Alter Bridge sit quite comfortably as the cream of the crop of the modern hard rock scene, staking their claim to fame with unparalleled polish and an exciting style that hinges on irresistible classic flair. Despite building their identity on bright arena anthems and memorable vocal melodies – the very traits that make the Alter Bridge brand of rock so delectable – there is no doubt that these experienced rockers have been influenced by metallic fury as well. This inspiration has truly come to light in their most recent album “Pawns & Kings,” which is not only their heaviest album to date, but a true celebration of passion for heavy music. Dynamic, invigorating, and skillfully adept, “Pawns & Kings” is undoubtedly a feather in Alter Bridge’s star-studded cap.
Perhaps the most noteworthy skill Alter Bridge demonstrates in “Pawns & Kings” is the ability to build a comprehensive album with notably excellent architecture from track to track. “This is War” opens the album with fantastic heavy riffing and an aggressive opening verse, but following track “Dead Among the Living” dials back the heat. Rather than force the listener into a white-hot multi-track barrage of unforgiving riffage, “Pawns & Kings” shows mastery over the ebb and flow of sonic intensity, and gives the listener room to breathe. This compositional strength further highlights the instrumental abilities of each musician, but particularly lead guitarist Mark Tremonti and drummer Scott Phillips, both of whom show off spectacularly intricate passages throughout the album. Another notable placement in the album structure is the eight-minute epic “Fable of the Silent Son,” rolling in just after the halfway mark and delivering anything but a misplaced ballad. Lastly, the album ends just as it began: with a strong and unforgettable anthem that has great potential for the live stage.
“Pawns & Kings” is not all complex art, nor is it built to be analyzed under a microscope. There are plenty of solo-laden, shred-happy, built-for-stage bangers to enjoy. “Sin After Sin” is saccharine-sweet and full of infectious groove, practically begging to be put on the radio for a warm summer evening. Dueling guitars build out the fiery title track, making both Kennedy and Tremonti seem larger than life, and still it keeps its intricacies among the passion. “Holiday” is the raw grit and edge that makes feet tap beneath tables and heads nod in agreement with the percussion’s heartbeat. Together these ten tracks make an excellent and thoughtful album, yet they can more than stand their own as thrilling singles or arena-anthems-to-be.
“Fable of the Silent Son” deserves a mention and partial dissection all its own, for it is a work of songwriting leagues above Alter Bridge’s contemporaries. There is little doubt this track is the crown jewel of “Pawns & Kings,” not just in how it balances compositional skill across its relatively long runtime (the longest in Alter Bridge’s discography), but in the sheer magnitude of its ambition. Arriving past the album’s midpoint, and with its delicately clean opening, it initially invokes the assumption that this track will be a winding and mellow ballad. This assumption is quickly dismissed, as the track packs a surprise punch: this is one of the heaviest and most intricate tracks of the entire album. This tempered opening builds into an emotional and spirited tale punctuated by monumental guitar solos, gradually drawing in Phillips’ drums as vocalist Myles Kennedy builds suspense. Heavy percussion meets Kennedy’s shouts, matched in darkness by Brian Marshall’s bass. Modern and classic inspiration collide for an eight-minute thrill ride that absolutely should not be missed.
The most notable downfall of “Pawns & Kings” is that Alter Bridge treads the same road that so many have walked before. There is notable skillfulness in execution, and undoubtedly top-tier musicianship, but Alter Bridge has sacrificed stylistic originality for the sake of keeping the spirit of rock alive. There is no better voice than Kennedy’s suited for this task, of course, his prowess in the genre unwavering. Kennedy owns every chorus, every verse, every word on the album. He doesn’t sink sullenly into cookie-cutter verses between soaring choruses, but instead utilizes his voice as an instrument all its own. Careful variations in inflection and intonation give each verse a unique sense of poetry. “This is War” may seem styled for the radio, but Kennedy does so much more than shriek his way through soaring choruses, and the variations in his pitch add so much dimension to already excellent musicianship.
Above all else, “Pawns & Kings” is a fun, heavy romp from the best in the business. It might not break much new ground in an overall stylistic sense, but its strengths more than reaffirm why Alter Bridge continues to enjoy star status (and likely will for many years to come).
Released by: Napalm Records
Release Date: October 14th, 2022
Genre: Symphonic Hard Rock / Heavy Metal
- Myles Kennedy / Vocals, guitars
- Mark Tremonti / Guitars and vocals
- Brian Marshall / Bass
- Scott Phillips / Drums
“Pawns And Kings” Tracklist:
- This Is War
- Dead Among the Living
- Silver Tongue
- Sin After Sin
- Fable Of the Silent Son
- Season Of Promise
- Last Man Standing
- Pawns & Kings
Alter Bridge is an honest cut above any of its contemporaries, and “Pawns and Kings” is no exception to this trend. This album is not only Alter Bridge at its very best, but a call for greater ambition and songwriting skill.