Generally speaking, Alter Bridge are at their best when balancing the physicality and heft of Metallica with the soulful emotion of a Pearl Jam or Soundgarden. While myriad other elements and influences can be factored in, the dichotomy of metallic thrust and post-grunge radio friendliness has defined every Alter Bridge record to date, and with Pawns & Kings the band couldn’t have tipped the scales towards metal more if they’d dropped an anvil on them, Wile E Coyote-style.
Whether a credit to the production of Michael ‘Elvis’ Baskette or just that the band decided to go right for the throat this time, there’s a punchiness to every track that recalls (and may even surpass) the likes of White Knuckles or Bleed It Dry. Thankfully this isn’t at the cost of anthemic potential; Myles Kennedy’s vocals are among the most inspiring and captivating in modern rock, every chorus inviting full-throated singalongs.
From start to finish, the album is taut and perfectly balanced. More impressive isthat the band have achieved this with some of the longest tracks of their career, crafting epics in every sense of the word. Opener This Is War sets the stage with apocalyptic choirs and almost blast-beat drums, and things escalate from there as the singalongs get bigger and the riffs harder across Dead Among The Living, Silver Tongue and Sin After Sin.
Even ballad Stay has a lively heartbeat that ensures no momentum is lost, and Mark Tremonti’s shuffle to lead vocals is a tantalising hint at what could lie in store for the band. With the same band members playing together for almost 20 years now, there is an inherent sense of intuitiveness and comfort to the way Alter Bridge fit together.
Guitarist Tremonti slings arena-sized riffs, Scott Phillips punctuates those riffs with drum beats that feel like a punch to the face, and bassist Brian Marshall injects almost sludgy levels of low end into the heavier moments, while Kennedy soars above it all with his golden-throated vocals.
It’s a familiar formula, but one that has enabled Alter Bridge to be elevated to playing massive venues around the world. Pawns & Kings isn’t anything radically different for Alter Bridge. Rather, it perfects every element of the band’s sound and ensures everything is top-of-the-line. Make no mistake about it – this is the Rolls-Royce of Alter Bridge records, and a high-water mark to which all rock hopefuls should aspire.