REVIEW: JAG PANZER – “The Deviant Chord”
Jag Panzer is a US power metal institution. The band’s debut album, ‘Ample Destruction’, is widely recognized as one of the best metal albums of the 1980’s and one of the bastions of the power metal genre. With more than three decades of activity and a rather consistent discography (‘Dissident Alliance’ being the exception), the Colorado natives achieved cult status in the mid-90’s and are back to attack six years after the great ‘The Scourge of the Light’.
With the stellar and consolidated lineup in the form of longtime members John Tetley (bass), Mark Briody (guitars), Rikard Stjernquist (drums) and US metal legend Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin (vocals, Titan Force, Satan’s Host), ‘The Deviant Chord’ marks the return of the guitarist-virtuoso Joey Tafolla, who had only recorded the aforementioned 1984 classic album and 1997’s ‘The Fourth Judgement’ with the group, the two best Jag Panzer albums in my opinion. So, growing up listening to these guys and knowing that Tafolla was back, I was as excited as a 5-year old on Christmas-eve for this new endeavor.
The problem with following a band and knowing their albums by heart is that you always expect them to be better and better, especially when you know that these guys can kick serious ass. As a fan and reviewer, I was somewhat disappointed with ‘The Deviant Chord’, though, maybe because I hold Jag Panzer on such a high regard. The main problem with the album is that it rarely reaches a climax regarding potent, crunchy riffs, massive hooks or memorable choruses, all necessary when talking about US power metal. Instead, the experience plays almost entirely in a mid-tempo speed, especially in the middle portion of the album, when songs like “Black List”, “Foggy Dew”, “Divine Intervention” and “Long Awaited Kiss” are displayed. All of those have the Jag Panzer characteristic elements, but each of them lacks punch or a better direction, songwriting-wise.
There are, however, some glimpses of raw power and high levels of inspiration we would expect from Mark Briody as a songwriter, like the two first and two last tracks of the album, for instance. “Born of the Flame” and “Far Beyond All Fear” shine by being simple, yet sophisticated. The intricate sounds provided by the drum-bass duo and some killer guitar solos make the songs feel light and powerful, even though never bombastic. “Fire of Our Spirit”, best tune in here, is the best example of why these dudes are so respected in the US power scene. Conklin’s vocals soar high and dictate the rhythm while classic Jag Panzer-esque background choirs and a beautiful pedal-work by Stjernquist fill the song with a much needed dose of energy.
With the exception of some setbacks regarding the middle of the album (which I blame partially on the mixing and production), you can expect half the songs here to give you what you want when listening to these American legends. Conklin’s enviable vocal range is as reliable as ever, the kitchen provides a good amount of support and the duo Briody/Tafolla obliterates through the songs with virtuous and prolific solos and leads.
I can’t help but to think that the band wanted to create something diversified and heterogeneous to celebrate Tafolla’s return, which resulted in two of three filler tracks, so I would classify the album as half-awesome, half-lackluster, being the first and last moments of the best ones here. As I said above, I believe Jag Panzer can do a hell of a lot better when it comes to writing killer material, because we’ve seen them do it before in almost all of their previous works.
For a band that excels on being powerful and reliable, Jag Panzer seems to have lost a bit of steam in the past six years. ‘The Deviant Chord’ is more than enough proof that metal gods such as Mark Briody and Harry Conklin can still cause damage even when not in their best form, but some factors keep it from being a great album, or besting more relevant, memorable works by the band like ‘Casting the Stones’ or ‘The Age of Mastery’. All in all, this is a good album, but nothing more than that.