As a band known for blurring the lines between contemporary hard rock and heavy metal for almost decades—Alter Bridge builds upon the sound that has won them worldwide critical acclaim and a devoted global fan base, with their latest studio album 'Pawns & Kings,' which is out now worldwide in all formats. Guitar Interactive Magazine editor Jonathan Graham catches up with Myles Kennedy and Mark Tremonti for an exclusive interview to discuss the new album's creation, upcoming tour and much more in this edition's cover feature.
In every underdog story, an ordinary beginning reaches an extraordinary conclusion. The unexpected becomes the undisputed. The excluded become the exalted. The passed over become the most powerful. The pawns become the kings...
In this spirit, Alter Bridge have steadily climbed to the forefront of the hard rock scene. Since 2004, Alter Bridge has been one of the most consistent bands to successfully represent the rock and metal communities with their driving melodies, blazing guitar riffs and topical lyrics that resonate with fans around the globe. Their seventh album, Pawns & Kings, continues that trend with ten unforgettable new additions to their catalogue. Coming off the launch of what was shaping up to be one of the band's pinnacle moments with 'Walk The Sky,' everything came to a halt as the world would forever be changed due to the events of a global pandemic.
"To us, this is more than just a CD or a record," observes Myles. "It has the potential to become a part of the existence of a person who might find solace in it. That's what music has done for me. If I'm not feeling great, an album will totally flip the switch and save the day. It's about realizing the power of music. We keep pushing forward because there seems to be a purpose here."
"We've constantly tried to put out records that fans won't necessarily see coming," adds Mark. "Pawns & Kings is definitely its own animal. Personally, I think this has something for everyone, and regardless of if you're already a fan of the band, you will definitely enjoy this."
After lockdowns, solo projects, and two years of life in a dizzying flux, the four-piece picked up where they left off. Sticking to a tried-and-true process, Myles and Mark penned ideas separately and shared them remotely with the band, building a sonic framework during their time apart. By the time the musicians congregated back at the Florida creative hub of longtime producer Michael "Elvis" Baskette (Slash, Falling In Reverse, Sevendust, Mammoth WVH) in 2022, it had marked their first in-person meet-up in two years. Energized to begin again, the guys completed recording in just six weeks.
"We respect each other tremendously," notes Mark. "Myles and I will bring in ideas, and Scott and Brian add their colour and voice to the songs. After working together for so long, we know what this band needs. We try to maintain the Alter Bridge sound."
As the pieces fell into place, it should be noted Elvis recognized a bit of a kinship to a favourite fan LP on the eve of its decade anniversary. "Elvis was like, 'This is giving me big Fortress vibes'," grins Mark. "So, he absolutely fell in love with what we were doing on Pawns & Kings. Once he planted that seed in our heads, we subconsciously chased a Fortress-style record, but with a modern twist."
Part of the twist can be attributed to a skyscraping and cloud-shaking vocal performance by Myles. With resounding high register and entrancing experimentation, he sang like his life depended on it.
"Elvis had a totally new setup with a different board, a different preamp, and a different flux capacitor," laughs Myles. "I could hear things differently, and it served as inspiration. I could emote even harder. It was a bit easier."
Fittingly, Alter Bridge introduce the album to the world with the near seven-minute title track "Pawns & Kings." Soft intonation bleeds into the distorted trudging groove as the verses recoil with a venomous clarion call, "Don't let the bastards grind you down; it's time to show the devil what we are." A soaring chorus hovers above a hummable riff before guitar solos entwine in an incendiary catharsis.
"It's a battle cry for the underdog," explains Myles. "You're not only going to face what could be considered the ultimate challenge, but you're also going to overcome it. It's a David versus Goliath story."
Pummeling percussion and a barrage of guitar break down the door on the album's first official single, "Silver Tongue." Locked into an ironclad groove, it explodes with one of their boldest hooks yet as Myles warns, "You're over the line, under the gun, I am the reason for what you've done...You can't outrun under the spell of my silver tongue."
"It was actually the first song I heard from Myles," recalls Mark. "I was immediately drawn into the riff. It took on a life of its own in the studio."
"It's a theme I've touched on a few times over the years, because it fascinates me," Myles adds. "It's about a charismatic figure who's capable of seducing people with what he says. This figure knows he won't be held accountable, because he talks others into doing things and taking the fall."
Pawns & Kings opens with the shudderingly heavy "This Is War." An operatic wail pierces a head-slamming rhythm as the vocals flutter from a harmonious bridge into a call-to-arms, "Fight for your life, can you see what's coming? Fight for your mind. This is war." The thrashed-out breakdown dissolves into a searing lead.
"It came from a dream," says Myles. "It was like the universe dropped it on me. It really pertains to struggles from the inside like self-doubt, anxiety, or tension. You're waging war within yourself."
"The riffs, the melodies, and the lyrics are just striking," Mark observes. "Since it's heavier, everybody assumes it was one of mine, but that started with Myles," he laughs.
Ominous drums ignite a slow burn on the seven-minute "Sin After Sin," which culminates on, as Mark puts it, "a captivating story that sets a powerful mood." Then, there's "Stay." It reflects yet another dimension of Pawns & Kings. With Mark on lead vocals, it builds towards an undeniable refrain as he urges, "Allow your heart to heal," over a bright guitar line.
"I heard this chord progression in my head," Mark remembers. "I wrote it down and started singing over it. Myles added the bridge. It has a 'seize the day' message between two people."
Elsewhere, "Dead Among The Living" taps into what Mark and Myles both deem a "'Come To Life' vibe" in deference to the Blackbird staple and essential live cut. "Fable Of The Silent Son" stretches past the eight-minute mark and flips on its axis between time signatures, moments of vocal serenity, fits of heaviness, and a powerful opportunity to "learn a lesson from the things I've done."
"You can hear somebody being honest about past mistakes and saying, 'Don't make those mistakes'," Myles reveals. "It's imparting those lessons learned through struggle to someone else, so they don't have to endure the same pain. It's just heavy."
Ultimately, Pawns & Kings is the culmination of almost two decades together soaked in blood, sweat, tears, and the triumph earned through never giving up. It represents the bandmates' dedication to one another and their collective devotion to a devout fanbase.
"I hope it finds a spot in your life," Myles leaves off. "Hopefully, there are moments where you receive healing, motivation, or whatever you need. We work so hard because fans expect a lot out of us."
"When you listen to Pawns & Kings, I hope you feel like we gave it our all," concludes Mark. "It's not simple. It's packed full of emotion. It took a lot of work to get to where it was. It's an Alter Bridge record, man."
The time the members of Alter Bridge spent apart sparked a new fire and heaviness when the quartet—teaming with longtime producer and collaborator Michael "Elvis" Baskette— created an album that shines with massive, menacing arena-ready production while emerging as another sonic testament to the seasoned Kennedy/Tremonti songwriting dream-team.
Nearly 20 years into their celebrated career, one thing is for sure; Pawns & Kings offers a musical snapshot of a band that shows no signs of slowing down and continues to push itself creatively for the whole world to see.
Alter Bridge 'Pawns & Kings' Tracklist:
1. This Is War
2. Dead Among The Living
3. Silver Tongue
4. Sin After Sin
7. Fable Of The Silent Son
8. Season Of Promise
9. Last Man Standing
10. Pawns & Kings
For tickets and more information on Alter Bridge, please visit: