Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Jag Panzer - Ample Destruction [1984] (Speed/Power Metal)

Let's start the whole thing properly with the review of one of my all-time favorite metal albums...

Harry 'The Tyrant' Conklin - vocals,
Joey Taffola - guitars,
Mark Briody - guitars,
John Tetley - bass,
Rick Hilyard - drums

Jag Panzer was formed in Colorado somewhere in the beginning of the 80s, with their classic lineup featuring guitarists Mark Briody and Joey Taffola, vocalist Harry 'The Tyrant' Conklin, bassist John Tetley and Rick Hilyard on drums. After being noticed by Azra Records and receiving a contract, they've released the 'Tyrants' EP in 1983, becoming a kind of underground cult favorites. What came next was arguably their best album by far, considered a power metal gem among the fans of the genre.

Stylistically, this album is pretty similar to Vicious Rumors' 'Soldiers Of The Night' or Metal Church's self-titled debut, which were released around the same time. It's driven by Briody and Taffola's guitar duo, Conklin's emotional and sinister singing and the intense steamhammer of Tetley's bass and Hilyard's drums, with song tempos ranging from marches ('Warfare') to rapid bursts ('Generally Hostile') to epic and doomy ('The Crucifix'). The songwriting is also top-notch, not unlike Metallica's 'Kill 'Em All', but with lots of variety, memorable lyrics and catchy choruses.

So, 'Ample Destruction' kicks off with fast and agile 'Licensed To Kill', which is still one of the best songs ever performed by Jag Panzer due to its flashy guitar work, then proceeds to mid-tempo rocker 'Warfare' - I believe it was their real concert staple back in the day, because it's impossible not to bang your head during the chorus - to be followed by 'Symphony Of Terror', lyrically based on Bram Stoker's 'Dracula'. This is one of the more progressive tracks on the album, again with catchy chorus. 'Harder Than Steel' features the 2nd best leading riff on the album, as well as doing the job of speeding things back up a bit. Then goes the fast and furious 'Generally Hostile' with its 'No mercy!' chants, and 'The Watching' is again intended to allow the listener to take a break. Unfortunately, this is the weakest song on the album, but that doesn't really matter, as long as its followed by the best one, which is 'Reign Of The Tyrants', with its badass lyrics, brutal leading riff and amazing solo lead by Taffola. Yeah, even if all the other songs on this record were crap, it would be still worth it, just because of 'Reign...'! After this metal assault, the band gives another break with boogie-inspired 'Cardiac Arrest', and then the whole thing closes down with long and progressive 'The Crucifix'. Whew, that was a blast. Of awesomeness!

In terms of lyrics, the album doesn't differ much from what the metal bands were singing about back then. Mostly The Tyrant's vocal chainsaw screams of gang violence, (mild) gore and rebellious youth, complete with Dracula references and 'we're metalheads, so we're the best!', but again, while it's kinda naive and cheesy now, back then it was indeed edgy. Future albums have proven that Conklin's lyrics writing can be complex and intelligent.

After this breathtaking record, the band got split-up bit by bit, never producing an album in a decade (not counting 'Chain Of Command' which was collecting dust for around 15 years, finally to be released in 2004). What came afterwards, featuring a broken lineup with only Briody and Tetley remaining, was controversial 'Dissident Alliance', which made the old fans facepalm at once, but thankfully it was followed by a real comeback, 'The Fourth Judgement'. Since then Jag Panzer finally got the recognition they deserved, up until their self-retirement in 2011.

What can I say after all... This album is not regarded as a breakthrough landmark or genre-defining something (that goes to Helloween and Queensryche), but nonetheless it's a stellar album with in all ways memorable songs, top-notch production values (for the time), tricky tapestry of guitar work, and so on, and so on. If you're seeking some classic heavy/power metal that has soul, edge and charisma, avoiding 'Ample Destruction' is unacceptable!

My Rating: 5 / 5