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Monday, March 14, 2011

CD Review: Jag Panzer - The Scourge of the Light

Jag Panzer - The Scourge of the Light
2011 SPV/Steamhammer
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Back in early 2004, I'd caught up with Jag Panzer guitarist and co-founding member Mark Briody for a private project. The Panzer had already released its re-recordings album Decade of the Nail-Spiked Bat in 2003 and Briody was then excited to discuss what would unravel as Casting of the Stones, released in '04. I'd come to Briody with very little knowledge of what was to follow for the metal pride of Denver. Unfortunately, the mojo that had brought three-fifths of the original lineup together in 1997 for The Fourth Judgment had weirdly skidded to a halt after Casting of the Stones.

The following year, I'd thought, man, what a nice return ride Jag Panzer had after a here-and-gone run in the mid-eighties. They'd picked up Christian Laseque on second guitar and Rikard Stjernquist on drums to maintain a stabilized lineup capable of rolling forward into the metal revival with something to say for themselves. With Harry "Tyrant" Conklin back on the mike, it appeared Jag Panzer was going to run neck-and-neck with Iced Earth and Kamelot for bragging rights to lordship over the American power metal market.

Only Kamelot has kept a steady pace since 2004 as Jon Schaffer has seemingly laid Iced Earth to rest for awhile in pursuit of his side projects Demons & Wizards and Sons of Liberty. Now, finally, Jag Panzer returns to the domestic power metal trenches with a pretty solid studio outing, The Scourge of the Light.

The layoff Jag Panzer imposed upon themselves has certainly kindled a creative spirit on their latest album that rips at times and in many places, features piano and string garnishments elevating The Scourge of the Light past its direct predecessors. The piano fugue intro and outro on "Burn" is fabulous, but is precursor to the exquisite opening to "The Book of Kells," which is filled with a chamber coupling and choral backups. Stjernquist's steady lament march on "The Book of Kells" lifts Harry Conklin's whispered intro into a gusty hail to the clouds until the middle sequence of this mini-epic brings a hushed reserve as set-up for a thrumming closure. Part doom, part Goth, part power surge, "The Book of Kells" is one of Jag Panzer's finest recordings.

The Scourge of the Light (with breathtaking Dagobah and Conan-heralded artwork by Justin Yun) gallops off the mark with the brisk arms loader, "Condemned to Fight." Jag Panzer also zips on "Cycles" and the Priest and Dio-tributizing "Let it Out." Otherwise, the album is mostly mid-tempo with mixed results. "Union" plods a bit and establishes mostly a proto metalheads-in-league chorus. Same scheme for "Call to Arms," even though the latter has a smart intro while both rail with The Tyrant's (who looks and sounds really freaking good these days) soothing old-school swoons. Snazzy guitars as well, though Briody and Laseque decorate The Scourge of the Light all over with some of the most gorgeous soloing you'll hear in 2011. Sweet licks to summon up "Overload," gentlemen.

"Bringing the End" is a headbanger's paradise even with its tranquil verses, but "Overload" is another well-established tune with its tramping riffs, soaring gang vocals and swishy string accompaniment.

Was the wait worth it? Of course. The Scourge of the Light is a very patient album that expects some of the same from its listeners. There are plenty of payouts and lavish additions to Jag Panzer's songwriting, which means this album dusts a lot off despite the extensive amount of time from when they recorded Casting the Stones. This one carries some excess, but if the metal public receives The Scourge of the Light favorably and keeps Jag Panzer's sprockets amping its running track, the next album ought to be a doozie.

Rating: ***1/2

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