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Despite being one of the top bands in the American power metal scene, Jag Panzer has had its share of ups and downs in its 30-year history. While they reached an early peak with 1984's Ample Destruction, they never quite broke through on a commercial level and didn't reach a level of consistency until the late '90s. This particular release is their ninth studio album and their first since Casting the Stones came out in 2004. In addition, this is also the first album to feature lead guitarist Christian Lasegue since the Chain of Command sessions due to the departure of Chris Broderick, who is now Megadeth's latest gunslinger.
For the most part, the album's sound goes along with the band's expected style and never feels too far removed from the band's past works. The guitars are uplifting, the vocals are commanding, the production has that distinctly clean but dry touch, and touches of violins and other string instruments are incorporated to great effect.
Yet at the same time, the music appears to be heavier and more aggressive than the band's standard mid-tempo fare. Nothing is as gritty or savage as their earliest songs, but the added energy really breathes a lot into the songs at hand. In addition, the album also seems to have a more symphonic flavor than before. Past songs certainly had their theatrical moments, but they rarely sounded this epic. This style can best be seen in the dark piano segments that bookend "Burn" and the structure on "The Book of Kells."
The band's performance is also great and may be their most energetic in ages. While bassist John Tetley still doesn't seem to stand out very much, Rikard Stjernquist's drumming is more intense than before and is at its strongest on the faster tracks, such as the opening "Condemned to Fight." As expected, the twin guitars are solid and dish out some aggressive riffs while retaining the clean feel, and vocalist Harry Conklin refuses to show his age as he goes from forceful bellows to softer segments at a whim.
With the album mostly going between heavier and more symphonic sounds, it's not too surprising to see that most songs tend to jump between these two styles. Fortunately, these sides are fairly balanced as one doesn't necessarily overpower the other. In fact, the best songs seem to be the ones that manage to combine both of these elements. Despite its rather generic title, "Burn" is probably the best song on here due to its piano segments, frantic vocals during the verses, and powerful chorus. In addition, "Let It Out" manages to serve as an energetic anthem and "Bringing On The End" features a strong mid-tempo riff and interesting vocal contrasts during the chorus. There are also a couple songs on here that manage to stand out more. While "Cycles" is a faster track, it stands out due to its modern tinges and "Union " is a mid-tempo anthem in the vein of classic Judas Priest.
Overall, this is definitely a strong album that actually manages to be even better than I initially expected it to be. While it isn't too different from any of the other albums that the band has put out since their reformation, its energy and songwriting prowess urges me to recommend it to anyone that hasn't been impressed by the band's last few efforts. It may not necessarily be another Ample Destruction but it is a surprisingly satisfying release that I would heartily recommend to any power metal fan.
Current Album Highlights
* "Condemned to Fight"
* "Bringing On The End"
* "Let It Out"
Originally published at http://suite101.com