Great expectations can be a terrible burden for any rock band. With three former (and, indeed, current) members of arena-slaying radio-rock titans Creed standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Myles Kennedy, the prodigiously-talented vocalist who was at one point fully expected to be the new Led Zeppelin frontman, Alter Bridge arrive at their third studio album with little chance of commercial failure, but the dewy-eyed hopes of a steadily expanding global fan base exerting pressure to deliver from all sides.
As the venues and crowds increase in size, AB III needs to outstrip its two predecessors on every level and, when the planets duly align, firmly thrust this band into rock’s upper echelons once and for all. Nothing too taxing then, eh lads?
In fact, the astonishing thing about AB III is how completely and utterly it surpasses everything that Alter Bridge have done before. Both their One Day Remains debut and its 2007 follow-up Blackbird contained a smattering of timeless anthems and moments of blustery brilliance, but neither came close to this album’s consistency and incisiveness. Yes, Kennedy’s gloriously bold and true voice, and guitarist Mark Tremonti’s strident invention and soulful swagger ensure that everything here sounds wonderfully natural and convincing – in stark contrast to Creed’s overwrought smarminess, you might say – but it’s that most basic of elements, top-notch songwriting, that raises AB III above and beyond the ordinary and into authentic classic album territory.
First single Isolation is a case in point. Exploding into life with a thunderous riff that is both unashamedly metallic and blithely infectious, it flows beautifully from vivacious verse to climactic chorus, casually stopping off for a deftly-executed middle eight replete with off-kilter rhythmic twists and enough buoyancy to get the Titanic back on track. Similarly, dark and brooding opener Slip To The Void, powerhouse ballads All Hope Is Gone and Wonderful Life and crunch‘n’groove anthems Still Remains and I Know It Hurts all strain at the seams with stirring hooks and enough warmth and charisma to win over all but the most ardent Creed-haters.
Ending with the disquieting pathos of Words Darker Than Their Wings, AB III is that rare beast: a big, bombastic rock album that connects with heart and head from thrilling start to overwhelming finish.