Jag Panzer – July 4, 2018 – Ralph’s Rock Diner, Worcester, MAWednesday, 11th July 2018
Ah, Independence Day. The declaration of freedom for the United States of America during the latter part of the 18th Century. It only seems fitting on a holiday most associated with family gatherings, barbecues, and fireworks displays that there would be a similar meeting up of people from all parts of New England and beyond for this special concert. This kicks off the first of a four-day East Coast swing for metal veterans Jag Panzer – getting their feet wet so to speak before more tour dates the following week over in Europe, including a big German Bang Your Head Festival appearance in front of 30,000 plus. And considering the group most well-known in the underground for releasing a debut cult classic album in 1984 called Ample Destruction had never been asked to play in New England in their career, the band certainly made up for lost time on this evening.
Promoter Chris Farmerie of Metal Thursday smartly placed a strong local support package of acts together to maximize value for money – and encourage the faithful to come out. The searing heat wave infiltrating most of the US also has been a part of New England since the previous weekend – meaning that in the confines of Ralph’s second floor staging without air conditioning, it was going to be very hot once the bodies and metal action got underway. Epicenter opened the night with their addictive brand of progressive-oriented modern thrash – the group towing the lines of the established conventional thrash riffs and hooks of old with a current level of technical sophistication and incredible drop on a dime stomp part maneuvering. Peeling off winning headbangers like “Firepower” and closer “The Wolves”, the quartet raised the energy level of the night out of the gate. Graviton took the stage next, elevating their game again with a blistering set of extreme thrash. Their latest endeavor Per Erebus, Ad Astra goes for the jugular and doesn’t relent, incorporating elements of black, death, and doom into their thrash platform – and it shows tenfold live as a sonic wall bowling people over from first note to last. “Shattered Repose”, “Signals from Beyond” and the slower but no less crushing “Tomes of the Mystic” were three songs that received respectable applause, proving these musicians are starting to make a deeper impact on the New England scene and elsewhere.
Ice Giant served up their brand of power metal with folk/death nuances next – using a three-pronged vocal attack to diversify the proceedings. They’ve always been able to get the crowds to sing along to some of their originals – an admirable quality especially if you are playing to first-timers or out-of-towners, as there were many in attendance tonight. Curious to hear what the next set of new material will be like for this group. Closing out the local support from New Haven, CT is the power metal act Age of Embers. Currently a quintet with a new key-guitarist in Alex Newton, these musicians have come a long way in a short period of time as they become more comfortable with the stage, their skills, and the obvious knowledge of the genre they possess. Singer Katrina has magnificent stage presence beyond her wide multi-octave delivery, easily going from operatic melodies to even growls at times – receiving ample support from bassist Ray King and guitarist Brandon Parris for the harmonies. The hard work they’ve put in for local shows as well as international support (opening for Sonata Arctica and Insomnium among others) proves the band is onto something – plus they will be working on their first recorded output soon to hopefully further spread their sound to the masses.
Next, the moment this scribe has been waiting for since 2000, when I first took in Jag Panzer as one of the headliners at the Powermad festival in Baltimore, Maryland. You don’t think it would take 18 more years to see the band live again, but sometimes life circumstances occur that make it difficult to see the bands we like more often. Tonight’s lineup would featuring bassist Aric Avina (a part of Benedictum) and guitarist Ken Rodarte, the latter learning rhythms and leads for the headlining set in a scant ten days. Given also the fact that the band would have to learn their parts in two states (vocalist Harry Conklin and guitarist Mark Briody live in Colorado, while drummer Rikard Stjernquist as well as Avina/Rodarte live in Arizona), the band would overcome the extreme heat and flights into the area to deliver a solid 14 song, 75-minute set that encompassed their entire catalog.
We would hear old songs from Ample Destruction like “License to Kill”, “Harder Than Steel”, and the closing duo of “Warfare” and “Generally Hostile”. Newer songs like opener “Far Beyond the Fear” and the band’s interpretation of the Irish folk classic “Foggy Dew” also went over well – even as Harry admitted that he needed to use a lyric sheet to get the latter right (‘there are some tongue twisters in this one’ he remarked). And then of course the surprises never aired live before – “Achilles” and personal favorite “Scarlet Letter” among those in the mix, beyond the expected setlist favorites such as “Black” and “Iron Eagle”. Ken’s lead play rivaled the work of Joey Tafolla and Chris Broderick, stepping up to the challenge of those speed arpeggios and nuanced transitions – while Harry takes his theatrical nature to the visions he sings about with magnificent class as a seasoned veteran should. He is truly one of the best melodic heavy metal singers in the world – capturing everything from Dio to Dickinson, Halford to Tate in his delivery, looks, hand motions, and audience involvement.
In the end, the triple digit heat didn’t dissuade the Ralph’s patrons from leaving satisfied, another legendary act in the scene leaving their mark in New England. Thank you Jag Panzer for coming to play in our neck of the woods- hopefully it won’t be long for a return trip.