Man and beast unite to overcome all.
The mystique of heavy metal’s early days has enjoyed a rather massive renaissance over the past decade or so, so much so that a whole slew of young bands from across the globe have culminated in a new wave of sorts to rival the original New Wave of British Heavy Metal. But when the proverbial rubber hits the road, it’s usually the older guard that has either weathered or otherwise resurfaced following the storm of changing popular sentiment that truly deliver the metallic goods. Colorado-born USPM icons Jag Panzer present a curious case of both, having split the scene at its apex in 1988 amid internal turmoil and reformed in 1993, arguably the absolute nadir of heavy metal’s viability as an art form in the continental United States. Nevertheless, minus a few bumps in the road following their colossal contribution to the 80s metal regime “Ample Destruction”, this is a band that has consistently chiseled away at the mold to reveal one stellar opus after another, and following 6 years of silence in the studio since 2017’s “The Deviant Chord”, their latest album dubbed “The Hallowed” carries the promise of even more refined work of sonic metallurgy.
Conceptual storytelling via studio LP is naturally nothing new to the power metal sub-genre, nor is Jag Panzer unfamiliar with this approach in light of their turn of the millennium retelling of MacBeth in “Thane To The Throne”, and the post-apocalyptic realm where this particular story is set has been a familiar trope in old school metal circles since the days of “The Road Warrior”. However, the vividness of how the winter-torn world of abandoned metropolises in which this particular epic is set, combined with the unique idea of mankind and the animal kingdom joining forces to survive and replenish the earth and the stylistic trappings of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest in a prototypical leather-clad traditional fashion come together results in something on a whole other level. Correspondingly, the performance of the band itself rivets at every possible opportunity, with 61 year old stalwart vocalist and longtime disciple of the ways of 80s glass-shattering excess Harry Conklin showing everything except for his age, with long-time fellow travelers in guitarist Mark Briody and bassist John Tetley pulling their respective shares. One would also be remiss not to notice the thunderous and often rapid fire battery of Rikard Stjernquist’s kit work, accomplishing in his mid-50s what many in their 20s would find daunting, whereas six-string shredder Ken Rodarte’s studio debut with the band (he’s functioned as the de facto 5th member in a live capacity since 2018) sees him measuring up to the seemingly impossible standard set by Chris Broderick.
To the uninitiated, the Jag Panzer sound can be best described as the quintessential expression of the 80s American power metal sound, carrying a similar sense of melodic splendor and theatricality to its more popular European counterpart, but retaining a grittier and more stripped down demeanor that recalls the older heavy metal stylings of its respective era. From its very beginning, “The Hallowed” presents this outfit’s common heritage with the the most important metal exponents of the 80’s heavy metal – in a truly blatant fashion – with fast-paced and compact crushers like “Bound As One” and “Prey!” leading the pack with a blend of “Defenders Of The Faith”-styled aggression and a “Powerslave” sense of melody streaming from recurring lead guitar themes and Conklin’s chorus hooks that all but slap the listener upside the head with a steel gauntlet. Similarly to the point yet more mid-paced beasts like “Ties That Bind” and “Weather The Storm” also explore a Maiden-centered template, with the former sounding heavily reminiscent of “Piece Of Mind” classic banger “Revelations” at times, though the formula proves a bit more complex and Conklin’s voice comes off as less operatic and carries a tad more bite in line with the winter wasteland being lyrically depicted.
As with most ambitious feats of compositional pizzazz, “The Hallowed” is as much a grower as it is a shower, ergo the longer the songs go the more intricate things become. Though one of the more moderate songs in terms of scope at 5 minutes in length, the speed-infused metal machine and single “Stronger Than You Know” is peppered over with so many brilliant lead guitar fills and gravity-defying high notes out of Conklin that it rivals the most stellar moments of any of the aforementioned albums, while the chunky thrashing session that is “Onward We Toll” brilliantly blends the fist-pumping, sing-along goodness of early 80s metal,with a bludgeoning, bottom-heavy riff set. Even longer crushers like the gallop-happy heavy-hitter “Edge Of The Knife” really work masterfully in evoking the post-apocalyptic character of the album’s story while still functioning as a catchy anthem conducive to the power metal style, sporting one of the more accessible chorus sections amid a flurry of sectional twists and turns and arguably the most insane guitar solo display out of Rodarte to date. But with the culmination of all the intermittent voice-over moments and superior anthem-craft that is the rest of the album, everything comes to a head with the closer and towering 9 minute epic “Last Rites”, which taps into that elongated heavy metal template like it’s going out of style and sees some quasi-symphonic elements come into play courtesy of Mark Briody, often shifting the melodic hook duty away from the guitars in favor of a folksy violin foil that draws out the pastoral happy ending to this otherwise dark and dreary tale.
Those who know and inevitably love the handiwork of Jag Panzer will find an album here that matches, if not surpasses the utter brilliance that made “Thane To The Throne” America’s most compelling answer to the ubiquitous European power metal wave that had achieved de facto hegemony in the early 2000s. Despite opting for an approach that many naysayers might argue has been done to death, “The Hallowed” is sure to prove one of the most consequential conceptual works to come out of the melodic side of the metal spectrum in the 2020s, not to mention a compelling reminder that age is a non-factor for those whom chase after greatness in the metallic realm.
With a story that could be dubbed the missing link between “Mad Max” and “The Beastmaster”, one might go so far as to assert that this veteran quintet has remained firmly entrenched in the 80s despite the passing of several subsequent decades, but this album carries the necessary mixture of current production practices and a heavy edge to trade blows with any modern exercise in heavy metal mayhem. Old dogs may be prone to sticking to old tricks, but this time around those same dogs just saw mankind through the apocalypse and came out as triumphant as the heroes of any classic tale.
Released By: Atomic Fire Records
Release Date: June 23rd, 2023
Genre: Heavy Metal
- Harry Conklin / Vocals
- Mark Briody / Guitars
- Ken Rodarte / Guitars
- John Tetley / Bass
- Rikard Stjernquist / Drums
“The Hallowed” track listing:
1. Bound As One
3. Ties That Bind
4. Stronger Than You Know
5. Onward We Toil
6. Edge Of A Knife
7. Dark Descent
8. Weather The Storm
9. Renewed Flame
10. Last Rites
Order “The Hallowed” HERE.
With more than 40 years in the rear view and seemingly every creative stone turned, the old school American metal institution Jag Panzer combines masterful storytelling with high grade U.S. power metal fervor to showcase that old dogs can see man through the apocalypse