Three years after their explosive release of Blackbird, a time period which saw a Creed reunion and lead singer Myles Kennedy performing vocals for Slash, the hard rock and alternative metal band Alter Bridge finally got back into the studio. The resulting product was AB III, a loose concept album that displays some new elements of this incredibly underrated band while simultaneously reminding hardcore fans of the group they have come to know and love.
Musically and lyrically, the structure and subtleties of Alter Bridge songs set them apart from most other rock artists. When you add Myles Kennedy’s top-notch vocals (arguably the best in modern rock) and Mark Tremonti’s absurd skills on the guitar, you have something truly special. Let’s not forget to mention drummer Scott Phillips and bassist Brian Marshall, who add the necessary ingredients to the band to make it an unstoppable machine.
Getting back to the album specifically, much of AB III expresses the notion of struggling with faith, and it has some of Alter Bridge’s darkest songs to date. Nevertheless, there are still songs that will remind fans of the classic AB sound. The variation of song styles, as well as the fact that there are 14 tracks in all (and 16 if you include the two U.S. bonus tracks), gives listeners a great idea of just how dynamic Alter Bridge really is.
The best elements of the album are Kennedy’s vocals and Tremonti’s guitar work. Kennedy, who is also an accomplished guitar player in his own right, adds some of his own licks to the CD, and even performs the solo in “Isolation.” While AB III probably has less “riffage” than its predecessor, Blackbird, its musical balance is superb. And don’t worry–songs like “Isolation”, “Still Remains” and “I Know It Hurts” offer some great, signature Tremonti riffs.
Now, let’s take a look at AB III track-by-track:
1. Slip to the Void: The perfect album opener, as it lets listeners know that they’re in for something a little different this time around. The song begins with a deep, haunting keyboard pattern and a vocal delivery from Kennedy the likes of which we haven’t heard before. For the first 1:30, it is slow and eerie, but then Tremonti makes his presence felt with a heavy transitional riff that effectively changes the track’s dynamic to one of heaviness and desperation. The themes of becoming lost and struggling with faith are made fairly clear throughout the song, with lyrics such as, “Left to face this alone, left to die with nothing you can own.” Pretty dark stuff. Definitely one of AB III‘s most memorable songs. 10/10
2. Isolation: The album’s first single and a great choice for it. Thematically, “Isolation” picks up right where “Slip to the Void” left off. The line, “Sever ties from all you know” implicitly references the first line in “Slip to the Void” following its transition into heaviness (“Sever the ties…”). What makes this a great single for Alter Bridge, however, is that it shows both their heavy side and their ability to create memorable melodies. The main riff of the track is very intense and will make head-bangers happy. The chorus, namely Kennedy’s vocal line of, “Isolation, it brings you to the end, until you love again” is extremely captivating, and while the song is mostly dark thematically, the line “until you love again” conveys an idea of hope in the face of difficult times. A great hard-rock song, this track will grab listeners immediately, and it will only grow from there. 10/10
3. Ghost of Days Gone By: The feel of this song at the outset and through its chorus is classic Alter Bridge. There is an elegant guitar pattern, and Myles shows off his range by going low in the verses before going higher in the choruses. What makes this song really unique, though, is its bridge. The tone suddenly becomes VERY dark, making this one of the CD’s most progressive tracks. The sound effects used in the beginning part of the bridge remind me of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, and then a heavy guitar riff comes in, along with Kennedy’s desperate line of, “I don’t want to die!”. A very solid and intriguing track. 9/10
4. All Hope Is Gone: The title indicates another very happy song (not really). The opening guitar riff is mid-paced and sets the melody for much of the song. “All Hope Is Gone” took a few listens to grow on me, but I really like it now, and the bridge is just amazing. The heavy guitar breakdown, accompanied by some echo-like vocals from Kennedy, is followed by a signature Tremonti solo. 9/10
5. Still Remains: This is one of the most metal-like songs on the album, thanks to its awesomely heavy guitar work. The introductory guitar melody sounds much like the very end of the previous track, which makes me wonder if that was done intentionally, as the flow between the tracks is perfect. The transition into the main song riff is extremely well done, with some Middle-Eastern sounding vocal sounds from Kennedy, and some great drum work by Scott Phillips that made me think of an old AB hit, “Metalingus.” The stop-start metal riff is one of the main highlights of this song, as well as the chorus, and the speed-metal riff in the bridge. One of my favorite tracks on AB III. 10/10
