If there was ever any doubt that Alter Bridge are destined to be one of the biggest bands in the world, Pawns And Kings will blow away any hesitation. This, their seventh studio album, is a clear and overwhelmingly strong statement of intent that builds on an already stellar catalogue, extending their reach to the highest levels yet.
Alter Bridge – Pawns And Kings (Napalm Records)
Release Date: 14 October 2022
Words: Paul Monkhouse
There’s a hunger here that seeps out of every pore and note. That burning desire is not just to please the fans but to push themselves even harder than before, and as such, Pawns And Kings is a breathless rush that leaves you dizzy with its ambition.
Looking back to their One Day Remains debut, it’s hard to fully comprehend their struggles since such a striking introduction, but Alter Bridge have always been fighters, their kinship and confidence in the music giving them a razor-sharp focus.
Working once again with Michael ‘Elvis’ Baskette in the Producer’s chair, the quartet have delivered a ten-track killer that contains some of their heaviest work but also never stints on the light and shade that they’ve become masters of.
With opener This Is War kicking things off in suitably grand fashion, the riffs of Mark Tremonti have never been tougher. Myles Kennedy’s voice soars, and the rhythm section of Brian Marshall’s bass and the drums of Scott Phillips sound like the apocalypse. We’re talking Marvel Superhero levels of world-destroying power here. Fortunately, whilst it may sound huge, there’s never even a hint of bombast, the band too smart and honest for big yet ultimately hollow gestures.
Tremonti told MetalTalk recently that some of the heaviest tracks come from Kennedy, and you have to wonder which of the six-stringers turned the volume to maximum on monsters like Dead Amongst The Living and Silver Tongue. You just know that as impressive as they are on record, these tracks will absolutely blow the place apart when played from arena, stadium and festival stages.
This sense of a Metallica-sized freight train punch is counterpointed by the hooks and melodies that the band manage to imbue each track with, the tightrope walk of blending these two, at times seemingly disparate elements a key element of their success. Sin After Sin is a prime example of this particular skill, the furious maelstrom that wreaks havoc throughout being raised further by the huge chorus that will stay in your head for days.
Tremonti steps up to the mike for lead vocals on the powerful and upbeat Stay, a track that feels like it could change the world with its radiance and force alone. The following Holiday has a fascinating intro and continues into a brilliant and twisting creature that will make your head spin. This, though, is only a prelude to the longest and most epic, in every sense of the word, song on the album, Fable Of The Silent Sun.
Taking you on a journey, the band have created something intended to rival some of the highest peaks of rock music in the last half-century, the playing and themes full of a dynamic tension that never borders on the overcooked.
What we’re talking about here is Led Zeppelin levels of grandeur, and this centrepiece of Pawns And Kings is going to be one that will be endlessly poured over, dissected and enjoyed in the same way that the Midlands Legends output at its peak has been.
All of this has great layers but not too many that smother the visceral reaction that the album has. Oddly, the slightly sparser production brings a rawness that gives the sound a more thunderous edge.
With a mountain to climb after such a high, the closing trio of songs bring things home in a victory circuit that is never less than the quality of all that proceeds it and Seasons Of Promise, Last Man Standing and the titular Pawns And Kings ring with a grit and honesty that is never second best to anyone or anything.
Given the positive nature of the album, the central core of the message is hope, and the David versus Goliath spirit of the closer is the call to arms and empowerment that catches the zeitgeist perfectly.
Alter Bridge have always eschewed any temptations to head down roads that are purely sugar-coated, but instead, their pragmatism is marbled with a heavy dose of encouragement that makes album number seven not just a thrilling one musically but also one that lifts the spirits.
One of the few bands worthy enough to take on the mantle of the giants of rock, hard work, talent, and warrior souls have brought Alter Bridge to this point and Pawns And Kings seems likely to elevate them even further.
By anyone’s reckoning, this album is a staggering new opus in an already glittering career. They are unstoppable.
Tickets and VIP experiences for the Alter Bridge European Tour, which begins in Germany on 1 November 2022, are available from https://alterbridge.com/pages/tour.