It’s fun to go back and read old reviews from years back only to check out which (or if) any opinions have changed since then. It’s also quite fun to read some of the comments to some reviews. When I’m now about to write the review for Alter Bridge’s new record, it’s with a different mind-set than I had in 2010. Or in 2012. Back then I was discovering a band that I hadn’t really made an impact on me. In 2010, Alter Bridge had two albums under their belt, two albums that never resonated me at all. I didn’t dislike them but I wasn’t exactly a fan either. And to this day, those two albums has failed to make a great impression on me. They’re ok but that’s it. Things have changed since then. I am now a fan. I can honestly say that I love Alter Bridge now. And all that started with AB III (2010) and by 2012 and Fortress, I was a convinced fan with everything that comes with that.
It’s now three years since Alter Bridge released their last album, my personal favorite The Last Hero, an album where everything fell to place, where every song gave me goose-bumps. However, it was also an album that got some mixed reviews from fans and reviewers. I gave it a clear 10/10 and I stand by that score to this day. What I don’t stand by is the 8/10 that I gave AB III and Fortress. Those records has grown on me further and had I reviewed those records today, they had gotten themselves good nines without hesitation. This makes for some grandiose expectations on my part when the band now follows up their masterpiece with a brand new record. I can honestly say that I’m not the least worried that they will fail and make a crap album, the question is more just how good this release will be. Will it equal their last release? Will they better it? Will it be only good?
Opener “One Life” is a soft, taciturn, intro-like one-and-a-half minute long song. With a dramatic atmosphere and a stripped outlook with only a synth, Myles Kennedy’s emotional voice and at the end, a drum, this magnificent little piece paves way for the album’s actual opening track, the leading single “Wouldn’t You Rather”. It’s a heavy and crafty puncher that hols a solid, rowdy groove, grandiose riffs and a thunderous rhythm. It’s a ballsy and tough tune that treats us with some phenomenal melodies yet a dark outlook. Its chorus is distinct and and in-your face, catchy yet not radio-friendly at all. Still, it sticks from go. Brilliant! “In The Deep” follows on a punchy and heavy note, upbeat in pace but also with an underlying pop-vibe that sends out hooks everywhere. The song alternates between a mid-paced heavy groove and a faster and rougher outlook. There’s a darker 90’s touch to it but also 80’s Rock comes in when the distinct and effective chorus comes in. This is very good.
Kennedy and guitarist Mark Tremonti trade lead vocals when “Godspeed” shows up. The tune starts out like a ballad with a 70’s sounding synth but speeds up to a straight-forward pop-rocker on a steady, in-your-face rhythmic beat. It’s an uplifting song with a striking vocal melody and a massive refrain, addictive as any drug out there and the hit-potential here is endless. Love it! On a darker and an even gloomy note, “Native Son” brings on tuned down and beefy guitars, very edgy and gritty. While not the least radio-friendly, the chorus contains a myriad of hooks which makes it hit like a ton of bricks. Great. The gloominess continues with the single “Take The Crown”, another heavy belter that’s bouncy, hard-hitting with enormous riffs and a solid, stone-hard rhythm but also quite uplifting where the massive chorus strikes hard and takes the tune to a home-run. Very good indeed.
“Indoctrination” is doomy, dark, slow and robust – aggressive yet very melodic. The shuffling chord-progressions and riffs brings on a slight Alice In Chains vibe but as the song gets rowdier, there’s a clearer classic Hard Rock punch that takes the tune into a different musical corner. It’s clearly one of the album’s more menacing song albeit the infectious chorus comes with a grand melody that hits like a boxer’s fist. Killer stuff. “The Bitter End” is hard, fat-riffed and heavy in a mid-pace on a punchy beat and a straight ahead rhythm. It’s a solid and tough song yet with pop-laden melodies that glues themselves to the brain. I would say that this is a typical album track – no single-potential here – and I mean that in a good way. It’s a memorable and striking song that will probably do well live.
Second single “Pay No Mind” is groovy, kicking and edgy with crispy guitars that’s tuned down, heavy and raw. For good measure, there are some experimental electronic synth loops showing up without changing the song structure but it brings on a slightly different dynamic – and it’s not hurting the song at all. With one of the album’s most juicy, spot-on and catchy choruses, I smell a hit. One of my favorite songs off the album. “Forever Falling” kicks off with some edgy and chugging metal-riffing – robust and heavy. The verses goes off fast and hard-hitting with a thrash-metal attitude but also quite atmospheric due to the menacing backing keyboards that creates an unexpected dynamic. Sung by Tremonti – the guy really is an underrated singer – Kennedy takes the mike back for the chorus, a chorus that slows things down a bit and gets to the nitty-gritty with a strong and memorable melody and hooks enough to sell. Great stuff.
The upbeat and tough “Clear Horizon” is – even though it’s memorable enough – not as strong as the previous tracks. With rowdy guitars and a rhythmic beat that grooves, the tune comes along ballsy and fat. Also, Kennedy sings it a bit differently – the first verses are almost a whisper. It’s definitely not bad but not with the almost unbelievable strength of the other songs, it falls a bit flat. “Walking On The Sky”, the album’s kind-of title-track takes the AB-dudes back on track, quality-wise. Hard and heavy, the tune goes straight for the throat with a big, punchy rhythm section and ripping guitars and on top lies a whole bunch of hook-laden melodies that mixes heaviness with a more slick vocal-arrangement, something that works like a charm. To break things off, a slick and plain melodic passage is added to give the tune room to breathe before it takes off once more. Damn good.
We’re getting close to the end of the album now but it has stood clear for a while now that the album wouldn’t disappoint. The pop-oriented and hit-friendly “Tear Us Apart” doesn’t change any of that. The pop-vibes aside, this is still a quite rowdy and crungy tune that stands on a steady ground. It might just be slightly Creed-ish but not enough to annoy and the addictively catchy and smooth refrain is absolutely superb. I hear another single here. They bid their farewell for this time with the phenomenal “Dying Light”. It starts out acoustically with only a picking guitar and a smooth vocal-melody and it comes across as almost folky. It gets a bit rougher and busy when the chorus comes in and brings along a brilliant melody with lots of hooks and a contagious melody. The folky twist continues in the verses albeit with a full band, still on the more laid-back side. The solo section is both atmospheric and heavy and brings on a different dynamic which works like a charm. It’s a melancholic yet uplifting track, the closest to a ballad on the album. A perfect closing anthem.
Alter Bridge has with Walk The Sky released their fourth killer in a row and it sure seems that this band just can’t do no wrong. Ok, so this one isn’t as direct and love-at-first-listen as The Last Hero was – it took a few spins to realize its full potential but when it stuck, it sure damn stuck. This album brings on a darker mood, even gloomy at times and the sound-scape is grittier, rawer and tougher but once the melodies has grown in, it stands clear that the record is also quite pop-laden, melody and hook-wise. I still hold The Last Hero as my all-time favorite Alter Bridge record, but this one is breathing down its neck – just like AB III and Fortress are. This might not be the album of the year but it’ll make the top 10 list without the slightest doubt.
More Alter Bridge reviews:
1. One Life
2. Wouldn’t You Rather
3. In The Deep
5. Native Son
6. Take The Crown
8. The Bitter End
9. Pay No Mind
10. Forever Falling
11. Clear Horizon
12. Walking On The Sky
13. Tear Us Apart
14. Dying Light