6. Make It Right: A great rock song that is quintessential Alter Bridge. It has all the elements – a good intro (arpeggiated guitar work from Tremonti), a good chorus, a great bridge, and a great solo at the end. This track also has a more positive vibe than much of the rest of the album, and is thus a good change of pace. 9/10
7. Wonderful Life: A solid power ballad that has single written all over it. This song is still growing on me, but the chorus is slow and captivating, and Kennedy’s vocals are just brilliant throughout, as his emotion truly shines through. The bridge is awesome as well (I’ve said that a lot thus far, haven’t I?). A very good song, but not one of my absolute favorites. There is still room for growth, however. 8/10
8. I Know It Hurts: AB effectively changes the pace right back into faster-paced rock with this “I Know It Hurts.” It opens with some great “riffage” from Tremonti, and then goes into a more subdued yet still thoroughly captivating verse, before it picks up again in the chorus. Also, once again, AB makes their money in the interlude, which is tremendous once again. 9.5/10
9. Show Me A Sign: This track is one of the CD’s true highlights, and possibly my favorite one on the record. Definitely the darkest, moodiest song AB III has to offer, and it is a true departure for Alter Bridge. Kennedy’s cry of “Show me a sign, give me meaning” sounds hauntingly desperate and is powerful enough to send chills down your spine. Then, around the 4:00 mark, Kennedy’s vocals become incredibly deep, dark, and creepy. Clocking in at 5:57, “Show Me A Sign” is the longest track on the album, and has an epic feel throughout. I liked it a lot when I first heard it, but I have since come to appreciate it even more and I consider it one of Alter Bridge’s masterpieces, ranking just below “Blackbird” (they might never top that). 10/10
10. Fallout: This song struck me when I first heard it, mainly due to its catchy chorus. The guitar work in the bridge and through to the end of the song is particularly good. Just a very solid song through and through. 9/10
11. Breathe Again: Not a bad song by any means, but probably the weakest one on the CD. I believe Mark Tremonti even said that this was the one song he felt could have been omitted from the record, but the band decided to include it anyway. The chord progression in the verses is very similar to that of a previous Alter Bridge song off Blackbird, “Before Tomorrow Comes.” The bridge is the best part of this song (surprise, surprise), as Kennedy’s vocal work is again superb. 6.5/10
12. Coeur D’Alene: This song is seemingly about the city in Idaho (which is not far from Spokane, Washington, where Myles Kennedy grew up), and is a good, solid rocker. The guitar riff is fairly intense, and the juxtaposition of the subdued verses and the loud chorus makes for a nice effect. The interlude also adds a neat element to the song, with a memorable vocal melody that is catchy yet actually somewhat eerie. 8.5/10
13. Life Must Go On: When I first heard the intro to this song, I was reminded of Creed (Oh no! I made the forbidden comparison!), but then Myles Kennedy started singing and I remembered just how superior Alter Bridge is. This song falls more into the power ballad category, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it (and/or “Wonderful Life”) became a single. 8/10
14. Words Darker Than Their Wings: The band released this song as a free MP3 download about a month before AB III came out, and I loved it immediately. The perfect album closer, it features vocals from both Kennedy and Tremonti, creating a conversation of sorts about faith. Tremonti proves that he’s quite a capable singer in his own right. The song is almost perfect; the arpeggiated intro grabs you immediately, and the alternating lead vocals in the verses are unique and thus keep you interested. The chorus is of course very captivating, but the part of the song that gives me chills every time I hear it is the interlude, where Myles yells, “Go, never to ask why…”. Then there’s the end of the song, where Kennedy’s voice reaches a stupidly high pitch. I doubt there are many people on the planet who can do what he does as a vocalist. 10/10
U.S. Bonus Tracks:
15. Zero: A good hard rock song that has grown on me with a few listens. I really like Myles’ voice in the verses, as well as Brian Marshall on bass in that section. 8.5/10
16. Home: This song grabbed me immediately. At 3:30, it is short for an Alter Bridge song, but the chorus is just awesome, and Kennedy’s melodic lines in the bridge are incredibly captivating. It must have been tough to exclude this track (and “Zero”) from the record. 9.5/10
In summation, Alter Bridge has released another outstanding album, but they are so talented that it’s become an expectation at this point. It’s too difficult to give an exact comparison of AB III to either of Alter Bridge’s previous releases (2007’s Blackbird and 2004’s One Day Remains) in terms of quality, but it certainly stands tall. The darker material on this record shows us yet another side of this dynamic band. It’s a shame they’re not more appreciated (I feel they are way better than Creed but they don’t get near that amount of attention), because they are truly one of the most talented rock acts out there.
Tommy’s overall score for AB III: 9/10