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Picking up right where "Mechanized Warfare" left off, JP just launches into the seering distortion and cool melodies. Rikard Stjernquist is fast becoming a better drummer with every album the band puts out. I mean if anyone can start up a "Most Improved Metal Musician" award somewhere, this guy should at least get nominated. His playing is becoming more and more colorful, and he's beginning to prove that being in a metal band of this type can have more than just a steady beat, but that some serious technique and invention can be brought to the table as well. Everyone else is still just as good as always. Mark Briody and John Tetley continue to be the driving force behind the Panzer's music, and Harry Conklin continues to work in his unique vocal style into every tune. The man has a great nose for the epic melody, and he seems to be getting a bit gruffer and meaner with every album as well, which is definetely an improvement. Chris Broderick...well, in my honest opinion he is a guitarist without peer. He succeeds on this album at what Rob Johnson and Tony MacAlpine have failed in their attempts to do...he crafts immense shred solos on a 7-string guitar that are incredibly memorable. Really, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more soulful 7-string metal guitarist.
As for the songs, these suckers are great. I honestly didn't think anything could top "Mechanized Warfare," which had such bitchin' numbers as "Take to the Sky," "The Scarlet Letter," and "The Silent," and while I don't necessarily think that JP have succeeded in topping that awesome effort, I think they have come incredibly close. I mean, one need only listen to songs like "Tempest," and "Mission (1943)" to know that this albums ranks up there with the best Jag Panzer material, and I'll go on record as saying that my personal favorite, "Battered and Bruised," leaves you feeling just that... that you've been assaulted by a serious metal force to be reckoned with. Even my least favorite track on the album, the somewhat hoaky "Cold," is so infectious and heavy that every now and then I catch myself singing along to it while driving.
Proof that while Jag Panzer will never be superstars, they WILL stand the test of time and remain the metal legends that they are.
I'm sort of reviewing this in anticipation of Jag Panzer's new album. I haven't written hardly any reviews in the last few years, why? Because I honestly haven't been listening to much metal in the last few years. But this band is one of the few bands that still tickle my jaded fancy. Why? This band defines what metal is, and should be; among all the derivitive garbage that's been so trendy in recent years, with a whole mess of idiots that don't get it, this band is one of the unsung heros of trend-defying real metal. Well written, great lyrics, soaring vocals, killer riffs and solos. No bullshit. No gimmicks. True metal. Real music.
And this is one of their best albums.
Right from the get-go this album's production is modern and punchy without being over-sterile. The drums are hard hitting, and the guitar tone is pure. I mean, spot-on. Every note of every solo and lead is monsterous yet clear. Oh and Chris Broderick plays those solos. Chris Broderick is one of the fastest, tightest, most technically sound metal guitarists on planet Earth. To be sure, adding his new school and decidedly showy playing and flavor to the existing Jag Panzer made a real difference. In general the feel of this album certainly still bears the flame of tradition, but I think it's Broderick that gives this a 21st century tinge. With downtuned guitar, bold tone, and particularly less "trad" stuff like the opening riff of Tempest.
Harry Conklin has to rank among my favorite vocalists. His voice is powerful. This dude could demolish brick walls with his banshee wail. The tunes are just as catchy as on Ample Destruction, I'd go so far to say there isn't a tune without a hook in it. As catchy as this style of metal can get. And let's not forget, relevent lyrics. History, personal struggle, the human condition, the folly of mankind. Intelligent, well composed, and the message is well conveyed. Frankly, lyrics are one of metal's over all weak points. There's only so much you can say about the general phenomenon of death and wanton destruction. So Jag Panzer earns extra points there as well.
There's not too much you can complain about, you get the gallop beat, headbanging of tracks like The Mission, the old school power metal of Achilles, the new school guitar wizardry of Starlight's Fury and Tempest, and with the most of the other tracks, the best of all worlds, like Feast or Famine.
There's a real cohesiveness to the album in that the music really suits the lyrics. There seems to be something that just binds the whole album together and makes it feel like a single entity, rather than just a bunch of songs written and recorded together.
In conclusion: few and far is the time when I deem something underrated, but this band and; album in particular, are. Not to be missed. Essential. Don't pass this band or album up.
