JAG PANZER: Terror strikes a child inside my soul [English]

Posted by universechild On Apr 4, 2012 0 comments

There are many times when a certain event, as well as a taste, or a smell, can deeply characterize your soul.

This also applies to music, you associate sounds with various stages of your life, and they remain forever.

This is how Jag Panzer affected me. I got “acquainted” with them in a difficult moment in my life, and from then I never left them. I was really impressed and at the same time excited by listening to the full of nerve, strength and passion vocals of their frontman. So I mentally entered the hull of their panzer (=tank) to wreak havoc and destruction, and never managed to free myself (not that I wanted to!)

They started in 1978 in Colorado, USA, as Tyrants and, like many bands of that era, their primary influence was NWOBHM. Harry Conklin, the so-called “Tyrant”, was THE voice of the band from the very beginning. As he has said himself, his voice was influenced by such legendary voices like Dio (force), Bruce Dickinson (rage) and later Geoff Tate (emotion). Alongside Conklin, Mark Briody was the musical soul of the band and primary composer. The rhythm section of that early incarnation was completed with John Tetley (bass) and Rick Hilyard (drums).

Like it was often the case, they didn’t have many chances of a career as Tyrants because the name was taken up by another, quite active at the time, metal band, so the quartet was renamed as Jag Panzer, influenced by a World World II poster.

The poster showed a German tank named Jagdpanzer, which translated literally from German means “tank hunter”. There was another translation too, “tank destroyer”, which was the one that made the adopt the name.

Of course the choice of name was true to the spirit of NWOBHM bands who often took up names from war (think of cult bands like Blitzkrieg and Tank) as well as their interest in History.
There was one small problem with pronunciation – German is a notoriously difficult, and the name could not be pronounced by non-native German speakers, so they had to drop the “d” and split it in two words to make it a little bit easier and catchier.

Briody has said that there were often cases where he was asked if Jag Panzer was a “white supremacy” band since they were named after a “nazi” tank, while others that knew him well wondered why they named the band after a “nazi” tank. Those that asked him obviously don’t know what Lemmy of Motorhead has collected in his house, and Briody’s reply was that “a tank it’s just a piece of machinery”.

At this point we dare to suggest that their “ambiguous” name might have played its part in their uneven career and the stance of labels towards them. Rules of marketing certainly do apply in heavy metal as well, regardless of the quality and power of the music itself. A band name is still a “brand”.

Click to Enlarge

As the kids that they were back then, and not unlike other small unknown bands of the day, they made their start performing in small clubs and venues, and it was in 1983 when they managed to record that first legendary EP which they titled with their first name as a band, “Tyrants”.

It contained 4 killer tracks full of passion, which not only made you want to bang your head till it bleeds, but also showed that even from the beginning Jag Panzer were on the “thinking” side of lyrics and subject matter. Who has heard the anti-war Battle Zones and hasn’t visualized the horrors of war?

"Daybreak brings more of the terror
Napalm clears a path miles long
My nostrils fill with scents of incineration
The enemy lies in heaps, hundreds strong"

Death Row (one of my all time favourite tracks) and Metal Melts The Ice too, and of course Iron Shadows, one of the most epic songs inspired by the literary Conan of Robert E. Howard and the story Iron Shadows of the Moon (about which we already talked in the Cimmerian Metal feature). I cannot fathom a self-respecting metalhead who hasn’t heard this killer EP.

Year of our lords 1984, and with the addition of a fifth member on lead guitar, Joey Tafolla, the band records their debut full length Ample Destruction which was released on the independed label Azra Records. Even after all these years, it remains as one of the best debuts and best albums of 80s Heavy Metal.


Click to Enlarge

American underground embraced it, but distribution could be A LOT better. Unfortunately, it barely reached Europe, and one could get it only through import by special order. Regarding Greece, I cannot imagine someone that just walked into a store and bought, it back in those days, you couldn’t find it next to the latest releases of Maiden, Judas Priest etc.

