Jag Panzer – Beware of The HallowedSunday, 18th June 2023
Photo by: Ryan Kercher
Building a discography that appeases the most ardent metal followers, Jag Panzer returns with another conceptual storyline for this latest album The Hallowed. Unlike their ode to Shakespeare’s Macbeth for Thane to the Throne, the group developed an original vision based on a five-person team crossing a frozen wasteland in search of a new home – fighting for their lives in the process. The music dynamically matches the varied proceedings – harsh when necessary, aggressive in other spots, or naturally classic US power-driven in their collective wheelhouse.
Once again speaking to long-time friend guitarist Mark Briody, he was very happy to bounce around from a variety of topics about the new album, the special comic book development, video work, the crazy streaming versus audience pull for some bands in today’s scene, great overseas tour memories from earlier this year, why he’s happy to live near a massive forest area, plus discussion on the uptick interest in the Colorado metal scene.
Dead Rhetoric: Your 11th studio album The Hallowed is a conceptual effort – preceded by a comic book release of the same name late last year. How did the songwriting and recording sessions evolve – and what was the process like to work on a comic book based on the same themes?
Mark Briody: It was definitely different. We knew we wanted to do another concept record, take the writing in a little bit of a different direction. When we do a concept album, we do things like we are scoring a film. We did this before on Thane to the Throne, based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth. We thought we would try to write our own story here. It wasn’t in the initial plan to do a comic book. We were all getting together in this daily chat, and we would ask what would happen here and there in the storyline. We thought, maybe a comic would be good. I looked into the price and was not pleasantly very shocked with what it costs to hire an artist to do a whole comic book, how much it costs to print.
I had a guess of what number we could sell and not lose money on it would be good. We took the initial fleshed out story and divided it into chunks that could be represented in the songs. We had daily chats about what each song should sound like. We did not want me coming up with a riff and just trying to piece it in there. Everything had to fit the song. The example of the song “Prey”, in the storyline the panthers attack a family. Everybody in the band said this needs to be a brutal song, I said, ‘yeah, I agree’. But it can’t be a basic metal riff. We started thinking, I wrote a riff that had an accent on four, it’s kind of like The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb”. Definitely we don’t usually do riffs that end in four. It was the panthers theme, so we went forward with that.
That ended up leading to lush violin parts that we do in a lot of records, not showing up on The Hallowed until the middle of the last song. Because it just didn’t fit. It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun, and it was very rewarding.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you think you learned most about the comic book construction process that differs from the musical side of things?
Briody: I didn’t realize how much attention to details there is in comics. I was completely clueless. Talking like the sizing of the panels, this is a two-panel page, this is a six-panel page. I had been looking at comics my whole life, I just didn’t process the effort that it takes to do that.
Dead Rhetoric: And how was it working with Ken Mary for his engineering of the drums – I know you must trust his abilities as a fellow drummer?
Briody: Ken has a big drum room, and it was great. We had done a couple of albums in a smaller drum room with a smaller drum set. We just wanted to do something different. Ken Mary was the first person that came to mind, Rikard our drummer went over and saw him, checked out his studio. He had a big drum room, a lot of mics, and Rikard has had a number of different drum sets over the years. He brought one of the biggest ones, from all the way back in 1983. He could play as loud as he wants. We wanted a big, loud room – we didn’t want the John Bonham drum sound per se, but we wanted to record the way he did.
Dead Rhetoric: Were you channeling some of your inner “Revelations” musical themes in a song like “Ties That Bind”?
Briody: Yeah, I think so. That’s another riff that’s a little different for us. Harry kept pushing me that this really has to fit this part, these animals are feeling a closeness even when they can point out incidents where the people are not exactly treating them well. We wanted to get that part across musically with “Ties That Bind”, and it’s a very different song for us. We wouldn’t do a normal song like that or “Prey” on a normal Jag Panzer album.
Dead Rhetoric: Was it a challenge to figure out what singles to premiere from the record, especially as a conceptual piece?
Briody: 100% on the record company. We all met as a band, and we were good with whatever songs they wanted to release. We did a cool video with a light show on stage for the song “Prey”, and I don’t think the record company is big fans of the song – but we are as a band. We told them when we signed with them, do whatever singles you want.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you talk about the epic last song “Last Rites”? That has been a trademark for the band from time to time over the years…
Briody: These are my favorite. Ever since hearing songs like “Beyond the Realms of Death” by Judas Priest, and then “Heaven and Hell” or “The Sign of the Southern Cross”. I’ve always been a fan of the big epics. I hope, I have to talk to Atomic Fire first to see if it’s okay, but I would like to do a trivia video to that song when the album comes out.
