’s departed friend, musically, it’s one of the most upbeat of the album, remembering the good times and, musically, is classic Alter Bridge. “Take the Crown” combines the weight of “Wouldn’t You Rather” with the anthemic feel of “Godspeed” and it’s a formula repeated on “Pay No Mind”. On the former, backing vocals from Tremonti add extra heft and even a hint of danger and Scott Philip’s drum work sounds as menacing and powerful as they do on “Metalingus”.
Up to that point on the album, the band haven’t put a foot wrong, with the exception of the atmospheric and breathy opener of “One Life” which feels like it’s been shoe-horned in just to try something new. However, it’s the second half where, there’s not bad songs or even mis-steps, just songs that aren’t as strong. “Forever Falling” is led by Mark Tremonti’s lead vocals and is a much stronger offering than “Waters Rising” with his voice showing more depth but comes at the cost of him trying to do too much with it, much like certain moments of A Dying Machine. If there was more restraint shown, this would be one of the best numbers on the album.
“Clear Horizon” feels like the middle-ground of the past two albums and comes as a later surprise and the final three songs each have their own crescendo and each feel like they could be the final song. Then another comes. And another. Meanwhile, the title track harks back to the earlier “Indoctrination” and within those two songs encapsulates the entire album: light, shade, experimentation, atmospheric and above all, dynamic.
Perhaps the best bit about this album is the production even if there is a couple of strange choices on Kennedy’s vocals. Where the predecessor felt over-produced, Michael Baskette has been a little more restrained and pulled back, mirroring his efforts on Kennedy’s other full-time gig of fronting Slash’s band where World on Fire had the same issue and Baskette reined it in for Living the Dream.
Walk the Sky isn’t a bad album, far from it. All the usual hallmarks are there, chock full of their signature riffs, menacing bass and thunderous drums. It’s perhaps their most varied to date and the new approach to creating songs makes for their best album from a technical standpoint but feels like they’re chasing something just outside their reach. Indeed, this will be looked back upon as Alter Bridge’s experimental moment and as they continue to push their sound forward and there’s still those staple songs on the album but ultimately, it feels like an album trying to do just a bit too much, at times at odds with itself, and shaving a couple of songs off the running time would make this a far leaner beast. However, it’s more Alter Bridge, and that’s never a bad thing.
Header image by Dan Sturgess
Walk the Sky is released on 18th October