The aftermath of the album’s release was a hard time for the band and they moved to South California, but the biggest blow was that Conklin quit. He spent some brief time with Riot, and then he formed Titan Force (about which we’ll have a post in the future). It should be noted that before Titan Force, and after his time with Riot, Conklin also did vocal duties on the Metal From Hell album by Satan’s Host. Good record, one of the hidden gems from the 80s.

Apart from Conklin, Hilyard also left (he was briefly replaced by Reynold “Butch” Carlson) and the character of the band morphed substantially, as only two key members from the original line-up were left: Briody and Tetley.

Click to Enlarge
However, despite these difficulties, they didn’t give up and with the addition of very good singer Bob Parduba (good voice, but not Conklin’s league of course), the excellent guitarist Christian Lasegue and Swede drummer Rikard Srjernquist (who stayed with the band till the very end in 2011) they sat down and recorded Chain of Command (1987). Unfortunately, the record wasn’t officially released until 2004 and it had been circulated for all these years as a bootleg. .

This period proved to be something of an extended hiatus for Jag Panzer, and this usually happens when the band’s core never stays the same. I could say that as much as I love them, I’m also quite disappointed by their career, and this hasn’t only to do with the support from the fans, or even the labels, but with themselves too.

Their talent, Briody’s unending springs of ideas when it comes to composing, the incredible power of their music, all these seemed to go to waste in a period that other bands built their myth, something that Jag Panzer could do too.

Maybe no, they DID forge their own myth, but they never manage the commercial success of other comparable bands, like Manowar in the 80s or Iced Earth (who became synonymous with US power for a younger generation of fans) in the 90s.

It was after several years that Briody, Tetley and Stjernquist decided to join forces once again and reform Jag Panzer – 1994 to be specific. With the addition of Daniel J. Conka in vocals and Chris Hostka on guitars they recorded and released with German label Rising Sun their first official full length in a decade, Dissident Alliance.

The album is not exactly bad, or maybe, not as bad as they say. Briody himself says that its sound is an encapsulation of his tastes in that period. What maybe makes a big difference is the voice. Conka’s style (who passed away in 2004) is not only incomparable to that of Conklin, but also incompatible with Jag Panzer. Some possible highlights from the record are “Forsaken Child” and “Spirit Suicide” – the lyrics are always top notch. There were times where I preferred to read the booklet than actually listen to it… anyways, feelings towards something cannot be objective, only the mind is. Good or bad, this record is part of their history too.

"Run your children, run, run from  your dreams"...

A few years after the release and commercial failure of Dissident Allienace happened the long overdue, and awaited by the inner circle of hardcore fans, reunion with Conklin.  The new line-up was set with the addition of talented young guitarist Chric Broderick, and the band signed on a label that has been quite infamous from time to time, Century Media.

Their “debut” for this new period for the band was Fourth Judgment (1997). I wasn’t scared by the violins heard in the intro, Briody himself said that he wanted to experiment with the sound of strings since the Ample Destruction era, with the difference being that back then he used synths which, in his own words “doesn’t sound like strings very much”.  Beyond that, this album was amazing.
The color of greed
The answer of hope
The essence of light"

An LP with its tracks full of killer tunes: “Shadow Thief”, “Despair”... My joy was overflowing that this band had at last made its long overdue comeback. Jag Panzer Strikes Back!!! There was hope, after all.
Click to Enlarge

1998, strike two with Age of Mastery, satisfaction etched on my face once again. Epic, majestic and full of grandeur, like its most famous track, Iron Eagle. The emotions evoked by music can’t really be described, you have to listen to it… In venturing further, they followed it up with Thane to The Throne, which drew its inspiration from Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

From the very first notes you are transported back to the age these events take place ... And you grab the book with the translation/ adaptation by Vasilis Rotas, and you start to read and "suck" every line like a thirsty dog. This is indeed one of the goals of an adaptation of a literary work (because this is what this album essentially is, a Shakespeare adaptation), to make you seek out the original, and Jag Panzer definitely succeeded.
Click to Enlarge

After all these years, Thane to the Throne remains as one of the strongest concept albums, and one that Briody states that he is fully satisfied with, on an artistic level. If there was justice in this world, this album would be listed among several works of art like paintings and films that were inspired by Shakespeare’s words. We all know, however, that this isn’t a case, Justice is an elusive lady, and between us, it’s better this way, it’s better to have metal outside of highbrow circles, because everything that enters them can’t help it but be a bit spoiled – is there a rule that says true art needs a silver spoon?

