Review by Greg Maki
“… In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
That famous quote is attributed to Benjamin Franklin in 1789. In the 21st century, however, there is at least one more certainly: Every three years, Alter Bridge will release a new studio album, and it will be a superb helping of hard rock, at times bordering on metal, powered by the dynamic duo of Myles Kennedy and Mark Tremonti.
“Walk the Sky,” the band’s sixth studio effort since its 2004 formation, more than upholds that grand tradition, showcasing Kennedy’s powerful, emotive vocals and Tremonti’s huge riffs and searing solos over top the ferocious rhythms supplied by drummer Scott Phillips and bassist Brian Marshall.
After the short, moody beginning of “One Life,” the record rips into high gear with “Wouldn’t You Rather,” an energetic banger that seems destined to serve as a live opener for a long time to come. Alter Bridge, though, never has been full throttle all the time, and the gears shift immediately with track number three, “In the Deep,” sporting a bright sound that’s reminiscent of Dream Theater’s more accessible work.
At this point, and leading into the next song, “Godspeed,” the biggest change in the band’s sound is evident—keyboards. While never the dominant instrument, keys are unmistakably present throughout the record, adding more texture to the mix—listening with a top-quality pair of headphones is a must—and a modern sheen to the overall sound. Take what Godsmack did with keys on last year’s “When Legends Rise” record, then crank it up another notch or two, and you’ll get an idea of what we’re working with. The electronic sounds don’t take the place of anything within the traditional Alter Bridge sound; they’re an extra layer that gives the songs a dramatic, almost cinematic feel. Again, the Dream Theater comparison comes to mind here, but Alter Bridge accomplishes that with songs that generally fall between four and six minutes instead of in epic lengths that can be a challenge to even the most devoted fan’s attention span.
Standout tracks include the aforementioned “Wouldn’t You Rather;” the ominous “Indoctrination;” “Pay No Mind,” which plays up the keys a little more than the other tracks and comes off like the theme to a lost John Carpenter movie; “Forever Falling,” with lead vocals by Tremonti, who, if you haven’t been following his own eponymous band, has come a long way as a singer since taking the lead on “Waters Rising” from 2013’s “Fortress;” and “Walking on the Sky,” which layers Kennedy and Tremonti’s voices in a way that band hasn’t really done before.
Alter Bridge has reached that tricky spot in its career where its sound is well established and its fans have certain expectations for each new album. At the same time, the band has released enough music that standing pat now will make new releases sound redundant. “Walk the Sky” is a near perfect progression at this point, tweaking and enhancing a tried-and-true formula while holding fast to what Alter Bridge always has been about.
Napalm Records, October 18, 2019