Many recall a halcyon age of rock and metal like something long since finished. The term “glory days” is being thrown about with reckless abandon. Blinding them to hungry acts that carry the torch for the next generation. Acts such as Alter Bridge, have steadily worked their way to the front of hard rock worldwide since their 2004 debut, ‘One Day Remains’. Eighteen years later, Alter Bridge ascend to even greater heights on ‘Pawns and Kings.’ An album soaked in two decades of history culminating in something special for fans to embrace.
The opening track “This is War” announces this record is not battle-shy, letting us know something different has arrived. Punishing, near-hostile guitar riffs splinter across ‘Pawns and Kings’ courtesy of guitarist Mark Tremonti and vocalist/guitarist Myles Kennedy. Yet melodious counterparts to heavier moments continue to fuel the beating heart of any good Alter Bridge album. From the melancholic choruses of “Dead Among the Living”, to the shared vocal duties on “Stay”, which sees Tremonti take front and center, that much-beloved light in the dark is clearly maintained.
“Pawns and Kings” also makes interesting choices as far as sequencing is concerned. In an age where studies show that many fail to listen past the sixth or seventh song on a new album, in the latter half of the record we are introduced to standout tracks like “Holiday.” Infectious hook lines and memorable melodies run wild across this number, leaving you reaching for the repeat button before finishing its first spin. Another brave move comes in “Fable of the Silent Son.” Exceeding eight mighty minutes, this rich composition is for fans who appreciate, and expect, complex orchestration and a lyric they can follow to the bitter end. Kennedy’s delivery; was half-spoken, half-sung incantations, engaging on multiple levels. Concluding with its title track, concept and presentation meet in an ominous rhythm section from drummer Scott Phillips and bassist Brian Marshal, as tensions heighten and release with an overwhelming sense of catharsis.
While it may, at first glance, appear to contain a strong political narrative, in truth “Pawns and Kings” is far more subtle than that. It is the private made political made public. More akin to a David and Goliath dynamic, with Goliath being whatever it is you might be facing in your life, personal or political. Offering a fearless, furious, and forgiving exploration of the human condition, “Pawns and Kings” proves itself an important album in the Alter Bridge oeuvre.