It seemed at one point that Alter Bridge was never going to escape the specter of Creed, the band which catapaulted three of its former members to their original fame and which gave them the ability to form Alter Bridge in the first place when it became an untenable situation. And I'll be honest: the musical content of the debut, "One Day Remains," did not help this. While the album gained notoriety for displaying guitarist Mark Tremonti's shred-level guitar chops for the first time, there were many similarities to Creed's original sound that were bothersome to many. The first single, for instance, "Open Your Eyes," used close to the exact same chord progression as "My Sacrifice" off Creed's last album, "Weathered," in addition to the same guitar tuning. From there, there was little, it seemed, that the band members could do to eradicate Creed comparisons. Apparently, their record label, Wind-up, was a huge part of the problem, shunting Alter Bridge to the back of their promotional priorities while exerting constant pressure on the band to ditch new singer Myles Kennedy and reform Creed.
When Alter Bridge quit the label it was a good sign to me, for I was rather displeased with the similarities to Creed found on the debut and I thought that maybe if the band escaped the label that had forever since been trying to duplicate that kind of money with doomy-outlook minor-key bands like Evanescence and Seether, they would really come into their own.
They really have. The second album, "Blackbird," does not have a single song on it remeniscient of any Creed song, nor does it bear much of any resemblance to that particular mainstream rock sound that the principal band members were instrumental in pioneering. There is only one acoustic ballad. There are loads of songs that are bleeding very heavy riffage--and most importantly, to me, the vocal melodies, now composed by the singer Kennedy as opposed to Tremonti like on the last album (in addition to the often lush and atmospheric guitarwork that supports Tremonti's heavier less subtle style), have allowed him to shine in a very good way. The melodies are uplifting and clearly sung, and gone is what I called an "excess of inflection" that characterized the previous album's singing. Now there's just power.
With Alter Bridge operating now as a two-guitar band with Kennedy fully integrated into the songwriting process, the degree to which it is clear the band has grown is astounding. For the first time in his career Tremonti has someone to play off of other than himself, and this fact as really caused an explosion of high-caliber songwriting. Tremonti, who is probably the only guitarist in mainstream rock who has an instantly recognizable songwriting and playing style, gets all the support he needs from Kennedy--he's free to kick around vibrato-laden, squealing guitar riffs and fills while Kennedy plays stuff that is often drenched in effects and atmospherics, not to mention advanced chordwork. The first two songs are miles heavier than anything off the debut with low-register chugging and much more lyrical solos--Tremonti has famously been taking lessons to close the gap between his shredding-at-top-speed and his slower melodic side, and it's paid off over the past three years. "Ties that Bind" and "Come to Life" are very heavy at points but have prerequisite melodic choruses, in addition to great solos and a high abundance of guitar layers. "Brand New Start," like many other songs on the album, uses acoustic guitars for its main arpeggiated hooks, while using lots of effects-laden background effects that for a moment reminded me of latter-day Alex Lifeson. Tremonti's solo on this is quite a bit more subdued as well, and more than ever during these moments, the band reminds me of an arena rock band more than a modern post-grunge outfit. The band is constantly screaming out "anthemic!" with every songwriting decision.
The rest of the album continues in the general vein I've described above. A couple of exceptions follow. There's only one acoustic ballad, the beautiful "Watch over You," and an epic-length slow-burner of a title track, stretching to close to eight minutes and shifting and lilting through varying degrees of depressive and low-key melodicism and great Kennedy-penned lyrics. "Buried Alive" starts off with a arena-rock style solo and feel, while "Coming Home" opens with an atmospheric and great chordal guitar part that I'm almost positive is penned by Kennedy (it reminded me again of the way Alex Lifeson plays), which quickly gives way to very heavy snaking 6/8 riffs and another awesome vocal part. The second-to-last track, White Knuckles, is the most uptempo and unremmitingly heavy song Tremonti has ever written.
If there's a problem with the album, it's this: while no song on the album could possibly be considered to be bad, per se, the album is totally overlong. I guess it makes sense from one perspective to have thirteen songs after a three-year-plus wait for a sophomore album, but in general if there's one thing preventing Alter Bridge from being musically unique across the spectrum--which they're already a very long way towards achieving--it's the fact that too many of these songs are given over to the same kind of anthemic choruses with exclusively melodic singing and block one-power-chord-per-bar movements. I guess there's not much in general that can be done about this--it is an innovation in modern rock music that was practically invented by Tremonti's old band and has now been done to death by the Nickelbacks of the world--but it's the one last hang-up preventing the band from sounding like it's reached its top potential.
And believe me, the band has BOATLOADS of potential. Alter Bridge are one of the most formidable collections of musicians in mainstream rock music, from a technical standpoint, and have really grown and matured with this release musically. They've successfully stripped away every Creedism that held them back on the debut. It's very impressive to me to see the band working and toiling to grow and mature into something unique that sheds the past the way they want, but unfortunately, they are not there yet. This album stretches on too long and always throws the same kinds of punches, and no matter how effective they are or how surprising they were to begin with, by song eleven we've already gotten the point. Hopefully the band, which has been allowing the metal influence to creep in a LOT on this album with its constant 6/8 galloping and crunching and surprising lack of typical 4/4 radio-friendliness (there are only two songs on here that really scream "single," which is also a sign of things to come), will scale that back and make room for more variety of mood, especially in their choruses. It's too reminiscient of bands beneath Alter Bridge's potential level to have every chorus be one of these soaring-vocals I-V-vi-IV progression affairs.
But this album, already so close to perfect, is a massively impressive sign of what's to come should Alter Bridge continue making music. This album comes with my full recommendation--get it.