Alter Bridge: 'Pawns & Kings' Album Review
From 2004 to 2022, Myles Kennedy, Mark Tremonti, Brian Marshall and Scott Phillips have made their way around the Sun 6 times with a monumental studio record. Now with ‘Pawns & Kings’, this will make their 7th studio record and what a hell of a way to do so by releasing a sonically massive 10 track album for the ages.
So how do you top ‘Walk the Sky’? Well, if anyone knows how to do that, it’s these guys. Alter Bridge is consistently cultivating records that stand the test of time and as such, with a team of producers featuring the likes of Jef Moll, Joshua 'Porterhouse' Saldate and the infamous Michael ‘Elvis’ Baskette, who in my humble opinion is one of the most sought-after producers in all of music. Baskette has been working with the band since ‘Blackbird’ in 2007 which is just this week celebrating its 15-year anniversary!
Pawns & Kings is darker in tone with ominous riffs and drums that will rupture your guts. Myles and Mark show us all how perfectly they complement each other. Not just in the string section of the band, but vocally. Delectable callbacks to ABIII and Fortress are woven in and out of this record that will have every established fan and new listener seething for the next chord progression.
So, let’s dive right in and break down this insanely fun record:
”This Is War” is a brilliant way to kick off the record. Soaring vocals, insatiable riffs and a haunting opening will lift your feet off of the ground and tells of a decision to not play the fool and fight for your life. This is truly war. An all-out war on the senses. With the brilliant writing of Mark Tremonti and Myles Kennedy, we embark on a journey to a war that is seemingly with ourselves or someone who’s scheming and needs to be brought to their knees by the utter destructive guitar solo by Tremonti. One thing is for sure, this track will get you primed for what’s to come.
“Dead Among the Living” begins with a very “Metalingus” vibe but updated. Mark Tremonti shines and can be heard providing excellent backup vocals to this one. There seems to be a theme among the bands writing and that is “contrast”, something I’ve noticed they do quite often. Wether it be the contrast of light and dark or the contrast of good and evil, Alter Bridge manages to thread that particular needle with precise accuracy. Not letting any of the faithful listeners down in the slightest. It should also be noted that the message here is to not be the “Dead Among The Living” so don’t sit there like a bump on a log, crank this one up and play those air instruments!
“Silver Tongue” is a track that is chock full of all the tasty nuggets you want in an Alter Bridge song. Riffs, double bass kicks, resinous vocals and pointed lyrics. A songs success is defined by its meaning, and this one has a very poignant meaning. Having a “Silver Tongue” is defined by many differently, to Alter Bridge, it means you’re over the line and under a spell. I can definitely relate to that one as I have been under a silver-tongued spell a time or two. But the guys are just warming up with track three. There’s so much more to come.
“Sin After Sin” takes you back to Fortress vibes. Chunky guitars, that immediately have your eyebrows raised and your foot stomping. Alter Bridge really reaches into their bag of tricks with this one as they combine elements from multiple past records and come up with this damning and powerful new song that I played three times in a row (no shame) “it’s not our fault.”
“Stay” is one of the great ballads of the record, 1 of 2 actually and it’s lead by Mark Tremonti on vocals. Showing his maturity and a level comfortable that’s so brilliant, this track stands out as one of the most important songs the band has ever given us to this date. Hearing Myles provide backup vocals for Mark is something none of us knew we needed until the first time we got it all the way back on ‘ABIII’ on their track “Words Darker Than Their Wings” in 2010.
“Holiday” is not what you expect. Scott Phillips really gets to shine on drums here as you hear how merciless he is going from a tempo that never lets up to murdering the high hat and bleeding out that sharp snare like only Phillips can. There’s a touch of ‘One Day Remains’ here if you listen closely that compliments the song well that leads into a bluesy breakdown in which Myles Kennedy lends his versatile stylings to a melting pot of “holy shit!”
“Fable Of the Silent Son” is a modern day “Blackbird” or a “reverse Blackbird” if you will. This song marks the bands longest track to date, clocking in at 8 minutes and 22 seconds. From the beginning of this one the listener can be transported to a time in place that fits them specifically and right at the 2:48 mark, the silence shifts to a clean guitar tone, open with an aggressive intro into part two of this monolithic song. I was not ready for the shift. The song presents itself in so many ways that you can do what you will with it’s meaning. However, musically, this song rips in a massive way that will likely be a tonal shift if and when added to the bands live set. There’s a solo in there that awaits you and good lord is it tasty. Insert stank face. Then Myles takes your mood and flips it yet again into a soft “but it’s over now” only like he can, just to open the song back up again into the chorus. This one is yet another instance where the band proves they are masters of their craft. Definitely my favorite track of the record. Hauntingly beautiful.
Alter Bridge (L:R Brian Marshall, Myles Kennedy, Mark Tremonti and Scott Phillips)
“Season Of Promise” is ballad 2 of 2 on this record and a welcomed addition to an already stacked and emotionally charged 7th studio record. Inspiring and uplifting guitars with vivacious vocals by none other than Myles Kennedy and Mark Tremonti, lend the perfect touch to the already meaningful lyrics crafted by the band for this anthemic song about destiny.
“Last Man Standing” hits you in the face and doesn’t apologize. From the haunting opening to the message of fortunes gained and lost, being drawn to the flame to questioning if it’s worth selling your sell when the truth is so damning. This song is my second favorite on the record and features brutal guitar work from both Mark & Myles. The listener is rewarded with a breakdown and guitar solo that’s so ferocious; it made my eyes dilate and my stomach do flips. When I tell you that this one is disgustingly perfect, take it as a compliment. I had stank face the entire time. The writing so purposeful, then sprinkle in the mind melting guitar solo at the end by Mark Tremonti and you have “Last Man Standing”.
“Pawns & Kings” is a jubilant title track that rounds out the records message about bringing hope and believing that we can be more in this life than just pawns in life’s game. We can be and are capable of being kings. “Against all odds we will survive”. Alter Bridge is known for their meaningful lyrics infused with a direct message to their fans and new listeners. “Pawns & Kings” is nothing less of delivering on that. Never coming up short on insatiable time placement of crazy guitar licks and piercing vocals, Alter Bridge absolutely makes good on closing the record on a high note.
There you have it folks! This has been my breakdown of Alter Bridge’s 7th studio record ‘Pawns & Kings”, and it is out TODAY! Streaming on all platforms and available for physical purchases wherever records are sold and of course the band’s website. Don’t miss out on this monumental record. It took me by surprise and by the time I’ve closed out this review, I’m sure I’ll be on playthrough #25.
Record Ranking 9/10