Thirty years ago, a fledgling Jag Panzer helped lay the groundwork for the American power metal sound, releasing early highlights in 1983’s Tyrants EP and follow-up full-length Ample Destruction before losing vocalist Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin and struggling for a decade. 1994’s Dissonant Alliance was a universally panned shift towards thrash, with the late Daniel Conca on vocals. By 1997, Conklin was back in the band and Jag Panzer spent the next seven years releasing five well-received discs that firmly established them at the head of the power metal pack. Despite losing guitar shredder Chris Broderick to Megadeth in the seven years since the last Panzer offering (2004’s Casting The Stones), for The Scourge Of The Light, the band picks up right where that record left off in both style and quality.
Scourge opens strong with its most aggressive number, “Condemned To Fight,” displaying immediately all the now-signature Panzer-isms: tight, vaguely progressive and technical driving riffage, fleet-fingered solos and Conklin’s super-powerful voice. Nowadays, Conklin typically sticks to a trad-metal mid-range during the verses and then soars during the choruses, which are almost invariably layered in moody harmony. Second track “The Setting Of The Sun” brings the first of Scourge’s few flirtations with symphonic elements, with some subtle strings beneath the chorus. “Sun” sits as the middle track in the opening triumvirate of powerful goodness between “Condemned” and the drifting stomp and dreamy harmonies of “Bringing On The End.” After some solid-but-somewhat-interchangeable driving metal in “Call To Arms” “Cycles,” and “Let It Out,” the tandem of “Burn” – which is bookended with a piano intro and outro – and the supremely epic “The Book Of Kells” closes the album in grandiose fashion, the latter the album’s most progressive moment and another use of symphonics to augment the band’s metallic base, here more strings and a chanting choir.
On the second guitar front, alongside founding member Mark Briody, Christian Lasegue returns to replace Broderick. Lasegue played on the band’s Chain Of Command album, which is both their second and seventh album. (Chain was recorded in 1987, without Conklin, but shelved until 2004, when it was finally released by Century Media. Many of its tracks appear, with Conklin, on subsequent releases, including the 2003 compilation of re-recorded early numbers, Decade Of The Nail-Spiked Bat.) Lasegue’s solos are shred-tastic, ably replacing Broderick.
But though the guitar-work on Scourge is first-rate, the show is ultimately Conklin’s, as it is on all Jag Panzer releases, his leather-y bluster reminiscent at times of Dio or Wuthering Heights / Astral Doors frontman Nils Patrick Johansson (particularly on “Let It Out”), while his use of harmonies leans towards Tate and Dane, but the overall composite entirely Conklin’s own, his voice soaring and operatic without sounding unduly pristine, a factor that helps put more balls and grit in the Panzer’s performance. For Scourge, Conklin avoids any of the Halford shrieks that colored earlier Panzer efforts.
Where Jag Panzer has always been stronger than most is in balancing aggressive metal riffing with those dramatic and layered vocal melodies, all the while never sounding happy, wimpy or unbearably bombastic. Make no mistake, they are bombastic — it is power metal, after all, and “The Book Of Kells” virtually defines bombast — but like Nevermore, with whom they share a similar reliance upon shredding and melodrama, they avoid the pitfalls of power metal cheese through both skill and sheer conviction. Jag Panzer has refined this style of aggressive-but-melodic power to sharp focus, and while it offers little in the way of expansion beyond the band’s tried-and-true style, The Scourge Of The Light is nevertheless a grand example of why, three decades after they helped to kick-start it, Jag Panzer remains at the forefront of the American power metal scene.