Jag Panzer have made numerous evolutionary leaps through their career, generally kick-started by lineup alterations or the dread of repeating themselves too often, and Casting the Stones is but the latest such paradigm shift, a more complex piece of work than one might have expected in the same year the band and their label would re-issue the lost Chain of Command. This is essentially the album that would upgrade the band to that 'modern' power metal sound, so its not really a surprise to hear some similarities to an Evergrey, Kamelot, Nevermore or Manticora. Casting the Stones has a denser, digitized tone to it which is certainly a far cry from their 80s years, and love it or hate it, this will probably be the side of the band that continues into the future.
My overall impression is that Casting the Stones carries this transition well, but with only a mere few exceptions, I found the material written for this neither bad nor exceptionally good. This is the same lineup the band have used for several albums, and the musicianship is clearly on fire. One needs listen no further than opener "Feast or Famine" to hear how the band have incorporated the use a constantly twisting helix of aggression, atop which they lay out baleful backing vocals to Tyrant's lead line and keyboard condiments. Aside from its general busyness, though, the song is really not that impressive. "The Mission 1943" is glimmering melodic power metal with some similarities to their Mechanized Warfare material, and I found myself drawn to Tyrant's crystal chorus here and the wiry guitar fills, and to the following "Vigilant", which crawls along with bell strikes, excellent melodies and a cautious pace.
Further in we go, and the album really becomes a mix of average, forgettable fare like the brief anthem "Achilles" or the fairly Euro feel of "Legion Immortal", which promises a lot in its spikes of opening melody but doesn't create much of an atmosphere outside of the descending backing vocal patterns; and the more promising muse of "Battered and Bruise", with its rising and descending patterns of progressive shred, or the vampiric, slowly rocking "Cold" with its crests of cautionary melody. "The Hearkening" offers a lot of shine through the technical flow of the guitars and soothing melodies, whereas the closer "Precipice" is almost completely driven by Conklin's inner siren against a fairly dull musical backdrop whose highlight are the Eastern strings and acoustics plucking alongside the softer climes.
Certainly if we are to pick out a Jag Panzer effort with the best technical grasp of its players abilities, we'd have to choose Casting the Stones, because they've upped the amount of technique considerably here over Thane to the Throne or Mechanized Warfare. You'll still hear the same traces of modernity that the band have fostered since their reunion of The Fourth Judgment, and in fact this is album that would end the band's unstoppable productivity. But in the end, it's another 'good' album that never quite roots itself deep enough in the memory like their excellent debut Ample Destruction, and despite the increased performance levels, it feels hollow and charmless like so many modern or futurist power metal albums. It's been six years now since this release, and we can assume when the band finally sums up the drive to offer new material, it will further this direction, but one can only wonder if they've got it in them to ever write songs equivalent to their early highlights.
As you may or may not know, I love Jag Panzer's debut album Ample Destruction. No other album has quite captured the spirit of Heavy Metal music like that for me, before or since. Yes, I love Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Virgin Steele and many others, but Jag Panzer's debut was something special that no other album really touched. Which made it doubly painful to listen to poor albums like The Age of Mastery and Mechanized Warfare - although honestly, neither of those albums would have been good if Ample Destruction had not existed, anyway, so it's a moot point. But I do have an apology to make to the band as a whole, as I seem to have made several contradictory statements in my past reviews that are just simply not true. Like to Harry Conklin, who really doesn't have a bad voice at all these days - sure, he's not a fucking thunder god like in the old days, but he is very competent and talented nonetheless. And to Mark Briody and Chris Broderick, who are very talented and versatile, and not at all out of good riffs or guitar parts in general.
They still don't get points for the production, though, which still doesn't sound quite as good as I wish it did; still just a little too cardboard-y. It's not a big problem, though.
So, yeah, Casting the Stones! What a strange revelation it has been, discovering that this album is actually very good. The basic sound on here can be described as a mixture of Tad Morose and Symphony X, taking the nifty and often obtuse vocal lines and the pounding riffs of the former and the complex rhythmical structure and often technical guitar melodies of the latter to form quite an intriguing beast. These songs are all dense and complex, and one might not like all of them on the first listen. They vary between straightforward, catchy guitar attacks and more progressive, layered songs that show a surprising amount of catchiness once the listener allows it to sink in. Mark Briody described this in an interview as being "traditional Heavy Metal combined with some Power and Progressive Metal," and I would say that is about accurate. This album is pretty much a melting pot of those three genres that proves quite interesting, fresh and vital.
