Not too long after 2011’s The Scourge Of The Light, it looked like we might lose Jag Panzer. Again.
Splintering after that underrated album, these long-running American power metal innovators announced their separation. By then, in some incarnation or another, they’d been around for thirty years, with a short hiatus a third of the way through. Formed in 1981 as Tyrant, they soldiered through ‘til 1988, releasing in the process an outright 80s classic in Ample Destruction, plus the killer Tyrants EP. Then they took five years off, only to reunite in poor form with 1994’s thrashy Dissident Alliance, with the wrong singer and the wrong approach. It would take Jag Panzer an additional four years to get back on track, finally finding their way back to peak power with 1997’s stellar The Fourth Judgement. The journey may have been a decade long, but when the Panzers got there again, it was worth the wait.
Now, after a series of six post-reunion releases that range from good to great (with all of those but Scourge released between 1997 and 2004) – and after a second, shorter hiatus was recently ended by fan demand – Jag Panzer brings us what is effectively their third reunion effort, and their tenth full-length overall, The Deviant Chord.
And though I wouldn’t (and won’t) say it’s as good as The Fourth Judgement, it is nevertheless a perfectly grand return. Of course, another strong power metal album is pretty much business as usual for these Coloradans, so it’s almost as though nothing ever happened at all…
Further parallel to The Fourth Judgement comes in the form of the returning lead guitarist Joey Tafolla, whose last Jag Panzer appearance was on that initial reunion. Tafolla and founding guitarist Mark Briody make a strong tandem – riffs come fast and steady; leads intertwine, playing off one another in fine fashion. The more technical approach of Casting The Stones and parts of Scourge has been largely downplayed in favor of the fiery straight-ahead American power metal that characterized Judgement and Mechanized Warfare. And that’s all for the best, because it’s in that arena that Jag Panzer truly succeeds, in that, even now, forty years later, they can still release absolute burners like “Born Of The Flame,” “Dare,” or “Fire Of Our Spirit.” That latter one is a late-entry highlight to an already stellar set of songs, one that literally demands that listeners feel the fire, and by then, already eight songs in, only the coldest of fans wouldn’t be caught up in the flame. Put it against the raucous “Salacious Behavior,” or the folky update of Celtic ballad “Foggy Dew,” or the moody title track, and The Deviant Chord becomes a master class in classy, masterful American power metal.
As strong as the band has traditionally been, Jag Panzer’s most distinctive characteristic remains the supremely powerful voice of Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin, and he’s in fine form here, as always. I’ve sung his praises elsewhere on these pages – for earlier Panzer efforts, and for his work with the revitalized Satan’s Host – but it warrants a second mention (or a third one, or a fourth, or whatever number I’m on now) that the man’s blustery bellow is godly, among the finest power metal voices the US has ever produced. He has all the necessary range, but he doesn’t use it when it isn’t necessary – these days, he mostly operates in a ferocious chest-voice, presented with just enough snarling bite to add that certain dash of grit and anger that characterizes American power when contrasted against its more clean and polished European counterparts. Add to that Conklin’s background vocal arrangements – which oftentimes carry the chorus hook of the song, here as on earlier Panzer albums – and you unlock the core of Jag Panzer’s sound: explosive riffing, aggressive performances, dynamic melodies, incredible vocals, memorable hooks. That’s The Deviant Chord in five parts – and it’s the same as all the best Jag Panzer before it – and really, if that’s your formula, why would you ever change it?
Whatever fan demand caused Jag Panzer to reconsider its retirement was a gift to all of us – The Deviant Chord sees these guys as strong as they’ve been in almost two decades. As we enter the final quarter, 2017 hasn’t been a great year for power metal – there’s been some winners like Ironflame’s Lightning Strikes The Crown, and Seven Kingdoms’ Decennium, and Unleash The Archer’s killer Apex. Amongst all those new(er) bands stand the masters, awakened from their nap and ready once again to bring forth ample destruction.