I've been holding off on reviewing Walk the Sky
until now mainly because most previous Alter Bridge albums have taken some time to grow on me. I see this as a good thing because music that takes time to fully appreciate has staying power. Immediately pleasing pop hits, on the other hand, quickly fizzle. So, I wanted some time to digest each song and the album as a whole. Aside from that, my wife and I just had our first baby, so the harrowing initial weeks and a revolving door of house guests have made it tough to fit in many proper listens. However I've finally reached an equilibrium in my thoughts about the record, so I'll lay them out for you now.
I should also mention that I've read literally none of this thread yet. I didn't want to spoil my perception of the album with other people's reactions until I had really digested it. So, apologies if a lot of what I've written below has already been said. Now I can finally go back through this thread and see just how much my thoughts align with the rest of TABN.
It's clear just a few songs into Walk the Sky
that there's a lot going on on this record. That is true in terms of its sound and its composition – the arrangements, the instrumentation, etc. Sonically the album sounds very full. As with prior Alter Bridge records, there is little breathing room as every crevice is occupied by riffs, fills, overlays, and other sound effects.
Given that, the production is not nearly as problematic as many have so dramatically complained here and on Facebook. Given the amount of layers in each song, the production team did a stunning job of blending everything together in a way that nothing gets fully lost in the mix. The mastering, on the other hand, I am willing to admit is an unfortunate reflection of the loudness wars. I can't really fault anyone for that given the realities of today's soundscape; if anyone is to blame, it's the listening populace at large. So sure, you might have trouble hearing all of the nuances on budget sound equipment, but it sounds fine on even halfway decent speakers or headphones. If anything, I'd wager people's feelings towards the production is misplaced ambivalence about the band's choices to incorporate so many layers into each song.
Speaking of layers, Walk the Sky
stands apart in its pioneering use of synthesizers and other electronic sound effects. This adds to the already high sonic complexity of Alter Bridge's work to date. I applaud the band for adding a new dimension to their sound rather trying to recreate Blackbird
or AB III
, and ultimately stagnating.
So that covers the sound, but how about the composition? As I mentioned, there's a lot going on here, and that starts with the sheer amount of parts in each song. There are sections and transitions galore. Several songs have two-part bridges, including "Take the Crown", "Indoctrination", "Clear Horizon", and "Walking on the Sky". "Pay No Mind" has a pre-chorus and arguably a two-part chorus. This collection of parts is somewhat surprising. In interviews, Mark and Myles described how this album's writing process was different in that they wrote complete songs before bringing their ideas to the group, whereas previous albums were written like puzzles, piecing individual ideas together collectively. Despite that new approach, Walk the Sky
is just as puzzle piece-sounding as ever! Generally speaking, the transitions between parts are really good. Most of the pieces blend together in a natural and highly evolved way.
In terms of musicianship, the guys are once again at the top of their game. Myles sings like a pro who really knows how to get the most out of his voice. Mark brings tight riffs and exciting leads. One cool element: Walk the Sky
contains several examples of bendy riffs in the vein of Gojira and Mastodon, for example in "Walking on the Sky" and "Dying Light". There are comparatively fewer guitar solos than on previous albums, but I see that as Mark submitting himself in service to what's best for each song. Nowhere on this record do I sense a gaping hole in need of a solo. Scott's drumming is perfect throughout, impeccably matching each riff and transition. Brian's bass serves as a driving force, with plenty of tasteful flair thrown in for good measure.
If I have one criticism, it's that Myles rarely sings a note without vibrato these days. Maybe with age and experience he's just found it more comfortable to sing in vibrato. It could also be his tendency towards singing longer notes over the last couple albums. There are some exceptions—for example the choruses of "Take the Crown" and "Indoctrination"—but they are becoming increasingly rare, especially live, but in studio as well. This probably contributes to a lack of passion I feel when listening to Walk the Sky
. I can't name one song where I feel as moved by the vocals as I was by "Blackbird" or "Lover". With that said, Myles knows his voice better than anyone, and he sings with formidable technique. Overall the guys are fully gelled, and playing the best they ever have.
Given that I'm primarily interested in the music, I usually have less to say about the lyrics. However I do appreciate this album as a ray of light amid a fairly dark catalogue. The themes of enlightenment, acceptance, reflection, and living in the moment are welcome subjects. Songs like "Wouldn't You Rather" and "Tear Us Apart" challenge the listener to access your best characteristics to become a better version of yourself. This kind of positivity is needed more today than ever before.
