Reviewed: December, 2019
Released: 2019, Napalm Records
Reviewer: Jack Merry
Hard rock outfit Alter Bridge have had a meteoric rise in popularity since forming in 2004 and the release of their gold-certified debut album One Day Remains. From its incredible follow up Blackbird in 2007 to 2016’s The Last Hero,with more than a few sell-out arena tours across the globe, Alter Bridge have built a dedicated fan base from the ground up, myself included, through relentless touring and consistent, high quality studio releases.
The Florida quartet – Myles Kennedy (vocals, guitar), Mark Tremonti (guitar, vocals), Brian Marshall (bass), and Scott Phillips (drums) – have created something truly special in the form of the band’s sixth album, Walk The Sky. After my first listen through the album, what stood out to me most was how overwhelmingly positive it is, especially when ABIII and The Last Hero were albums dripping with despair, torment and negativity. “Those three words Walk The Sky evoke an image.” explains Mark. “Think of a person walking on a tightrope. This individual is on the edge of life and death, yet still moving forward. In many ways, this chapter deals with enlightenment in the sense of Zen meditation. To Walk The Sky, you untether from rules and break out of your body.”
This is obviously the band’s mission statement this time around, as opening track “One Life” sets the scene beautifully for what’s to come. “Let it’s wisdom guide me home, to a place, where I am safe, a clear escape,” croons Myles in a low-level whisper. It’s good to see the band treading new ground, as they give us an ethereal, peaceful soundscape with heaps of subtle guitar and gorgeous synthesisers.
The peace doesn’t last too long however, as lead single “Wouldn’t You Rather” comes roaring out the gate with it’s Gojira-inspired pounding main riff propelled by a high energy groove before hitting a stratospheric refrain as Myles asks, “Wouldn’t you rather, live from the heart?” The track also contains one of the best Tremonti guitar solos ever recorded, as it rips and tears along the fretboard whilst still maintaining the melodic touches we’ve come to know from Alter Bridge. “It can be traced back to a famous phrase by the late Joseph Campbell, ‘Follow your bliss’,” Myles continues. “It’s my personal mantra, and it still resonates with me as much as it did when I first heard him say it in an interview thirty years ago. To me, it’s also a reminder to follow your internal passion and not be swayed by what can be an empty pursuit of material gains that ultimately won’t bring you long-term happiness.”
Under the influence of timeless John Carpenter scores, Alter Bridge incorporate moody synths into the psychedelic rock kaleidoscope of “Pay No Mind” and gorgeous elegy “Godspeed”. The latter serves as a dedication to the memory of Mark’s lifelong friend Seth, offering a tender send-off on the wings of another sweeping refrain, “Farewell, Godspeed, and goodbye, you have lived, and you have changed all our lives.” “Godspeed” is an aching, monumental testimony to a loved one, and could be the uplifting payoff for the brooding “Ghost Of Days Gone By,” featured on ABIII. “Seth was a very dear friend of mine who passed away recently,” sighs Mark. “He was such a big fan and a brother to me. I always played demos for him. The lyrics reference wishing someone luck on their journey.”
“Take The Crown” sees Alter Bridge running a victory lap, lifting a middle finger to the critics and naysayers. “Let’s state the obvious right now, we’ll be victorious, we’ll take the crown, just like we’ve always done before.” It’s fantastic seeing them this confident, and they have every right to be. As if to finish off their prey, another awe-inspiring guitar solo from Mark sweeps in and soars alongside Myles’ vocal and seals the deal.
“The Bitter End” is a tale of living in the moment and realising what’s truly important in life, with its chorus of “The bitter end will come in time, but the joy I have found in the sweet here and now, it keeps me alive,” and “Forever Falling” features the now-expected lead vocal performance from Mark Tremonti, but not before its sublime acoustic introduction is snapped away by razor-sharp riffs. On my first listen with headphones, this floored me. Mark’s vocals have only gotten better and stronger after his time with his solo band Tremonti, with four excellent studio releases under his belt, and I always eagerly await hearing more of his voice.
The home stretch of Walk The Sky contains some of the best material on the entire record. “Clear Horizon” will no doubt be a live favourite if they ever roll it out on tour, with its suspenseful guitar stabs, soaring vocal melodies and pounding rhythm section. I haven’t spoken enough about the incredible Brian and Scott (bass and drums respectively), and their brilliance is on full force on this record. Not that it hasn’t been before, but here they really seemed to have stepped up a notch or six.
The cavernous drums and rumbling bass lines are an all-out assault on the senses during “Walking On The Sky” and album closer “Dying Light”. A patchwork of orchestral swells, tense harmonics, and lyrical guitar leads, the latter offers a fitting conclusion to the trip. “It sort of wrote itself in a lot of ways,” Myles goes on. “It was like stepping up to the canvas and painting with no clear idea of where I was going. After completing the lyrical ‘abstract painting’, I stepped back to gain perspective and realized it could be interpreted in a few different ways. With that said, there’s a key line in the chorus that tied it together for me, ‘In the Dying Light, we learn to live, when we give in, to the silent waves that crash inside.’ To me, that represents the idea of letting the ego die, detaching from the noise in your head and surrendering to the moment.”
The one track here I think is slightly weaker than the rest would have to be “Tear Us Apart” as it’s a very by-the-numbers affair without offering anything new to the table, however over time I believe this could grow on me. It’s not bad by any definition, but currently it’s my least favourite track on an otherwise stellar record.
My only real criticism of Walk The Sky is that the production is a little muddy to my ears, and maybe compressed a little too much. Michael ‘Elvis’ Baskette is a world-renowned producer, having worked with Slash and Sevendust, among many more, but here he seems to have dropped the ball just a little. It’s a good sounding record, not a great one, and that is stopping me giving it five out of five.
Alter Bridge continue their streak of consistently good studio releases with Walk The Sky, and it’s a record filled to the brim with new ideas, masterful musicianship, skyscraping vocals and sheer blunt-force determination.