Saturday, November 25, 2017

Matt Spall reviews Jag Panzer

[The long-running U.S. heavy metal act Jag Panzer has existed for decades, with splits and reunions of all sorts in the process. Now in 2017 they returned. So what did our friend Matt Spall think of the new music? Surely he knows this band, right? -MMB]
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Artist: Jag Panzer
Album Title: The Deviant Chord
Label: Steamhammer / SPV
Date Of Release: 29 September 2017
Jag Panzer and I have had a turbulent relationship. Many regard them as a heavy metal institution, pointing towards the likes of their debut, ‘Ample Destruction’, as examples of the very best that US power metal has to offer the world. Admittedly, I came to the band late, via their fifth album ‘Thane To The Throne’ at the turn of the Millennium but they never really ignited my enthusiasm beyond a nod of appreciation. If memory serves, I actually traded in the aforementioned record soon after because it failed to hold my interest and I ultimately felt rather disappointed by it. I realise that this record represented a slight departure for the band, so I did check out other albums. Unfortunately, they did little to change my opinion.
I can already hear the sounds of knives being sharpened by those who consider the content of the previous paragraph as blasphemy. Regardless, I have to speak as I find and I can’t possibly like every band, can I?
However, in an effort to prove myself wrong, I accepted the invitation from Steamhammer/SPV and downloaded the promo for ‘The Deviant Chord’, the tenth full-length release from Jag Panzer. I’ll admit that curiosity also played a part because very little had been heard from the Colorado-based quintet since the release of their last album, ‘The Scourge Of The Light’ way back in 2011. Line-up issues and a near break-up apparently ensued but all of that seems to have been put aside, with ‘The Deviant Chord’ the result that many long-term fans had craved.
Even better news for the Jag Panzer faithful is that the clientele has remained largely undamaged. It means that the Jag Panzer of 2017 is comprised of vocalist Harry ‘The Tyrant’ Conklin, guitarist/keyboardist Mark Briody, bassist John Tetley and drummer Rikard Stjernquist alongside returning lead guitarist Joey Tafolla.
So the stage is set for a triumphant return to the world of power metal for Jag Panzer and for me to finally take the band to my heart, yes? Well, after several spins, I must admit that the answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’. For existing fans, I have no doubt that the vast majority will lap up every last minute of ‘The Deviant Chord’ and revel in their return. For me though, it’s unfortunately a case of ‘as you were’ for the most part.
I have tried, I really have, but Jag Panzer just seem to be one of those bands that don’t click with me. I can see the attraction of course but it’s in a kind of detached way, as if I’m listening to the record through a pane of glass, whilst everyone else is in the recording studio rocking out with the band.
To offer something more constructive, I’d say that part of the problem is that there are a lack of killer choruses or strong melodies to capture my imagination. The album ends and aside from the Maiden-esque galloping bombast of ‘Far Beyond All Fear’ or the folk-tinged Celtic-infused ‘Foggy Dew’, I can’t remember much of what I’ve heard in the preceding 45 minutes or so. There are plenty of powerful riffs and there’s no denying the metal credentials of the band but again, they don’t grab me by the throat and slam me against the wall.
I don’t wish to sound overly harsh but I can’t shake the feeling that everything feels a little run-of-the-mill and distinctly ordinary. I certainly wish there was more variety overall, particularly in terms of the speed of the songs; once the initial fervour of the opening couple of cuts has passed, the vast majority of the remaining eight tracks feel comfortable remaining at a mid-tempo with little variation either side.
Again, not even some exuberant lead guitar work from virtuoso Tafolla can save the day as his solos are but a brief flurry of excitement in an otherwise unremarkable landscape. Likewise, the vocals of ‘Tyrant’ are passionately and powerfully delivered but for some reason, I’m not enamoured with his delivery.
I want to make it clear that I am not saying that ‘The Deviant Chord’ is a bad record because clearly it isn’t and I’d be being churlish for suggesting otherwise. It is professionally put together and the members of the band clearly believe in what they are doing. The thing is, I have been thoroughly spoilt over the last year or so with some truly excellent power metal emerging from many new corners of the scene and I think that Jag Panzer for all their strengths are suffering as a result. Whilst they had their problems to deal with, the world moved on and it has moved on apace. Jag Panzer therefore needed to blow me out of the water with ‘The Deviant Chord’ but instead they have simply splashed me a little. Oh well, as I said before, I can’t like them all.
The Score Of Much Metal: 6.5
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