All of the above adds up to an album that comprises a truly impressive body of work. A lot of people have characterized Walk the Sky
as a welcome departure from their more controversial The Last Hero
. However the amount of parts, the melodies, and the lyrical content all double down on the theatrical and complex style established on that album. Yet there are also callbacks to the band's earlier work, including the heavy feel of Fortress
and the atmospheric vibes of AB III
. Walk the Sky
represents the work of a band with all cylinders engaged.
Since "One Life" is not a full song per se, I did not give it a numeric rating, but it does serve a very necessary purpose on Walk the Sky
. The unsteady synthesizer tones at the very beginning let the listener know right off the bat that this album will be a bit different than the band's prior work. And it may just be an intro track, but melody is surprisingly memorable. This is Alter Bridge's first intro song, so I applaud them for doing something different. It really gives Walk the Sky
more of a complete feel as an album.
Standout lyric: If there is mystery in the prose from the golden age, let its wisdom guide me home
Wouldn't You Rather
While the intro track teases something new from the band, the first full song lets the listener know that this is still the same Alter Bridge we know and love. Starting with an ominous, thumping intro, "Wouldn't You Rather" is a classic upbeat Alter Bridge number. Highlights include some great rhythm guitar work, including a brutal main riff, and badass palm mutes kicking off the bridge. The rhythm section shines: Scott throws down some interesting hi-hat work in the early parts of the verses, and Brian delivers a perfect bass line holding everything together. Less impressive is a mediocre chorus melody and a general lack of dynamics – for example the pre-chorus is hardly dialed back at all, leaving little room for the chorus itself to make an impact. The guitar solo is borderline sloppy, but the sweeps are pretty good, and overall it's a concise solo. Lyrically, "Wouldn't You Rather" offers an uplifting message, challenging listeners to examine their approach to life in search of a brighter alternative.
In the Deep
- There is no gain worth the commerce of self
- The spoils of war will bring you down
The third track could be the poster song for Walk the Sky
as it flips the record back into "something different" mode, with its classic melodies and and layered synthesizers. "In the Deep" is packed with strong instrumentation, from Scott's tom work in the intro to Brian's cool bass slides in the verses. The main riff is an awesome throwback to the 1980s. The verses are highlighted by simple, clean mini-chords and high-pitched synth tones. Myles sings the verses in a comfortable lower register that has already proven to translate well live. The second verse again pays homage to the 1980s with a chorus effect on the guitar picking. The main riff returns before the final chorus, this time synthesizers layered on top – a charming addition. However the real standouts in this song are the melodies themselves, which from start to finish are utterly sublime. Lyrically, someone here mentioned "In the Deep" describes meditation, an interpretation with which I agree. However Myles also makes frequent reference to someone else in the second person; perhaps he discovered meditation with his wife, and is using this song to celebrate that experience with her.
Standout lyric: I am still as the moment I hold in my hand / I can't let go
"Godspeed" delivers a continuation of the 1980s vibe already established on Walk the Sky
. This is a powerful song with a perfect verse-chorus pairing, which would be right at home on a classic power ballads compilation disc. Even before the synthesizers start up, the piano tones at the beginning remind me of Stranger Things
or a retro movie soundtrack. In the verses, it is once again nice to hear Myles singing in a comfortable range. The pre-choruses are accented by Flip with some nice tom work. The chorus melody is sentimental and heartfelt, fit for a Disney movie. Holding this song back is a disappointingly weak bridge, thankfully redeemed by a quick but heart-wrenching guitar solo that follows. Brian's bass lines provide a solid foundation throughout.
Standout lyric: Cast away our regrets and all our fears / Just like you did when you were here
Just when you think Walk the Sky
is going in a direction of pure rock ballads, "Native Son" brings the heavy. This is immediately apparent in the abrupt transition from the soft intro into a murderous main riff. Brian impresses by perfectly matching Mark's bends in said main riff; a less capable band would never have nailed that so cleanly. A solid verse gives way to a sick groove in the pre-chorus – a real headbanger punctuated by tasteful double bass fills giving the song great dimension. The chorus is catchy and offers callbacks to previous Alter Bridge work, from the "Losing Patience"-like vocalizations to the "Addicted to Pain"-style whooshing sound at the end. On the downside, the bridge contains a forgettable melody, but that is offset by a cool riff and some nice drum work. Also, I feel they missed an opportunity by repeating the same lead guitar part over and over at the beginning and end of the song, rather than mixing it up each time.
Standout lyric: Marching forward brings a slow and cruel decay
Take the Crown
"Take the Crown" could serve as a case study in song arrangement; it is chock-full of little parts that are pieced together perfectly. The sweet, ballad-style intro turns out to be a trick as we are greeted by a crushing main riff with all instruments playing in perfect harmony. The verse contains a sassy melody and a cool guitar arrangement, with open chords at the start, and chugging guitars and harmonics added later. The chorus is almost "My Champion" level cheesy, but not quite. Then we are treated by two back-to-back bridges. The first is really weak, with a lame melody to a failed attempt to mix things up with a Middle Eastern-inspired riff. Luckily the second bridge redeems with a brighter, more traditional Alter Bridge melody. The chirping synthesizers before the final chorus add a unique flourish. At the end, the shreddy solo reminds me of Guns N' Roses' "Catcher in the Rye", and leads into a sweet outro. Great bass lines feature throughout, including some showy runs in the verses. The lyrics make this song a little cheesy, but overall it's a rockin' feel-good song.
- Under the lights and thunder we come to life
- The screams, the frenzy reveals the worst, as hearts of many hunger to be first
"Indoctrination" has emerged as a fan favorite, but my feelings about it are decidedly mixed. Compared to the prior track, it couldn't be more different in terms of sound and subject matter. Whereas "Take the Crown" presents a tome to healthy competition, "Indoctrination" is a sleazy, droning manifesto by an evil manipulator. The plodding verse adds a welcome dynamic to the density of Walk the Sky
, but the riff and melody are uninspired and perhaps intentionally lazy. Things pick up a bit with a heavier part right before the chorus, including a horrifying scream. The chorus melody annoyed me at first—it struck me as if they were trying too hard to write outside of the melodic box—but I've since come around; it's undeniably catchy. It's also cool how the high note changes between the first ("deny it
") and second ("fire
") go-around. "Indoctrination" contains yet another double bridge: the first is defiant, and contains some slick bass slides; the second adds just a touch of old-school Alter Bridge melody. Overall there's a lot to like in this song, but the verses are tough to muddle through.
Standout lyric: You will give as I take your mind
The Bitter End
Walk the Sky
once again swings back to the uplifting with "The Bitter End". This song's melodies are so theatric I want to hate it, but its catchy chorus wins me over every time. The verse melody would be at home on Broadway, with a cool snare drum pattern laid on top. The transition from the first verse to the chorus is really nice and has a nifty bass line (The same bit repeats in the bridge and again in the outro.) The chorus melody is euphoric, although perhaps a bit cheesy. The bridge is just okay – it reminds me of the bridge in "All Ends Well", which I also find mediocre. On the upside, the song ends with an unexpected climax that could even end the album. The song's message ties in with "Wouldn't You Rather"—see the standout lyric below—and touches on living in the present: "The joy I have found in the sweet here and now / It keeps me alive
". If Walk the Sky
was a play, "The Bitter End" would wrap up its second act (confrontation) with a glimmer of hope for the protagonist going into the third act (resolution).
Standout lyric: It's never too late to learn how to start living right
Pay No Mind
Earlier I mentioned "In the Deep" could be the poster song for Walk the Sky
; well, so could "Pay No Mind". This is an infectious, groovy throwback bringing 1980s electronica into the modern rock era. The intro and verses have such an infectious rhythm – one of Alter Bridge's best grooves. This song also features a unique two-part chorus. Both parts are really cool, and offbeat cymbal crashes add a neat dynamic to the defiant second part. I give general credit to Flip for great drumming throughout this song. The transition to the bridge takes things down a notch, as if it was written specifically for the audience to clap along in concert. The melodies throughout tie in perfectly with the lyrics, serving as a call-out of greed-driven ignorance.
Standout lyric: The millions you hurt still willing to stand right by your side
"Forever Falling" has proven to be another fan favorite, but it's more of a mixed bag for me. A forgettable verse is elevated by a beautiful interlude and a chorus that would dominate rock radio in the early aughts. The song starts off great with a classic Tremonti finger-picked intro and a killer riff. Sadly, I don't like the verses at all. They're a bit high for Mark's range, so his voice gets lost in the fray, and tom-dominated drum pattern falls flat. I know the guys wanted Mark to sing somewhere on Walk the Sky
, but I think he would have sounded better on the verses of "Godspeed" or "Dying Light", or even "Clear Horizon". Luckily the chorus brings things back up with a classically huge Alter Bridge melody. The bridge is unfortunately also forgettable, but the transition to Mark's subsequent vocalizations is beautiful, and would be at home on Tremonti's A Dying Machine
record. At the end we are treated to one of Mark's better solos, drawing from many of the techniques he's known for. So like I said, it's overall a mixed bag, but there is a lot to like here.