Dead Rhetoric: What is it like now to have guitarist Ken Rodarte firmly in the band, given his previous live touring status? What do you think he brings to the table that differs or may be similar to other guitarists for Jag Panzer?
Briody: He’s a very wacky, goofy guy, so he fits right in with us. He fits in really well. I can call up Ken and have a conversation with him about what I’m watching on Netflix. He likes the same kind of music as us, knows what we are all about, he’s great with the audience. We can’t have anybody there that’s not good with the fans. Ken is a hard worker, he’s not a drug addict or a drunk. Shows up all the time, always prepared, good player, good with the fans. We are very happy with him.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the video shoot go for “Prey” – and where do you see the importance of the visual medium today compared to the days of Headbangers Ball and major media video outlets during the 80’s, 90’s to early 2000’s?
Briody: There is a whole generation of people these days into metal that are not going to hear your band unless you put a video out. I wish we could do incredibly cool videos of Games of Thrones style effects. It’s not in the cards, so we try to do the best with what we can. I still like buying music, unwrapping the vinyl, and putting it on the turntable. That’s not most of the market nowadays, so you have to do videos. We have made a couple of videos for this album that I’m not even sure they may be coming out. I delivered six videos to the label.
Dead Rhetoric: Earlier this year you did some overseas shows for the Metal Melts the Ice tour. How did you think the crowds responded to your efforts, especially given the lack of touring over the past few years due to the pandemic? What memories stood out the most to you from these shows?
Briody: It was pretty shocking being our first time ever in Poland, and everyone knew all the words to all the songs. As an artist on stage to hear that, it’s an incredible feeling. The crowd singing everything back to you is great. We had good crowds everywhere. They seemed hungry for shows, which was great, as we were hungry to get out there and play. It was mutual, they were good shows. We played only older material, which was actually fun. I always convince myself that I don’t like to do that, it ended up being fun bringing up a bunch of older material that we don’t usually play.
Dead Rhetoric: Being a part of the Atomic Fire Records roster, what seemed most attractive to you regarding their outlook, knowledge, and promotional abilities for Jag Panzer?
Briody: I had met a bunch of people on the Atomic Fire team back when they were with Nuclear Blast, way back on the European tour we did with Hammerfall. I just saw a whole team of people that knew their heavy metal, worked incredibly hard, and were great with the magazines and the fans. We talked about it back then, we had a good time on Century Media, and they are a cool label, but we had talked about having the type of crew that Hammerfall has promoting everything. When we shopped The Hallowed, I looked at Atomic Fire’s roster and I said wow, I recognize four or five of the names. We shopped ten labels for The Hallowed, and we had nine either offers or labels saying they loved the record, but they couldn’t really give us what we wanted.
Dead Rhetoric: That must be a good feeling to get that positive response, especially being in the business for so long. You knew the record was strong, but to hear labels say that, that must be equally rewarding…
Briody: That was a great feeling. We were hoping for maybe four positive responses out of the ten. This is a really strong record, so we were very surprised.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the artwork work with Dusan this time around? You’ve worked with him in the past, was it an easy process to get what you wanted?
Briody: Dusan and I are always on the same page. I love his artwork, he’s always very receptive to ideas. I can chat with him online, and within a few sentences we are on the same page with everything. We had a lot of artists for this record, comic book artists, hired a couple of different merch artists to work with us too. We are very much in tune to what we want with art.
Dead Rhetoric: What keeps the band motivated creatively and internally after all these years?
Briody: We all look at it as a legacy, we don’t look at it as I need to make a car payment this month. I want records, shows, fan interactions, I want it all to be something that you can look back at in your life and be very proud of. This will be here after we die, so I think that’s certainly the way we look at this. We want to have a solid legacy in heavy metal.
Dead Rhetoric: What have been some of the best fan interaction stories that you’ve had through the years, as far as adulation or songs that changed people’s lives?
Briody: We had some metal cases that had our album covers on them and give away a few at each show. In the show in Poland, a young lady showed up and she had printed off my picture, the picture of the pick case, and she didn’t speak any English, but she translated in English that she wanted the pick case. That was really cool just to put that much effort into it. I had given all my picks out at the show, so I went back to the hotel room, got another one, and that was a great interaction. Any time we get people that travel four or five hours, that’s always great too. You really appreciate things like that, it makes things very rewarding.
