Edited by Lauryn Walker
Hard rock band Alter Bridge is gearing up to release their seventh studio album, Pawns and Kings via Napalm Records. Pawns and Kings is the follow-up record for Walk The Sky, a record that was criticized by fans for an evolving sound that took the band into a different direction.
At the time, I called Walk The Sky Alter Bridge’s most progressive album to date. Today, I say that Pawns and Kings is probably the most solid rock and roll record that this group made of Myles Kennedy (Slash featuring Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators, The Mayfield Four) on lead vocals; Mark Tremonti (Creed, Tremonti) on lead guitar, backing vocals, taking the lead on one song; Brian Marshal (Creed) on bass and Scott Philips (Creed, Projected) on drums, has ever put out.
What I will lead with is this: this album has the perfect blend of sounds from Alter Bridge’s past while focusing on an ever evolving sound. You will hear overtones of the critically acclaimed sophomore record from the band Blackbird, some heaviness from the band’s third record, ABIII, and themes of their fifth record, The Last Hero. The sound found in Walk The Sky seems to be left in the past.
Let’s break down this record.
This Is War is an epic way to start the record out. You are instantly greeted with heavy drums, bass, and the sound of Kennedy holding a sustained note as Tremonti begins to draw out his signature guitar sound. Kennedy does some epic vocal work on this record going from his mid-range to a beautiful falsetto.
This song is the perfect mix of heavy guitar riffs, melodic masterpieces, and the classic storytelling lyrics we’ve come to love and expect from the band. The guitar solo on this song sets the tone for what is to be expected for the rest of the record.
Kennedy belts out “Fight for your life, can you see what’s coming / fight for your mind, THIS IS WAR / Fight from inside and believe in something, don’t compromise who you are.” In the title track we hear a similar theme of fighting for something. This theme has led listeners to believe that this record is politically inspired. Whether this album is politically inspired or not is beside the point: the song is an epic Alter Bridge classic.
Dead Among The Living brings me back to the Blackbird era with some overtones of ABIII. The guitar work reminds me a lot of “Ties That Bind” while bringing the heaviness featured on the band’s third record. Tremonti brings some great harmonic vocals behind Kennedy’s upper register.
This song brings some great heaviness and keeps the flow of the record moving forward. This will be a fun song to listen to live from the band. The band delivers again on the guitar solo on this track. Another thing that is important to note is the rhythm; second composed of Marshall and Philips is so in pocket. Obviously they would be, but you can hear how attentive the band was to bringing a solid rhythm to this record.
This song is an incredible piece of work from the group.
Silver Tongue is the second single off this record and really helped set the anticipation for this record really high. The song opens with a great rift. This is another song that gives me Blackbird era vibes with some ABIII overtones.
This track also has some potential political themes as Kennedy tells the story from the point of view of a “charismatic leader” in an “ivory tower” and that people are trying to scale a wall and enter the space this leader is in. Kennedy has spoken about the meaning of this song being about something that can be mesmerizing and getting people to do something extreme.
The rhythm of this song kicks into high gear for the chorus and Kennedy fires off the words “You’re over the line, under the gun / I am the reason for what you done, Tooth of a crime, You can’t outrun / Under the spell of my silver tongue.”
The second verse sounds like the point of view of a leader or vice in someone’s life losing grip and control of power. Philip’s work on drums on this song is award winning.
Sin After Sin is the song that I think helps set this record apart. I believe that this song will be the tune that the band opens shows with. It reminds me of Slip To The Void with it’s slower opening and Kennedy playing in his lower register.
Fans have speculated that this song talks about former President Trump or politicians in general. It sounds to me that this song could be about anyone who is in a position of leadership and is corrupt in their position.
I honestly think that there could be a book written with this song as the inspiration. In the first verse, Kennedy tells the story of a “sick man” making his “final play.” In the chorus, he talks about this person wanting more than anyone who follows him should ever have to give and that this person commits sin after sin. In the second verse, Kennedy tells the story of the leader becoming somewhat sacrificial. It is a great story!
The music surrounding the story is fantastic and really brings a new element to this record. At the end of the song, Kennedy and Tremonti have a back and forth singing of the line “sin after sin” and it is just amazing. I think they could have some serious fun with that portion of the song live.
Stay is the Tremonti led song that gives me the vibes of Godspeed with a bit of a heavier tone. Godspeed is off the Walk The Sky Record but the band doesn’t dive very deep into that sound. Tremonti delivers solid vocals on this song.
Stay brings the album down in intensity while allowing the band to continue to add a variety of music styles.