Jag Panzer are just so goddamned earnest on here. It's like they're the blue-eyed, blonde-haired boy scout of Heavy Metal; you just can't hate this album. It's hard to really explain why. It's like the musical equivalent of dimples and a pearly white smile and an American flag. It's not offensive, it's not angry and it doesn't step on anyone's toes - it just outdoes itself in epic, feel-good metallic grandeur without any of that, and that's why I like it. Not everything needs to be evil, after all; what's wrong with a little fun now and again?
Pretty much every song on here is quality, really. "Feast or Famine" is an unconventional opener, being perhaps the darkest song on display with a set of complex riffs and a layered chanting chorus that took a while for this reviewer to warm up to - but now that it has, it is quite an enjoyable affair. "The Mission (1943)" will no doubt be the first song to hook first-time listeners into this album, with its catchy chorus and galloping rhythms, and it is a good one, triumphant and uplifting enough to make anyone want to pick up a gun and go off to war. "The Vigilant" is a proggy number with a very interesting keyboard backdrop behind the chugging riffs. Not exactly what I think of when I think of Jag Panzer, but it is certainly a cool experiment. "Achilles" is an interesting little oddity in that it sort of merges the two eras of the band together, with a primal true metal attitude and a compositional style that is restrained and meticulously constructed.
Other songs of merit generally include "Legion Immortal," which is probably the closest to old school Jag Panzer we're going to get on here, and although I don't like the layered chorus, musically it just kicks ass. "Battered and Bruised" is also good, with the name not being so much a title as what the song will do to you as you listen to it. Just listen to the way it transitions seamlessly from fast to slow; just listen to that punishing chorus. Kickass. "Cold" is an interesting take on the Tad Morose template, with its chilly grooves and catchy chorus, and then we get the trio of epics: "Starlight's Fury" is an ambitious number, with some great build ups and epic sections, but it somehow is not terribly memorable when stacked up against the rest of the stuff here. "The Harkening" has an extremely hooky and memorable main melody, and the closing "The Precipice" is about the best we can expect from this band today, with its trade-off between acoustic sections and heavier sections, and also with the best vocal performance I've heard out of Harry Conklin in years.
So, really, what does this all add up to? A good, solid Heavy Metal beating from a veteran band who are not at all above experimenting to achieve a greater purpose. As much as I'd love these guys to crank out a sequel to Ample Destruction, they probably never will, and if Casting the Stones is the best we get out of them in the modern day, I'd be pretty satisfied.
2004 was a stellar year for power metal and metal music in general, seeing quality releases too numerous to mention as metal moves to regain its position atop the musical pyramid. Jag Panzer have for a long while been one of the predominant forces in power metal, releasing such crucial records as “The Age Of Mastery” with widespread acceptance throughout the metal community.
In “Casting The Stones” the band has accomplished a feat which tops even that classic record, combining the forcefulness of power metal with the harmony of bands such as Queensryche in order to deliver a giant of an album. Harry "The Tyrant" Conklin’s voice is in fine form, filled with passion and a strong delivery on tracks such as the foreboding, mid-paced “Vigilant” and the captivating epic “The Mission”. His voice is extremely impacting on “Achilles” as he delivers vocalizations with a fantastic range and forceful melody. His attack is sound and he uses masterful techniques such as vibrato which are ballsy, yet not overbearing.
Guitarists Mark Briody and Chris Broderick provide light and shade, complimenting each others styles very well as Broderick rips through some blazing solo pieces. Overall “Vigilant” shines as one of the record’s best tracks, its ringing bells and phased vocal effects adding to the sound of the band a uniqueness that is vibrant and exciting. Former vocalist Bob Parduba chips in some great supporting vocals on “The Mission” and “Starlights Fury” that make the band sound even fuller, giving these tracks an expanded dimension. Conklin simply wails over shredding rhythms in “Tempest”, a track that hits the listener hard with its relentless, thrashing riffing.
On “Battered And Bruised”, you’ll find the band taking on a traditional, NWOBHM take on progressive metal that will have your head banging right along with the group’s thumping attack. This track contains a mellow break before entering a crunching bridge that introduces Broderick’s shredding fury. The mid paced, rocking “Cold” is well named; its spine tingling refrain is at once massive and filled with melody. With the Metallica influenced power of “The Harkening” you’ll discover further solid six string performance and perhaps the best riff of the record during the song’s verse. The vocal harmonies here are without exception and the band is truly hitting on all cylinders here.
With “Casting The Stones”, Jag Panzer prove exactly why they remain on top of the power metal world. Surely, fans will delight in this captivating display of absolute force from one of the most talented bands in all of power metal today.