Once again the band proved that they are not only about tuning their instruments and amps and headbanging, but that they also love history, art and literature.

Click to Enlarge
2001, Mechanize Warfare. You know, it’s not my job to analyze and critique  their discography. Can’t do that. Listening to this band is like having a blitzkrieg of emotions.

Anyway, up until 2004 Jag Panzer released another three albums, which all were all a highlight by themselves, but there weren’t that many people that dealt with them seriously. I don’t refer to all of us fans of the band, or a few respected web-zines that always showed great support to them (metal-rules.com – it’s in the name), but to a wider “Heavy Metal” audience that dances the dance of illusions by marketing directors, and the labels.

Jag Panzer themselves has said that fans from all over the world were saying that they wanted to see them live, but no one called them, because they weren’t very commercial. When you do even the artworks yourself (Briody is an accomplished designer as well) and you go your own way, they maybe don’t have much use for you. What is necessary is to sell, and have a sellable image.

Thinking of Ample Destruction again, what is to say about the infamous reissue / remastering, that was supposed to come out in its 20th anniversary, in 2004. There are cases of classic albums that got a 15thd, a 20ths, a 25ths, and so on release (the older the album, the more anniversaries), and Ample Destruction got none. Their compilation released that year, Decade of the Nail Spiked Bat (including re-recordings of tracks from their first decade of existence as a band), was a Plan B of sorts because the reissue didn’t materialize.

Speaking of Century Media, what to say about that live album and DVD which was also supposed to come out sometime. Fans have to deal with only one video testament of this band, which unfortunately isn’t of the best audio and visual quality. Briody has said that the allotted budget was a mere 3 thousand dollars.

I find it hard to believe that they decided to disband just like that. It had to be a combination of frustration and fatigue. Broderick, who was one of the key members in the 90s/00s incarnation, left in 2008 to join Megadeth (Mustaine knows about good guitarists). He was replaced by a friend from the old days, Chris Lasegue, who also left just a little after the release of their swansong album The Scourge of the Light, in summer 2011.

Like our friend Baladeur said “Good work must be recognized, and if we don't support each other [in the metal community], nobody will do it for us”

Jag Panzer unfortunately didn’t get all the support they deserved, despite the fact that it was a favorite band for one of the oldest and most respected metal webzine of the internet, metal-rules.com (Briody is even a forum member and posts regularly as Jag Panzer). They gave their heart and soul in what they were doing, but unfortunately this wasn’t visible to all.

Here’s hoping that their, premature despite their 30 years in the scene, disbanding will prove to be a hiatus, and a wake up call to so-called metalheads that didn’t give enoughsupport where it was due.

Click to Enlarge

Discography - Albums
  • 1984 - Ample Destruction
  • 1994 - Dissident Alliance
  • 1997 - The Fourth Judgement
  • 1998 - The Age of Mastery
  • 2000 - Thane to the Throne
  • 2001 - Mechanized Warfare
  • 2004 - Chain of Command
  • 2004 - Casting the Stones
  • 2011 - The Scourge of the Light

Discography - Other
  • 1983 - Tyrants [EP]
  • 1983 - Death Row [Single]
  • 1985 - Demo 85
  • 1986 - Demo 86
  • 1986 - Shadow Thief [Demo]
  • 1994 - Jeffrey Behind The Gate [Single]
  • 1996 - The Return [Demo]
  • 2002 - The Era of Kings and Conflict (DVD)
  • 2004 - Decade of the Nail Spiked Bat (Compilation)
  • 2005 - The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (Single)

Words: UniverseChild
Images: Silicon Knight