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Classy war anthems from a classic band. - 85%

Empyreal, April 28th, 2009

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.