Dead Rhetoric: Are there specific items left on the bucket list to accomplish regarding Jag Panzer or any other musical endeavors you have? Specific places you may want to play, bands you would love to tour with, experiences you’ve always wanted to have?
Briody: Definitely my big bucket list item is playing with Iron Maiden, and we are going to do that at Wacken. So, I’ll get to cross that off the list. I am a giant Iron Maiden fan. When we were kids, we wanted to make backstage passes, so we ended up forging them (laughs). I’ve checked a lot off the bucket list, although we haven’t played Japan. That’s from my love of Cheap Trick – Live at Budokan. I listened to that record, the crowd interaction. Hopefully that will come up.
Dead Rhetoric: You did a recent Facebook post where you described the first time you saw Black Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio in Colorado back in 1980. What was so special about that show that stays with you this deep in your life?
Briody: I had an idea of what a heavy metal show should be in my mind. This exceeded it. I had never seen this at a concert ever in my life. I had been going to concerts since I was ten. I saw Harry Chapin when I was ten. I saw Parliament Funkadelic when I was twelve. This never quite… I wanted a metal show that made the hair on my arms stand up, I screamed after the first chord was struck at the Sabbath show. Everything was just loud and thunderous, controlled power. Dio’s voice was amazing, the whole building was just rumbling. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen in my life to date, up until that time.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you say are some of the hardest decisions that a band like yourselves has to make this deep into your career that maybe the average fan has a difficult time accepting or understanding that you could shed some light on?
Briody: Touring is always tough decisions. You can’t lose money touring because that becomes a big rabbit hole. That is where it becomes you start maxing out personal credit cards, and you just can’t do it. It’s a tough call to look at potential tour areas, and then start running the money. It’s always tough choices to where you can and can’t play. I always hate those decisions.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe it’s even more of a guessing game with the industry and streaming platforms to determine where your best markets are sometimes?
Briody: Absolutely. I’ve talked to bands that we’ve played with on tour or bands that I’m friends with, and they’ll tell me they’ve got a million streams of this album. And they will play to 85 people. Jag Panzer has some of the worst numbers in streaming history – we have terrible numbers. Whereas one band may have a million streams and play to 85 people, we had 20,000 streams and could play to 300 people. I’m not saying that to say Jag Panzer is big, I’m trying to illustrate how those numbers make no sense. You can’t depend on them, at least in heavy metal it’s not like you have a million streams, you are going to get 1,000 people at a show. It just doesn’t work that way. It seems like the craziest thing to me. There are local bands in my hometown that have been together for a month that have more streams than Jag Panzer. It clearly doesn’t work for us.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you handle stress, anxiety, and down times in your life? Are there specific tools or exercises that work best to get you through these tough moments?
Briody: Yeah, I live in the neighborhood I live in just to handle that. Right across the street I have 850 acres of dense woodland. I can walk one minute into there, and you will think you are in the deepest forest, you don’t see anything. No telephone poles, houses, you are in there. You can get yourself out in 45 minutes, no problem, once you are in there, it’s complete solitude. Lots of trails, wild animals, lots of birds and the occasional bear. It gives me solace, and it’s very comforting to me.
Dead Rhetoric: There seems to be a lot more attention on the Colorado metal scene as of late – not just from the traditional side, but all styles. Why do you think your state has garnered more attention?
Briody: We’ve got some good bands here. Cephalic Carnage, Havok, new upcoming traditional metal band Chamber Mage. Colorado is different, we are not really near any of the traditional entertainment centers like NY, Los Angeles. We have a lot of inspiration here from the mountains, it’s very clean, you can go for a hike. I find it very inspiring, and musicians work very hard here. People like to play instruments here, and I play less than everybody I know here, at least around my friends. They all play in three different bands, gigging weekly. The music is getting more and more popular in Colorado, which is nice.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about Harry extending himself with not just his work in The Three Tremors, but now being a part of Cloven Hoof?
Briody: It helps Harry’s voice a lot to sing all the time. He is like a long-distance runner, if he keeps his voice going. He and I have opposite views on that. I don’t want to play with anyone else but Jag Panzer. I don’t like to sit in jam sessions. Harry wants to keep singing. Whatever works for him.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next twelve months shaping up for activities related to Jag Panzer – or any other musical endeavors from the band members that may be in the pipeline?
Briody: We have a busy summer coming up – Headbangers Open Air, Wacken, Alcatraz, Blades of Steel in the US. I was told to have my passport ready for January next year for something big. It looks like The Hallowed will be opening more doors than we are used to, which is nice.