“I guess you had to be there.”
Coming up during the peak of the NWOBHM movement, Tank hit hard with their debut Filth Hounds of Hades but stagnated after that, disbanding in 1989 only to resurface in 1997. Fast-forward to present day, because that’s where I come in. I had heard of Tank before, but the closest I had come to actually hearing them was a couple cover versions of “Turn Your Head Around,” and for awhile I had thought it to be a Sodom original. The opening line above was the thought going through my mind during the initial playthrough of War Nation, as I struggled to see how Tank had garnered even a cult following. After repeated listens, though, I came to realize that, while it may not have been the ideal album to finally hear the band with, it has enough high points to merit both some staying power and, for us neophytes, an exploration of their back catalogue.
Oft compared to Motorhead in their early days, I’m told, Tank of the 21st century has more in common musically with Saxon. At times, it all had me wondering if some prankster had replaced my copy of War Nation with Call To Arms. Current vocalist Doogie White even sounds a lot like Biff Byford. Fortunately there is an entirely different vibe going on here, possibly due to the abundance of faith-based lyrics. The first two tracks (“War Nation” and “Song of the Dead”) are rather middle-of-the-road, but you may find later that both of them have hooked into your subconscious. On the other hand, “Hammer and Nails” rips forth from the start. Is it about the crucifixion? Quite possibly, but as one of the more violently brutal acts of the Christian bible, it makes for ideal metal fodder (though I still prefer Fozzy’s “God Pounds His Nails” for this type of theme.) The first half concludes with “Grace of God,” featuring a particularly impassioned vocal performance that turns what would have otherwise been a clunker into a standout.
Not as much luck with “Dreamer,” which kicks off the second half and is about as paint-by-numbers as one can get for a 80s-style ballad. After that, things pick up and stay strong to the end. “Justice For All” provides a perfect bounce-back from its predecessor, and “Wings of Heaven” succeeds – unsurprisingly – in the same way that “Grace of God” did. They could have gone out on a high note with the blazing “State of the Union” but instead placed the instrumental “Hard Road” at the end. It’s a metallic, bluesy rocker and actually one of the stronger cuts, but with its placement, it also feels like a bit of an afterthought.
Just so we’re clear, the above is the opinion of a new album from a classic band provided by someone who had never heard said band until said new album. By all indications, though, this is not the same Tank that you or whoever got you into metal grew up with, and your expectations should be tempered accordingly. Taken on its own merits, War Nation is still a pretty solid effort that should appeal to fans of the more traditional NWOBHM sound or the well-travelled vocals of Doogie White. Or God. That guy can sell anything. Just don’t let him catch you listening to Filth Hounds of Hades.