REVIEW: Alter Bridge – Pawns & Kings

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When guitarist and singer Mark Tremonti, best known for his tenures with CREED and ALTER BRIDGE, released his solo album, Marching in Time, last year under the TREMONTI moniker, the outing was such an intravenous injection of adrenaline that it was a pure, unadulterated love affair at first sight. The same holds true for the seventh studio album by ALTER BRIDGE, entitled “Pawns & Kings,” released on October 14th, 2022, via Napalm Records. Apparently, the dynamic songwriting duo of vocalist Myles Kennedy and Mark Tremonti is some sort of hard-rock incarnation of that nothing short of the definitive songwriting powerhouse of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The riffs slap hard and the melodies roll out with the force of a panzerkampfwagen; upon listening to the album for the first time on Spotify, I reckon you might just end up adding each track to your “Best of the Best” playlist – I sure did – while waiting for the CD order to arrive, that is. This is one of those albums that demand to be in the CD or vinyl collection of every old-school music fetishist! The lyrics touch on somewhat dark themes but there is still a distinctly positive and uplifting undercurrent flowing through the album, just like on that TREMONTI effort. It almost seems as though these two hard-rock outfits play in a league of their own.

The classic ALTER BRIDGE fortes grab you right from the start; the opener “This is War” surges forward with the band’s trademark monster riffs and big choruses, delivering a straight-up punch in the face. The choral-like vocal stabs of “oohs” and “aahs,” paired with solid double-kick staccatos in the verses, add a nice The Omen -soundtrack vibe to the song. It works wonders with the vocal melody that takes a subtle nod toward THE BEATLES. It’s no small feat to sound evil and uplifting at the same time! I guess this is a rather good approximation of what the “Fab Four” would have sounded like if they had been fed a steady diet of BLACK SABBATH and METALLICA during their formative, adolescent years.

On further listening, another remarkably uplifting hard-rock outfit comes to mind, especially through the track, “Stay,” in which Tremonti takes the lead. FOO FIGHTERS is a band that also has had a knack for writing diabolically catchy and uplifting songs since their earliest efforts in the 1990s, albeit with a little bit less metal-oriented sound. Then, “Holiday” takes a nod even further down memory lane with a solid, steamrolling hard-rock boogie that sounds like Brian Setzer dropping some wicked jump blues on steroids. I reckon ALTERED BRIDGE could make one hell of a killing if they decided to have a go at psychobilly one day.

One of the most uplifting tracks, “Season of Promise,” comes off almost as a motivational speech of sorts, set against the sonic backdrop of somewhat 1990s-tinted alternative rock, what with the lyrics speaking about fulfilling our destiny. The song reminds us that, one day, we’ll fade to nothing, but until then, there’s still plenty of time to make the most of it. It takes a special talent to say something so obvious and not sound unbearably cheesy. Then again, the band appears to be a genuine Jack-of-all-trades. “Fable of the Silent Son,” for instance, ventures out as a ballad, before chugging out a royal flush of quality hard-rock riffs, sounding as epic as you possibly could without resorting to the Dungeons & Dragons imagery of vintage heavy metal, in the end.

Yes, it should be quite clear by now that the album is brimming with class-A bangers. There’s even a light touch of progressive flavor on “Last Man Standing.” The song’s 7/8 riff sounds particularly delicious, along with the delayed guitars in its verses. The guitar solo is also particularly lit. On occasion, the spiraling riffs take a subtle nod toward grunge’s most doom-laden moments, without the genre’s idiosyncratic cannabis lethargy. Then, last but not least, “Pawns & Kings” paints a picture of making a final stand against evil. In fact, at face value, as some online arbiters of taste have already pointed out, the lyrics could almost fit any given MANOWAR album. On closer look, it should quickly become clear that the feodal kings of the lyrics refer to something else than the Habsburgs of some ancient battlelore.

All things considered, “Pawns & Kings” is an album whose method of appeal is simply about being a collection of hard-rock perfection. With the band’s impressive track record, I’m sure all the fans were already keyed to a certain pitch of interest upon the album release, what with a good few killer singles heralding that something awesome was in the making. Now, with the album finally out, these hard-rock alchemists once again lure us into their charmed circle with a body of work that’s arguably their best to date.

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. This is War
  2. Dead Among the Living
  3. Silver Tongue
  4. Sin After Sin
  5. Stay
  6. Holiday
  7. Fable of the Silent Son
  8. Season of Promise
  9. Last Man Standing
  10. Pawns & Kings

Lineup

Myles Kennedy – vocals, guitars

Mark Tremonti – guitars, backing vocals

Brian Marshall – bass

Scott Phillips – drums, percussion

Label

Napalm Records

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