I title my review this way for the simple reason that to me, this seems like not just a follow up to their standard setting album Mechanized Warfare, but an extension of it. If you put the two discs together and released them, they'd flow perfectly. Harry Conklin's so very unique power metal vocals and the great guitar duo of Chris Broderick and Eric Briody. There is a tradeoff here though... The solos are more melodic and fitting, but the songs are a bit more generic sounding. But they really balance themselves out well. There's alot more chorus singing on this album too, which is really cool.
The album starts with Feast or Famine, which has this great guitar harmony intro over a great slow riff, almost like Iced Earth. Then it fades out, the drums kick in, and faster thrashy riff comes in. And the solo in this song is short, sweet, melodic, and to the point. Also some great chorus singing is on this track.
Then comes The Mission (1943). This is an upbeat track that features some guitar gallops with a melodic lead part over it. The solo on this song is long and features some different chops than usual. And there's really good fills throughout that fit well in the gaps of the vocals. In fact, some of them overlap, which is really cool since you can hear both clearly simultaneously.
Vigilant is next, and it starts out with drums and then this awesome pick scrape slide in, and then a really heavy riff that sounds like sped up doom metal with some pinch harmonics thrown in. Then a main riff consisting of two galloped triplets and a complex set of notes after that comes in under the vocals, which is cool. You hardly ever hear a super-complex rhythm under vocals. The other cool aspect of this song is some weird vocal effect is used for saying "Vigilant". It's creepy sounding, and ice-cold. Mid-song it turns into a piano and keyboard slowdown that is also really catchy, with a great slow and melodic solo over it. All the shredding is just small phrases, and it flows well.
Achilles is after that, and features a great guitar intro. It really has a power metal feel to it, and the lyrics are great. This song is about the warrior Achilles, obviously, and does a great justice to the story of his life. "For the shores of Troy they set sail". Just like with their whole album Thane to the Throne, they manage to write lyrics that tell a story and that fit the music so well. Great keyboard lines in this song. There is a very short outro solo on this song that comes in under a great "AHHHH" vocal line that sounds awesome.
Tempest is next, and while not my favorite track, it does have a very thrashy feel it more than power metal. But about a minute in the riff changes to Candlemass or Cathedral style doom metal, and it just makes you want to headbang. Then at about two minutes, there's an accoustic breakdown. And then comes a kickass solo. So really, not too bad of a track.
After that is Legion Immortal which is very heavy and has a cool intro solo. Not much to say about this song, it's got a nifty highly melodic and slow solo and some cool chorus singing. I like the power chord progression they use under part of the vocals mixed with a very chuggy riff.
Then comes the best song off the album: Battered and Bruised. This reminds me alot of Power Surge off of Mechanized Warfare (not just because I like both of them the best, either). Mainly because of its insanely thrashy complex riff, chorus singing, and power metal vocals. "We have become... Battered and Bruised" *cue guitar solo* There's this awesome tempo change for the guitar solo, and these vocals that come in about halfway into it, and then the solo tears off again. Makes you want to headbang and slay a dragon all at the same time. Very shreddy solo, too. Definitely fitting for this fast paced (and violent themed) track.
Cold comes next, and it has this weird effect on the guitar that sounds really cool. They don't overuse it either, just for the first 15 seconds of the song or so. Decently slow paced with some great evil 4/4 drumming. I like how the vocals are layered with a regular singing layer and with it a screaming singing layer. Really cool, as is the outro solo.
Starlights Fury is next, and it features mad double bass kicking in over a highly complex guitar riff. These guys could play almost any type of music, their chops are so great. The vocal riff is very chuggy and thrashy. Great solo too. Melodic and shreddy as usual, but still in good taste. Good use of vibrato and bends here with flourishes of Yngwie it would seem. The random stop about two thirds through the song is unexpect and cool, as well.
Then comes The Harkening which is this heavy riff with a guitar tapping intro with it. Reminds me alot of Iron Maiden - Paschendale. The main riff is like sped up doom metal. The bass drum does some crazy gallops with the guitars that is really cool. The guitar solo here is highly original, since it is a harmonized solo that is not fast at all. But the two solos vary slightly, and it makes it really cool (like one will do a slow bend, and the other will play an ascending triplet)!
