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It's probably no secret that I'm a steady consumer of science fiction and fantasy, mostly the good stuff (sometimes the awful), and I've always lauded the use of such genre concepts in fusion with metal music. Thus, my first glimpse of Jag Panzer's sixth full album Mechanized Warfare had the underpants stirring for sure. Could it be that the restless Colorado warriors had crafted a concept album about futuristic military operations involving giant mechs? This was my hope as I first dove into the contents of this record, but to my disappointment, it would not turn out to be the reality. No, Mechanized Warfare is not another unified concept album like Thane to the Throne before it, and while the topics of war are certainly explore in the lyrics to several of the songs, this is no Battletech or MechWarrior of power metal proportions. It could still be done, though. Someone? Anyone...
Essentially, we've got another album in the vein of The Age of Mastery or The Fourth Judgment, and though that's no immediate cause for complaint, it seemed a less impressive followup to Thane to the Throne, which had released only a year earlier and sent the band's stock skyward for its solid and able execution. I will go so far as to claim that Mechanized Warfare features some of the band's best, modern 'power metal' atmosphere. There are some tight tracks to be had in its mobilized depths, and the same consistent lineup ensures that the writing is fluent and consistent with past efforts. The leads here are developed quite nicely from even their 2001 audio documentary on the MacBeth tragedy, though I feel Conklin has had better days. He performs without any hangup or hesitation, but the mere selection of his lines does not feel quite up to snuff.
For this reason, a lot of the tracks arrive with little fanfare, well-executed exercises in pure USPM glossed in studio clarity that simply don't leave a lasting impression, like the bombastic melody of "Frozen in Fear" or the sailing of "The Silent" with its great solo. Nathaniel Hawthorne is given a nod in "The Scarlet Letter", a fairly interesting piece with a fine curve of melodic, muted expression that the band has developed so wonderfully in their reunion material. "Choir of Tears" is one of the most climactic pieces here, with charging mid-paced melodies that twist through the lattice of Conklin's steady narration. I'd offer that the album improves as it proceeds, with "Cold is the Blade (And the Heart that Wields It)", "Hidden in My Eyes" and "Power Surge" among the best three-hit combos the band have ever laid out in the studio, but I'd also consider "Take to the Sky", the only real proof of concept of my fantasies over the cover art, one of the best pieces on the album, and that's the very first track.
The only tracks I don't care for would be "Unworthy", which starts with some chanting but devolves into an average piece with only a sole welcome melody, and the closing power ballad "All Things Renewed", which is essentially Jag Panzer gone Queen, but offers nothing else of interest aside from the choir vocals and touch of orchestration (similar to 21st century Blind Guardian's usage). Of course, this is a band now quite removed from their 80s roots, and even the very brightest stars burning on Mechanized Warfare pale in comparison to the primal inspiration the band evolved out of. The end result is an album which is competent, and fitting the status quo of their productivity streak from 1997-2004, but not all that gripping or memorable compared to better years. And for fuck's sake, do not put a giant robot on the cover of your album without following through?! A thousand years of nerd rage will now descend upon you like napalm rain!
I find that Mechanized Warfare is an outstanding great in the Jag Panzer album line-up. It seems to be the sound they were striving for all this time, that they finally achieved. And it turned into quite an amazing album. Harry Conklin's vocals are so unique, there's none like him. And Chris Broderick and Eric Briody are a very good guitar duo. And when I listening to this album and their newest album Casting The Stones, I was debating which one hit me harder. Then I kind of realized that Casting The Stones kind of seems like the second part of this album, so I might as well praise the one that started it all. This album, I believe, will define the key Jag Panzer sound for a long time to come.
The CD starts off with a hard hitting track in the form of Take To The Sky. The lyrics are very awesome, which surprised me for a power metal band singing about flying a jet. Great guitar solo, but unfortunately falls prey to alot of their solos starting to sound the same; melody followed by shred. Still, a very good song, especially the part about 2 minutes into the song where there's an extreme riff change and then all of a sudden they stop. Then they come back into the song, it's high quality.
The next few tracks are quality, and follow the same format as the first one, with alot of great intro riffs especially and decent solos. But then you get to The Scarlet Letter, written about the book (kind of like they did the concept album about Macbeth called Thane to the Throne). But anyway, this is a decent little song that impressively follows the story well.
A few more songs that follow their own special pattern, and then you get to something new and different... And this is what makes this album great, arguably one of the best songs ever: Power Surge. The riff is just so fast and thrashy, and then these great power metal vocals over it. And there is this insane bridge riff that just makes you want to stand up and head bang. And after it goes around a few times, a really different flavored solo rolls over it. It's got the melody and the shred, but there's more to it than that. Not to mention the choir of "ooohs" over it. It just is very tastefully done, and the solo is rather lengthy to.
Then you get the final track All Things Renewed, which is an unexpected breath of fresh air. In fact, the accoustic intro is just a big change-up from the pinch harmonic driven heavy riffs from before (and believe me, Jag Panzer is heavy). This song could almost be a Scorpion song, it's so well done. It's like it was taken right from the 70s, and it couldn't be better. It maintains the bands feel, while progressing into new territory.
Not to mention if you keep listening on the final track, you can hear some demos of the band singing that are utterly hilarious.
Now, if you want to know what I mean, then listen to Battered and Bruised from their newest album Casting The Stones. Then harken back to this album, and listen to Power Surge. It's like they used this album as a template for that one, which there is nothing wrong with because this album is amazing and sets a good standard for the band. But if you're going to dive into the Jag Panzer discography, I would start here with what I believe truly defines who and what this band is.