Standout lyric: Ruin knows me all too well
In a long line of heavy Alter Bridge songs with soaring choruses, "Clear Horizon" is another excellent installment. The guitar picking and delay effects in the first verse create a dramatic feel fit for a TV show. An intricate main riff dances elegantly with the bass line. The chorus boasts a great melody, bolstered by drums that mesh really well with the riff. This song contains yet another double bridge, although the transition between them a tad abrupt. The first part starts with a cool stuttering drum pattern that I think is still technically in 4/4 time, but tricks you into thinking otherwise. The second part contains a slow guitar bend – a good example of the little touches that really send Alter Bridge's music over the top.
Walking on the Sky
- In this world its hard to find something real among the wreckage of our hope
- I bought the dream and it let me down
The title track is an expertly crafted example of newer Alter Bridge: heavy, complex composition with good flow, while channeling some of Alter Bridge's darker past. The intro's synthesizer tones could be lifted from Blade Runner
or 2001: A Space Odyssey
. The verse creates a forlorn emotion that could accompany the evacuation of Pripyat following the Chernobyl disaster. After each verse, a badass guitar harmonic perfectly sets up the impending chorus. The final iteration of these harmonics is slightly off-tune and sounds absolutely sick. The chorus riff is virulent – a total torso-banger! And while the chorus vocal line is not the most melodic, somehow it gets stuck in your head. "Walking on the Sky" again treats to another two-part bridge, the first of which stands out with a unique time signature. Capping things off is a totally mental guitar solo on top of a crushing riff. The solo contains some right-hand harmonics that Mark frequently uses in live improvisations – it's great to see this finally worked into a song. As a whole the solo is completely unhinged and reminds me of the T-1000 thrashing around in molten metal at the end of Terminator II
. Taken together, "Walking on the Sky" is an an addicting listen, and I hope to hear this one live as its heaviness should translate really well.
Standout lyric: Though you don't need to escape, all these questions still remain
Tear Us Apart
Walk the Sky
takes a break from the epics with "Tear Us Apart". This song illustrates the simpler side of Alter Bridge, with a basic verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure. The main riff reminds me of a late-90s/early-aughts pop-punk song, and could be featured in one of the era's many teen movies. The chorus is catchy, with interesting vocal pacing. The bridge fits in well as compared to some more questionable bridges on Walk the Sky
. The ending is nice, with gentle rolling snares and a final ride cymbal. Lyrically, the song serves as another example of this album's positive, encouraging theme set. Overall it's a solid track if you can overlook some of the cringe factor in the riffs and lyrics.
- This truth you cannot deny: we have to face and learn from mistakes to grow
- Wake up and take a stand while there is still a chance
The final track is Alter Bridge at their best, captured in a song. Despite its moderate length, it is an epic in its own right, proving that epics don't need to be extended escapades. It starts with a semi-clean/grungy intro that at this point can be confused with so many similar Alter Bridge intros (e.g., "In the Deep", "Take The Crown", and older songs like "Before Tomorrow Comes"). The main riff is also familiar, not all that dissimilar from that in "Losing Patience". The verse calls back to "Cradle to the Grave", with the vocal melody closely following Mark's classic fingerpicked guitars. The chorus is once again epic, and it's cool how the final notes of each line follow the guitar riff. The only part I don't particularly like is the bridge – the start-stop pattern doesn't quite do it for me, and I've never liked the overdone fast snare drum hits in similar bridges (e.g., "All Ends Well"). The transition from the bridge to the solo is frantic and spooky, if not downright apocalyptic. The solo is one of Mark's coolest ever, with little diddles so spastic as if to mock the very instrument he has so mastered. The vocalizations at the end are the perfect culmination to the track and the album as a whole. Others have drawn parallels between this song and "Words Darker Than Their Wings" and "This Side of Fate", which are wholly appropriate. Ultimately it's the perfect bookend to Walk the Sky
, resolving with not quite a happy ending, but an ethereal feeling of closure.
- Let this be an exercise in how to face your fears
- We learn to live when we give in to the silent waves that crash inside
Overall, Walk the Sky
is the work of a band at their best, assembling a body of mature and well-crafted songs. All of the instruments are incredibly well connected. The drum work is so tight; the bass is so solid. Mark and Myles are playing and singing like true professionals. In and around all that, the guys have managed to introduce new elements to their sound without forgetting their older style. This is not an album of superlatives. It doesn't have the most epic songs, the most guitar solos, or the heaviest riffs the band has ever written. Rather it has each of those things in moderation, and as such it is really just a collection of very good songs. Given the depth of its composition, Walk the Sky
will undoubtedly have staying power, and I'm sure I'll discover new things to love about it for years to come.