Jag Panzer has a special page in the Big Book of American Metal, being one of the early progenitors of what was once known as “American power metal.” Their testosterone and armpit hair laden adaptation of the NWoBHM sound along with the uber metal vocals of Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin set their 1984 Ample Destruction debut apart from the typical Priest and Maiden clones, and along with similar acts like Metal Church and Helstar, they helped develop a mighty sound later pilfered thoroughly by Sanctuary and Iced Earth. Sadly, the band was destined to play the role of table setter rather than standard-bearer for this style, as internal turmoil tore the classic lineup asunder and rendered them unable to release a proper follow-up to Ample Destruction until 1997s The Fourth Judgment. By then their style was old hat, but that didn’t stop them from releasing a series of classy and killer traditional metal albums between 97 and 2011, including a highly metalized retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth on Thane to the Throne1. The band imploded again following 2011s The Scourge of the Light and it seemed the legendary act had finally delivered all their goods. Fast forward to the present and 4/5ths of the classic lineup has come back together for The Deviant Chord, including guitar phenom, Joey Tafolla, who hasn’t played with the band since 97. So with most of the classic lineup back in black, can the band revive the glory days of American metal?
Wasting no time, the band hits hard with “Born of the Flame,” which finds a near perfect sweet spot between their earliest material and the far more polished works of their later period. It has a traditional Maiden-esque gallop amped up by the rage of The Tyrant and his ageless pipes o’ steel2. The guitar tandem of Tafolla and Mark Briody is awe-inspiring as they shred all that shredders can shred while taking ample opportunities to noodle and wank. They never go full Yngwie though, but you may wish they did. The result is catchy and proven to grow chest hair in laboratory trials. “Far Beyond All Fear” sticks with this winning formula but adds more nutsack with predictably exaggerated but amusing results.
The title track is the kind of slow burning epic The Tyrant lives to wail upon, with vocals and solos so bombastic, they may require safe spaces for some listeners. “Black List” shows Tyrant can still hit those high notes and it’s hard to resist the combination of catchy writing and excessive fretwork gymnastics. The band even dusts off the ancient Irish ballad “Foggy Dew” and gives it a Panzer spit shine, turning it into a shockingly over the top war song so hefty even Sabaton couldn’t lift it. “Long Awaited Kiss” is another variation on the power ballad, this one written in waltz-time and graced with classical piano and string accompaniment before Tyrant enters the hall to blow everything to smithereens as he chews the scenery like Vincent Price on the set of a $100 million horror epic. The album closes in grand style with “Dare” which sounds the most like the modern era of Panzer with guitar-work that’s heavy, classy and bigger than Cthulhu Jesus.
There isn’t a weak song in the bunch and the album manages to feel very cohesive despite a surprisingly diverse collection of styles and moods. The material is aided greatly by a rich production that allows both Tyrant and the twin guitar monsters to all shine equally. At a tight 44 minutes, there’s no issues with bloat and with most songs running between 3 and 5 minutes, they knock you over and run into the night as classic metal songs should.
It’s hard to say who is most impressive here. Tyrant’s vocals haven’t aged one iota, making him some kind of metal Countess Bathory, and as he’s always been one of my favorite wailers, it’s a joy to hear him still sounding so righteous over 30 years after first becoming a fan. That said, the return of Joey Tafolla is a big freakin’ deal, and he and Briody mean business here. So much hyperactive soloing, so much foot-on-amp fret-board abuse. It’s all almost too much metal to take in, but you must.
This is the sound of a band hitting their prime, even if it’s 33 years late. If you love traditional metal, it’s going to be hard to find something this catchy, polished and rocking in 2017 or any other year. Jag Panzer seems to get better with age while everything else falls apart. All except scotch. I love scotchy, scotch, scotch, and I love Jag Panzer. Best served with scotch.