Monday, February 28, 2011

Jag Panzer - The Scourge of the Light (2011)

A lot of listeners weren't too keen on the previous Jag Panzer album, Casting the Stones, since it took a more modern, crunchy turn from what they were likely used to. I didn't mind it, but let's face facts: the Colorado power metal legends had already evolved so far from their roots on the mighty Ample Destruction that such minor changes were to be expected. As long as they don't write and release Dissident Alliance II, I can sleep at night, and the Panzer's own seven year hibernation has finally ended with The Scourge of the Light, a tighter and controlled effort that brings them back to the sounds of the 1997-2001 era, in which the band had transformed into a glinting, melodic and professional entity with hints at progressive metal.

In essence, it's a step back, but also a step forward. There is a general lack of the explosive passion of the band's brighter years; The Fourth Judgement could run this into the ground on sheer energy alone. A lot of this is due to the production, which is so incredibly clean that had the engineer scratched his jock itch during a lead sequence, you'd probably hear as if it were in the cubicle next to you. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because it brings out the very intricate melodies being woven through cuts like "The Setting of the Sun" and "Overlord", and gives the Tyrant a clean slate over which to flaunt his veteran pipes, which are admittedly solid throughout the entire play list. Christian Lasegue, who had appeared on the band's Chain of Command album (released 17 years after its recording) returns to replace Chris Broderick (now in Megadeth), and he and Mark Briody are a dynamic and fluent team, leads bristling off in either direction and rhythms complex enough to hold the curiosity even when the heart roams elsewhere.

"Condemned to Fight" is a fairly strong opener, giving the guitars a chance to flex and Harry a chance at a half-decent chorus, but the slower "Setting of the Sun" has a more interesting riff structure in the verses, and "Bringing the End" continues this trend, with the addition of a pretty ballsy, swaggering guitar line here that returns in the chorus. I didn't love "Call to Arms", though it was fun to hear the band go all Maiden, and while immediately accessible, "Cycles" and "Overlord" didn't leave a lasting impression, nor the more old school sounding "Let It Out". But the next piece "Union" is one of the more interesting on the album, refined melodies threading through another of their brighter mid-paced numbers, and once "Burn" picks up from its piano intro, it too soars. Closer "The Book of Kells" is the most ambitious track, 8 minutes of slowly rising, epic thunder, and it also stands as one of the better composed.

All said and done, The Scourge of the Light is another good album in a long stretch that has suffered only a few (considerable) hurdles, and I can't think that fans of Thane to the Throne or Mechanized Warfare are going to scoff at it. There are certainly a few tracks that some might deem filler, and I found a lack of fire in about half the album, but then I'm an old hanger on to the displaced illusion that we might someday hear something as decadent as another Ample Destruction from these guys. I've never been a huge fan of the guitar tone used in their 1997-2001, since I've always felt it was thin and processed, and I don't exactly love it here; but performance-wise this band is the very definition of professional, and they tend to wring out some depth from their riffs due to their skill level, and this 9th album is far from run of the mill power metal.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

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