Jag Panzer – The Hallowed Review

If you’d told me six months ago that one of my most-played albums of the first half of 2023 would be a post-apocalyptic power metal concept album told from the perspectives of pets, well, I’d likely have not believed you… but here we are. Ain’t this wonderful world of heavy metal just wild sometimes?

Release date: June 23, 2023. Label: Atomic Fire.
And the answer, of course, is yes, it certainly is. And here we are indeed: In the weeks since this promo landed on my proverbial desk, I’ve spun The Hallowed dozens upon dozens of times, enjoying it immensely every single time, and I don’t anticipate that changing for awhile yet.

If you’ve been keeping tabs on Jag Panzer for the last… oh, 40 years or so, this shouldn’t be much of a surprise. These Coloradans came out blazing in the mid-80s with the all-timer Ample Destruction, a majestic and metallic slab of US-styled power metal before that term had entered the vernacular. After a follow-up EP, they splintered, misfired with a middling take on chunky thrash that’s best left forgotten, and then went silent until 1997, when they came back blazing again with The Fourth Judgement. They made up for a decade off with seven albums in seven years (although two of those were made up of old stuff, unreleased or re-recorded), each one a fun and fiery take on the power metal style they helped create, culminating in a further leveling-up with 2004’s Casting The Stones. From there, they’ve settled into more of a slow-and-steady approach, with only three albums in nearly 20 years now, but each of those the work of a band at the top of their game. And, again, here we are…

So yes, The Hallowed is another entry into Jag Panzer’s current creative upswing, one that both fits snugly against the band’s established sound and separates itself from the pack with some subtle but noticeable differences. Most prominently, The Hallowed makes gains through subtraction, mostly stripping away the symphonic and progressive touches that colored the edges of more recent Panzer offerings in favor of a more straightforward metallic attack. To augment the added sense of urgency and spirit that comes from that increased focus on aggression over progression, the production is leaner, rawer. Rickard Stjernquist’s drums are more live, more real, hitting harder than on some earlier efforts where they were cleaner and more tightly produced. The guitars are stouter, edgier. Forever the most noticeable element of Jag Panzer’s fury, Tyrant’s voice still possesses all the feeling and fire that he always has, big and leathery in his lower range and soaring and clear in the upper registers. The man has long been one of the greatest voices in American power metal, and he’s as good here as he’s ever been.

But like all Jag Panzer albums, the true verdict on The Hallowed ultimately comes down to the songs that comprise it, and thankfully, these ten tracks are uniformly strong, rife with soaring melodies and masterfully interwoven guitars from founder Mark Briody and “newcomer” Ken Rodarte, the latter making his recording debut with the band after serving as a touring member for years. Starting with the clanking sound of an aging engine – this is post-apocalyptic, remember – “Bound As One” catches fire immediately, riding a straightforward chugging riff into a melodic chorus, eminently catchy with melodic hooks in both Harry’s vocal and the entwined guitars. “Prey” treads along the thrashier side of Jag Panzer’s powerful style, with a simple shout-along hook custom-made for Wacken crowds with fists in air. Each of these Hallowed tracks sports world-class melodies, instant singalongs, and though there’s a little bit of a doldrum in the back half, during “Weather The Storm” and “Renewed Flame,” that slight drop-off is handily corrected by the album’s final track, its most progressive and by far its most epic, the moody “Last Rites” (great title, right?). That one sees the orchestral strings creeping back in – not gone forever, merely relegated to the closing moments to give The Hallowed one further final lift after nearly fifty minutes of first-class power metal.

At this point, Jag Panzer’s legacy is secure, but as long as they continue to crank out albums as strong as this one, however infrequently it may be in the last two decades, then they’ll forever be at the top of the classic US power metal pile. They have a new record label, and a new guitarist (yet again), but they’re still doing what they do best. Fewer frills than some previous efforts, with more than enough of the necessary force and flair, The Hallowed is rock solid, from head to tail.

Also of note, there’s a companion comic book… errrr, “graphic novel,” I mean, for those of you interested further in the storyline, or just in interesting merch pieces. It’s available via the band’s Bandcamp.

Posted by Andrew Edmunds

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; born in the cemetery, under the sign of the MOOOOOOON...

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