During the bridge, Tremonti and Kennedy trade places and Kennedy takes the lead vocals for a moment. It is nice to hear Kennedy doing backup vocals for Tremonti. I believe this will be a fun song for both fans and the band live.
Holiday could have found a home on ABIII had it been around during the time. Alter Bridge has this signature guitar sound they like to do with their intros. Holiday has a certain swagger to it that makes me think that Kennedy had a real good time recording this song.
The breakdown on this record brings back the heaviness that we love from Alter Bridge.
Fable of the Silent Son is the signature epic song that Alter Bridge fans look forward to hearing on every record. The song starts out with a finger pick intro that sets up the song to be one of the more mellow songs on the record. Kennedy’s opening notes utilizes his signature falsetto while being overlaid with a more midrange vocal set.
Marshall’s bass gently resonates in the background and the song builds up to the chorus and the band proceed to bring the heavy sound that is found album wide. Even though the song gets heavier, it still stays on the slower side of the record. It isn’t until the 2:50 mark of this song that you sense a change in mood for the song.
The second verse picks up a little in tempo while getting a bit darker. Kennedy sings in his mid-range.
In classic Alter Bridge fashion, the song kicks up in tempo while Tremonti and Kennedy trade off in face melting solos that tie up the entire record with a nice bow. After the bridge, the music fades and Kennedy begins to sing with a beautiful simple guitar stroke. As it feels like the song is coming to a close, the band kicks back in and takes you back on the journey.
Fable of the Silent Son wraps up with the sound of guitars and bass just playing out. Another epic song from the band.
Season of Promise brings me back to The Last Hero days with beautiful guitar work (My Champion). The band does a great job of bringing the album back down to earth while continuing to showcase their artistic vision for this record.
Season of Promise is an anthem for the fans to be able to shout at a live show. It is a feel good song that gives the listener a feeling of hope.
The guitar solo toward the end of the song brings much joy to my ears as it is such a signature on Alter Bridge records.
Last Man Standing opens up with a mellow vibe before the bass brings a dark feeling for the song. Kennedy opens in his lower register, which is sadly rare for him. Kennedy gets very breathy in his vocals before the pre-chorus.
Kennedy then goes into his signature higher register vocals as he belts out “When you’re the last man standing.” Once again, the theme of a person being compromised is back. It was a nice break with Stay and Season of Promise.
Last Man Standing takes listeners on a musical roller coaster. The song slows, and then picks up again, and then mellows out before picking up again.
In the bridge, Kennedy brings back his lower register vocals with very breathy singing. Kennedy’s vocal skills are on full display on this song. The guitar work on this song sets Last Man Standing in a class of its own.
You can hear Tremonti’s accompanying vocals clearly on this one.
The title track Pawns and Kings was also the bands lead single for this record. I wrote when the song dropped that this was “probably the strongest single the band has released since “Isolation” in 2010.” At the time, I hadn’t heard any of the other singles or the rest of the record. This song set this record up to be an epic album from start to finish.
The song opens with a beautiful guitar stroke and Kennedy singing “tear down the walls and show your courage as you heed the call, embarking on a journey yet to come” and then the band kicks in.
Brian Marshall’s bass skills are on display as this song just kicks you right in the face. Alter Bridge closes out their seventh studio album with the song that probably leaves you wanting more from them.
Pawns and Kings is probably the most “produced” song on the record with some light panning from left to right in the breakdown.
Overall, Pawns and Kings is definitely the bands best work since Blackbird. Pawns and Kings pays homage to the bands classic record, brings back memories of ABIII and sets them up for a prosperous future.
Alter Bridge continues to bring amazing records to the scene. My only gripe with this album is that is is just 10 songs. It is a short record. I believe this is Alter Bridge’s shortest album to date when it comes to song count.
One Day Remains has 11 songs and comes to 55 minutes of play time; Blackbird comes out to 13 songs and 59 minutes of play time; ABIII has 14 songs and 65 minutes of playtime; Fortress has 12 songs and 63 minutes of playtime; The Last Hero had 13 songs and 65 minutes of playtime; Walk The Sky had 14 songs and 60 minutes of playtime; Pawns and Kings has 10 songs and 53 minutes of play time.
While it comes to be the band’s shortest album to date, it is one heck of an album that fans will enjoy from start to finish.
Final Thoughts: As I called Walk the Sky the band’s most progressive album to date, I cannot call Pawns and Kings very progressive for the band. I won’t call this a regression either. I will call this a needed reset for the band. Pawns and Kings might be the most authentic piece of art Alter Bridge has released since Blackbird.
I think Pawns and Kings will give the band great momentum as they move forward into their 19th year together.