Finally is Precipice, which is vocals over an accoustic like background noise. Then come the drums and the doomy riff over them. Great harmonized guitar riff mid-song, too. Then it slows down again towards the end, and Harry Conklin does some great soft singing right before this guitar solo completely comes in out of nowhere and does straight up shredding that would make any person who plays guitar and isn't Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, or Jeff Loomis want to cry. Then this doom riff comes in, and the vocals come in with great lyrics: "The darkness has come!" Nice and evil for an outro that has alot of unexpected changes. A nice fade-out at the end too.
I really recommend this album to anybody who wants to get into Jag Panzer and already knows they like Mechanized Warfare (if you're going to get an album, get that one and then this one... just for continuity's sake). This album is just a touch more melodic than their last one, and the vocals are alot more chorusey. But the riffs are still as thrashy and complex, and the lyrics and vocals just as power metal as before. So if you want some true metal, do yourself a favor and pick this album up if you find it. Battered and Bruised alone makes this album worth it!
YES, my favourite US power metal band is back with their new and ninth
full-length studio album Casting the Stones. Jag Panzer might be a band that
is as predictable as the fact that water is wet but none the less the band
remains among the very elite of metal bands. Casting the Stones doesn't in
any way disappoint despite the predictability but seriously I wouldn't have
it any other way. Right from the opener "Feast or Famine" it's clear that
we're as usual is in for a treat. The band plays as usual their somewhat
progressive interpretation of power metal flawlessly and seriously there's
absolutely nothing to point fingers at here.
The music is very organic and memorable and in particular a song like
"Starlight's Fury" is indescribable but also the fantastic "The Mission
(1943)" proves that Jag Panzer are highly skilled musicians that knows how
to write amazing music but it's a bit unfair of me only to mention the two
above songs 'cause the rest of the material is of an equally high quality.
As usual the amazing vocal work of Harry "The Tyrant" Conklin" fits
perfectly in with the equilibristic guitar escapades of Mark Briody and
Chris Broderick not to mention the pulsating bottom provided by drummer
Rikard Stjernequist and bassist John Tetley which combined takes the band to
a whole other level than most of their colleagues.
So to sum things up; Jag Panzer has once again blessed the world with an
amazing album that almost cannot disappoint fans of this band or power metal
in general. Casting the Stones might not contribute with anything
groundbreaking or for that matter slightly innovative but we are still some
who swear to metal played the old fashioned way and if you're one those then
I wouldn't hesitate for a second in getting Casting the Stones.
America has certainly had its fair share of first-rate power metal acts, but few of them, however, have been qualified enough to hold a torch to the overlords of the scene like Kamelot, Steel Prophet, and, of course, Jag Panzer. Colorado's homestead heros have taken the unsuspecting metal world by storm time and time again, with consecutive releases that have set the standard for power metal predomination; all of which would land high marks on a top 100 of the genre. The Fourth Judgment saw the return of vocalist Harry 'The Tyrant' Conklin to the band, validating beyond the shadow of doubt that he belonged at the front lines of the Panzer divisions. William Shakespeare's Macbeth set the theme for what became one of my most revered concept albums, Thane To The Throne, while Mechanized Warfare invaded without warning and eventually emerged as the runner up to Nevermore's Dead Heart, In A Dead World on my own 2000 Top Ten list.
With Steel Prophet's latest album Beware turning out to be somewhat of a disappointment for me, I was relieved to discover that Jag Panzer more or less continued along, in tight orientation with their previous works without incident. Though I favor the last few records a bit more, Casting The Stones comes immensely close to equaling the intensity that embodied each of those releases. Not unlike their back catalog, when you toss this new disc into a stereo and press play, you can instantly identify the key trademark elements that have made the band so enduring and enjoyable over the years.
Abound with the expected flashy riffing, blazing leads, thunderous drumming, and soaring multi-octave vocals, Casting The Stones serves up eleven memorable anthems to pump your fist to; each on par with just about any other classic Jag Panzer tune. Personal highlights are "The Mission (1941)", which is without question, the standout track on the album. "Battered And Bruised" and "Tempest" could easily conceal themselves as Marching Out era Yngwie Malmsteen, while "Precipice" begins, and carries on much of the way through, in relation to Dio's widely known Last In Line and, his final Black Sabbath appearance, Dehumanizer albums.
Jag Panzer remain a relevant power metal band that is not only pioneering in their own right, but also not apprehensive about letting their roots be seen and known. Not much, if anything, has changed in the traditional formula exhibited over the last two decades. This is still the Jag Panzer we all know and love!