Pawns & Kings: Are Alter Bridge Back to the Highs of Fortress?

I’ve been a huge fan of Alter Bridge for over a decade and a half now. Blackbird has helped me get through a lot and Fortress is one of my favourite albums ever. However, their previous album didn’t do much for me and I struggled to get into The Last Hero too. While said albums may have cooled off the bands momentum a bit, they are still one of the biggest hard rock bands of the modern era, amassing millions of streams and there is a lot of anticipation for their new album. The singles have been great, to be fair. We got sent this early and I couldn’t not check it out, let’s go!

The latest single, ‘This is War’ opens the album. Straight in with a huge riff and some great highs from Myles Kennedy, aided I imagine by some sort of operatic choir. We’re immediately back to the epic Alter Bridge sound and I love it. Tremonti’s machine-gun-like chugging is ever-impressive and doesn’t at all make me jealous of his talent. The guy should do some proper thrash, he could rival Jeff Hanneman’s chops for rhythm in the genre. The riff opens up into some awesome swinging notes and I cannot stop gushing over the guitar work already. Also, the harmonies on the vocals in the verses are on point.

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The pre drops down into some great high notes from Myles, building up into a HUGE chorus. It’s catchy, massive and pretty open. Aside from the vocals, the drums feel like they stand out most here, holding down the rhythm perfectly and making it feel even bigger. Everything I love about the track seems to come together briefly for the bridge before Tremonti melts everyone’s faces off with a blistering guitar solo. I don’t have enough good stuff to say about this track. It feels like a mixture of Fortress and III, and I love it. Playlisted!

‘Dead Among the Living’ opens on another huge, heavy and great riff. The bounce it has in it when it kicks in amazing, and man would this pop off live. It strips back for the verses, clean guitar chords, great harmonies and Myles’ otherworldly vocals taking the lead. It gets to the chorus surprisingly quickly; barely a pre and very little verse. However, the chorus is another catchy, open one so you can’t really complain. The track gives me Last Hero vibes, but maybe a little heavier. That’s not a bad thing by any stretch and it is good but doesn’t stand out much to me when compared to the opener. The breakdown(?) riff is good though!

The next single, ‘Silver Tongue’, grants my wishes momentarily and opens on a thrash riff. It explodes into the main riff which is HUGE, reminding me of those times where Muse get especially heavy, particularly the Drones album. This is another Fortress track through and through, heavy, massive and very catchy. Especially in the second and final choruses when the double one is half-timed, *chef’s kiss*. The breakdown is amazing too, from the riff to Myles’ vocals when it kicks in, it’s all awesome. The dropped-down chorus after to build back up was also amazing. This is another track that easily makes the playlist, fantastic stuff.

‘Sin After Sin’ veers into rather unexplored territory for Alter Bridge, at least for the opening. The drums and clean guitar was really interesting and I was thinking it would lead to a slower track. The bass sounded amazing over the top of it all, too. We then instead get a heavier (but awesome) riff over the top. It’s still at a plodding pace, but I’d have almost enjoyed this staying stripped back throughout. It drops down before the riff comes back for the choruses. The choruses are again fun, I think Myles and Tremonti are incapable of writing a bad one at this point. However, something about this just felt a tad disjointed. It’s not a bad track, but my least favourite of the singles.

‘Stay’ is the slower track I was expecting the previous one to be. It also features Tremonti on lead vocals, which is a massively nice surprise. I wasn’t too sure when he first started fronting stuff a few years back, but either he’s improved massively, or I’ve grown to love his voice. Heck, he put out an album of Frank Sinatra covers earlier this year that is phenomenal. Whenever he and Myles harmonies it’s truly special. Especially on slower, more anthemic tracks like this. The whole song is open, huge and catchy, as well as being very emotional. It’s beautiful, honestly. Both men put in a vocal performance rivalling their best and the music behind it all is fantastic. Playlisted!

Some more fantastic riffing runs through ‘Holiday’, hitting us with two or three different amazing ones. It’s also one of the simplest but one of my favourite choruses on the album. This somehow feels like the most radio-friendly album track ever. It’s a radio track but not something Alter Bridge would probably put out as a single. It’s an odd, fascinating and great predicament, ensuring that we get good songs through and through. It follows a pretty standard structure and sounds much like the opening track in its style. Good stuff!

The prog track of the album, ‘Fable of the Silent Son’ is a beautiful and perfect slow build track. A minute-and-a-half before any distortion comes in and it’s gone pretty quick after too. The heavy riff is bend-heavy awesomeness and the vocals chorus over it are good. Before that, the clean guitars and Myles’ vocals are fantastic.

A stabbing, plodding riff comes in to add even more heaviness around the 3-minute mark. It heralds another chorus, heavier than the previous. The pace stays slow throughout and we get an awesome bridge where the guitars are out off-tempo with the drums. I LOVE it. The time signature here is odd in the best way, almost going a bit Tool for a second. Then we of course get an amazing guitar solo after, fitting the mood perfectly. It drops back before building to a truly epic close. What a fantastic prog track. I loved this, and it reminded me a lot of ‘Fortress’.

‘Season of Promise’ opens on a Last Hero-esque riff, the whole song feeling like ‘My Champion’ II. I unfortunately feel like this is a little worse than the latter track, however. Maybe it’s just my bias towards ‘My Champion’ as it’s my favourite track on that album and holds a lot of personal weight to me. And again, this track isn’t bad by any stretch. It’s an emotional, uplifting ballad track that I definitely enjoyed. I just couldn’t get the other track out of my head. Tremonti absolutely slays it with his closing solo, though.

‘Last Man Standing’ is another slow opener, and surprisingly for the second time this album I got Tool vibes from the riff. In fact, take away the second guitar and the huge chorus and it could definitely make a great Tool song. Outside of that it’s a pretty average Alter Bridge song. It’s definitely good, but definitely an album track. Some good riffs and soloing and a decent chorus, but nothing stood out too much to me.

Unfortunately, I feel the same about the closing/title track and lead single. I do like the track, it’s got a fantastic chorus and some characteristically great, heavy riffs. and I remember liking this track more when I first heard it. Maybe I’m just Alter Bridge burnt out by this point of the album? After all, the album is nearly an hour in length. The bridge is amazing too, with the fast, Metallica-like guitaring. And again, this feels ripped right from Fortress. I do like this song a lot and feel like I’d love it a lot more if I was hearing it first. Still, it’s a bold move in 2022 to close the album on any single, let alone the lead one, and I definitely have to give the band props for that. And it’s a great, epic way to close an album. Awesome stuff!

Overall: This was everything I hoped, and so much better than I expected it to be. It was everything I love about Alter Bridge rolled up into one amazing album. It drew together sounds from almost every album they’ve released and feels like a culmination of the last nearly 20 years they’ve been together. When over half the album is standout tracks, you know you’re onto a winner. This is definitely up there with one of the best albums Alter Bridge have put out, and you should go and check it out immediately!

The Score: 9/10