Jag Panzer seem to know how to conjure up an enjoyable slab of power metal judging by this album. Nice digipack packaging as well. The music reminds a bit of Iron Maiden in some places, mainly with the occasional use of slightly gallopy-esque riffs, in other places has it's own face in the blend of bassy(bouncy?) riffs that remind of Iced Earth, and highly melodical guitar-lines with sometimes drawn out notes as well.
First track opens well, with some original riffs, after which the pace picks up a little and the singer joins in with nice drawn out vocal lines; it creates an interesting effect in combination with the seemingly slightly more up-tempo riffs. But then the refrain comes in, and gets repeated twice, which will happen more in this song. And I'm not against repeating refrains, but I'm not a big fan of it either unless it's a really interesting refrain.
I guess this is a kind of hit-or-mis scenario, if the song really sticks to you, you can't get enough of the refrain, if not, it's slightly repetitive. The difference between me and the other reviewers probably is that I'm not a powermetal-fan first. :)
The same can probably be said about the main guitar-riff of 'Unworthy'. It's a nice and decent riff, that has a leading role in the song. If you're not into this sort of thing, the repetition will annoy you just slightly, but if you like, you'll love. And truth be told, the riff has a slightly epic quality to it, especially with the church-esque choirs following it, and it is fitting to the song's theme of casting away the old unworthy dreams and being reborn.
The highlights of the album probably are the middle songs, The Scarlet Letter, and Choir of Tears. Both are very powerfull songs with a lot of drive behind them, and especially Scarlet Letter has a catchy refrain and a certain intensity to it.
The albums major flaw would be that after the first 6 tracks, the remainder becomes slightly predictable in structure. Not that they re-use riffs, but nonetheless they become less surprising. Not that it will matter to the fans, they'll love it all nonetheless; it's just that this album is less recommended to casual powermetal listeners, although it's quite different from the European (Italian) brand of powermetal. The songs have momentum, but all almost all equally so. The singer has a great range, and the riffs are diverse (..and very nice to be honest), but the riff-diversity won't be enough to make someone out of the genre a fan I'm afraid. That said, it could be countered by saying this album will appeal to Iced Earth and Iron Maiden fans alike with it's sound.
And all in all, Jag Panzer do what they do very decently: 81.
Jag Panzer has been around for many years, in fact longer than I've been alive, yet they recieve so little recognition. I would go as far as to call them a progressive band, because from their earlier music, their albums certainly do not sound that much alike. Harry "The Tyrant" Conklin has an absolutely amazing voice in my opinion, but it seems to me that he may have a "love it or hate it vocal style".
Take to the Sky is an amazing opener. I absolutely love the chorus to this song, its very catchy. I also really like their time change half way through the song into a mid-paced very heavy guitar riff. But nothing can top the closing to this track. You can't beat the Tyrant's amazing high-pitched backing vocals for himself as the chorus is being sang at the end.
Frozen in Fear I didn't really like all that well to begin, but the guitar mastery after "...as she lies awake each night frozen in fear" makes you really appreciate this song on i whole new level. Conkin's voice is almost scary, its so good.
You can absolutely not beat UnWorthy. The gregorian chant intro is an extremely eerie prelude to some of the most melodic guitar playing I have ever heard! Conklin's voice even goes extra high at points on this track. If you are looking for a track to introduce you to Jag Panzer, this is a must listen.
Hidden in My Eyes isn't exactly a ballad, however it is a very melodic an heartfelt song. I love the lyrics to this song, very competently written. This is one of my personal favorites.
There is not a bad track on this album at all. Some are better than others, but there isn't really anything that you would want to skip. This is how an album should be. Not all songs can be winners, but at least if you make them sound different, some people will be able to latch on to different songs than others. My favorites for this album may not be others favorites, simply because each song is on a different continuium. With such competent musicians, you cannot make songs that will make you want to break the cd. This is a must for fans of any type of metal in my opinion.
Colorado based Jag Panzer have produced some great metal over there career, and continue to do so on their latest offering, Mechanized Warfare. This is a must buy for any fan of the band or of metal. Conklin again delivers with great vocals, and some of the guitar work on this album is unmatched by anything out today.
The album starts out with Take to the Sky, a building intro leads to a great song, highlighting by a floating solo that shreds all over the place. The next song is the fast paced Frozen in Fear, very well done song, very well played by all members of the band. The next song Unworthy is my personal favorite on the album. The melodic intro leads to one hell of a song. The song has it's heavy and melodic moments, and is a very strong offering. The Silent is a nice song that cruches along, again great guitar work. The Scarlet Letter is another song with some crunch to it that. Choir of Tears has a great intro, and is one hell of a song in it's own right. I didn't really like Cold is the Blade on the first listen, but the melodic section in the middle with the violin and guitar has become one of my favorite parts of the album, and it leads to a great solo. Hidden in My Eyes is a good song, some of the vocal work reminds me of Midcrime- era Queensrcyhe, which is not a bad thing. Power Surge is also a definent highlight of the album. This song chugs along, and is one of the heaviest of the album, and its about metal so it kicks ass! Conklin also screechs on this song which is pretty cool, this sogn definently highlights his range and talent as a vocalist. The album ends with a very melodic song, All Things Removed.
In all, this is a great album. There is not a piece of filler on this album, and every song is easily a classic. Very well done vocal work, and incredible guitar work from bot guitarists. The rest of the rhythm section was incredibly great as well. Even if you don't like "power metal" go check out this album. It will not dissapoint.
***NOTE*** I just found out that if you keep playing after the end of track 10 you can here a funny little version of the verse of Scarlet Letter. Go check it out.