Alter Bridge seem to get away with a lot by virtue of Myles Kennedy being a powerhouse vocalist, and by not sounding like Creed despite three-quarters of its lineup originating there. Of course, given the current climate of US hard rock, those are both perfectly valid criteria for success, but with the size that Alter Bridge have reached, ultimately transcending that whole scene to become arena-inhabiting modern rock giants in their own right, it’s not as if they couldn’t afford to mix things up on their core releases. They’ve rarely grown past the super-bombastic hard rock that’s made up pretty much all of their output to date, and even though they do it well, there’s definitely a limit to what that can really do for them, beyond holding fast in a lane that’s always going to be serviceable, but not too stimulating. Given Kennedy’s country / folk solo work and guitarist Mark Tremonti tapping into thrash and speed-metal in his eponymous project, there’s clearly no aversion to branching out, and Alter Bridge currently have both the clout and the platform where even a failed experiment wouldn’t do too much damage to them.
Then again, this is Alter Bridge after all, who’ve built their empire on giving that enormously broad crowd exactly what they want without fail, and Walk The Sky is rarely different. It’s more of the same crowd-pleasing fare that’s a bit heavier and more progressive than more run-of-the-mill hard rock, but isn’t exactly pushing the limits of the sound or coming across as all that revolutionary. Give the potential of Alter Bridge to do more, that does feel disappointing to a degree, especially when this hour-long album is effectively glued to the same setting from start to finish, but at the same time, forging along the same path at an undisrupted pelt has done a lot for this band in the past, and Walk The Sky arguably feels like how that continuation should go. Even if it’s not as good as some of their previous output, it’s hardly objectionable to see Alter Bridge still rising above an admittedly middling benchmark, and that does count for something at the end of the day.
Plus, it’s not like there’s nothing to distinguish Walk The Sky from its predecessors, and even if Kennedy’s assertions of pulling inspiration from classic synthwave for this album might seem to be overreaching in terms of that statement’s magnitude, it’s not impossible to see where the slightest smatterings of electronics have been thrown in. It’s mainly in creating a more rumbling, buzzing background foundation like on Indoctrination or Pay No Mind, but at least Godspeed ventures out to do more with them in something that’s not too far off from an ‘80s power-ballad in terms of its enormous, grandiose scope and swell. Otherwise though, it’s pretty much business as usual, and the feeling of stodginess that comes with it is an unfortunate side effect of a band who’ve doubled down on a fairly restricted sound rather than expanded on it. The arena-ready ambitions of Wouldn’t You Rather, Take The Crown and at least a half-dozen others can’t be denied, and on a technical side, the volume and heft that Alter Bridge bring has far more rawness than the majority of their contemporaries, but it’s reached a point where a lot of these songs do begin to blur together, especially when the knockout singles that have previously elevated their albums even further seem to be curiously absent here. Kennedy can still do that on his own to an extent, and it really is his incredibly distinct vocal performance combined with Tremonti’s knack for technicality and guitar pyrotechnics that form the engine room of this band that’s working on overdrive, but the lack of standout moments leaves Walk The Sky feeling more bloated than even previous Alter Bridge albums. The danger of that was already there given that it’s an hour long, but there’s not even much diversity within that hour, and the benefit of having at least a handful of songs shaved off becomes all the more evident.
That’s all probably placing too much of an expectation on Alter Bridge to move any considerable distance though, and it can be unfair to chastise them for it given how well they fit in that mould. At the end of the day, this is an album designed to bolster an already formidable collection of arena anthems, and it’s not as though Walk The Sky is looking to break that streak by doing too much that’s out of the ordinary. They might verge towards it with the openly political streak present on Take The Crown and Pay No Mind (even if the former is kept conveniently ambiguous to keep its chance of imprint on both left and right sides as likely as possible), but as its title suggests, Walk The Sky is about channeling the big, euphoric moments that are about the only things that can match Alter Bridge’s size at this stage. The grief of losing a loved one on Godspeed is well tempered by an undercurrent of hope and happiness, something that’s exacerbated even further with In The Deep and Tear Us Apart, and on the very clear imagery of freedom and liberation on Walking On The Sky. It’s pretty easy stuff, both to grasp and for Alter Bridge to convey, but they do it well, and with how effortlessly Kennedy’s voice can bring out the hugeness of what’s being brought forth, it all suitably connects at the very least.
And that feels like a good summation for Walk The Sky as a whole; Alter Bridge are perfectly used to delivering this sort of thing by now, and they’re able to hit the right notes with the greatest of ease. If that all sounds a bit calculated, it’s probably because that’s an unfortunate inevitability for a band like this six albums deep, and Walk The Sky isn’t exactly the most advanced or transgressive piece of work as such. It’s probably the last time that Alter Bridge can reasonably get away with returning to this same well in all honesty, such is the rust that’s not unsubtly beginning to develop, but they’re able to circumvent any truly negative effects for one more go-around that’s as agreeable as it is familiar. There are tracks here that’ll slot seamlessly among the staples for plenty of years to come, and it’s hard to think that the end goal was of any greater significance than that.
For fans of: Shinedown, Halestorm, Black Stone Cherry
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Walk The Sky’ by Alter Bridge is out now on Napalm Records.