Sunday Old School: Jag Panzer
Band Photo: Jag Panzer (?)
While the cities in New York, Florida and the Bay Area drove the early power/thrash independent music scene in the early eighties, another legendary U.S. band came to prominence far up in the Rocky Mountains. A group of musicians who knew each other since the second grade started their own band in homage to the European scene, calling themselves Tyrant before learning of the L.A. and German bands of the same name.
A name change was in order, and happened when the band was leafing through a magazine featuring German tanks - seeing the Jagd (hunt) Panzer tank from WWII. These Colorado musicians knew that this would be a nice imposing name for a metal band. Jag Panzer was born. In the beginning, guitarist Mark Briody remembers the group charging two dollars for people to come to its club gigs and recalls the lessons he took in the studio to give him structure. He was a frequent fixture in Johnny Smith's studio, Johnny having played guitar in Bing Crosby's band.
Harry Conklin joined in on vocals, with a range in octaves that could rival any of the great metal singers throughout the ages. Harry could hold a note and emote, that coming from his seven years of applied lessons with a vocal coach. John Tetley joined on bass, and the original line-up featured Rick Hilyard on drums. The time was 1981, still a couple of years before Jag Panzer would unleash its debut EP. Taking a nod from the original band name, Harry became known as 'The Tyrant,' as did the first release "Tyrants." Harry chose that name out of mystique. He viewed his name as not being 'metal' enough, needing to create another persona - but his voice would ultimately do that.
If you ever owned or listened to a copy of "Tyrants," you were a true metal devotee who went the extra mile. It wasn't easy to get like a Combat release, it was on that small label Azra records. I got mine as an import on Ironworks, and to this day that four-song opus is extremely difficult to come by. This was classic Colorado Springs power thrash that would cement the band's legacy as a cult act, a badge that Mark and Harry don proudly to this day. "The Metal Melts the Ice," with its dizzying caterwauling, became an underground anthem for Jag Panzer.
1984 brought with it the addition of Californian second guitarist Joey Tafolla to the ranks, and cover artwork on the debut full-length done once again by the talented Keith Austin. "Ample Destruction" saw the band relocating to California as it made its way up the indie metal charts. British music bible Metal Forces gave it an '8' and Jag Panzer was on its way to success - or so it would seem. Joey Tafolla eventually quit a couple of years down the road, taking up residence at Mike Varney's Shrapnel records. He would go on to release a couple of highly original shred albums, 87's "Out of the Sun" and 91's "Infra Blue," along with an instructional video in '93 and 01's "Plastic". Joey was also the first of two Panzer members which would depart to become a college music teacher. He taught at the American Institute of Music in Vienna in '95, before returning stateside and setting up JTM gear in Huntington Beach, CA. He would return to Jag Panzer a decade later, though.
Harry Conklin also left the band during this period following the debut album. In retrospect, he said that he had been too hasty, young and impatient for success. He realized later down the line that being in a band takes a team effort. He would return only after he took a few detours. Harry's departure signalled a ten year hiatus for the group. Conklin had famously joined Riot during this time as its third vocalist - coming in after Guy Speranza and long before Rhett Forrester passed away. He recorded three songs with the NY legends, all on cassette before the days of the CD - "Medicine Man," "Magic Maker" and a third one. He recently thought of releasing them but didn't, due to the subpar sound quality on those masters. He described the sound of these tracks as 'Whitesnakeish.' There's an upload of the latter track on youtube from the 2005 'The Tyrant' sessions.
It has been printed that Conklin was dismissed from Riot after heavy drinking impaired his performance during its second live gig with him. I am inclined to not know what to think about this assertion. In his years of serious vocal training, Harry refused to put anything detrimental into his body such as coke or meth - since it would create dry mouth and impair his singing. In Harry's words, he did four dates with Riot and tried making it back to record the second Jag Panzer full-length but got held up at the San Antonio airport. The Jag Panzer drummer called him 'flaky' and told him to follow through with Riot instead.
The next ten weeks with Riot were miserable for 'The Tyrant.' Sandy, the wife of the Riot drummer, managed the band and rubbed everyone including Mark Reale the wrong way. She detested Harry's stage presence and claimed he acted too much like David Lee Roth. Come on, that's Harry. He has always been over the top and theatrical. He was with the Colorado Repertory Theatre during the recording of two Jag Panzer releases as a stand-in, and as a pulley and gaffe operator. The Riot period was tense and no one was talking, so Harry flew back to Colorado and formed Titan Force.
The recording of the second Jag Panzer album was one that would not get released until years down the line. Guitarist Christian Lasegue joined Mark as second shredder, along with new vocalist Bob Parduba and Swedish drummer Rikard Stjernquist. The sessions got shelved, only to reappear 17 years later. Jag Panzer dropped off of the radar for a full decade and waited to put out a different follow-up to "Ample Destruction" in 1994 via Rising Sun/Pavement Records. This time, Gothic Slam vocalist Daniel Conca was at the helm, along with second guitarist Chris Hostka. Titled "Dissident Alliance," the album landed them a tour of Germany with Overkill but was never fully embraced by the fans. In retrospect, Mark Briody has said in interviews that he regretted making this album.
Harry needed to return, and he did just that in 1997 for "The Fourth Judgement." Joey Tafolla had also rejoined the fold. It was released on Century Media and featuring one of many production collaborations with Nasty Savage producer Jim Morris of Morrisound Studios. Good powerful tracks like "Judgement Day" were offset with acoustic violin songs such as "Black," ushering in the rebirth of Jag Panzer. A year later, Joey left again for the recording of "The Age of Mastery." Industrial Eden/Gray Haven guitarist Chris Broderick took his place on this classic release, which featured a cover of the Jack Starr (Virgin Steele) tune "False Messiah." Jag Panzer performed at the 1999 Wacken Open Air and embarked on a European tour with Gamma Ray and Hammerfall.
As 2000 dawned, with a few-year period of quasi-stability for Jag Panzer, the band was on a ten hour tour bus ride. Their thoughts running rampant, the idea of a 'concept' album was conceived. Immediately, the Shakespearian play Macbeth came to mind. What better work to do a metal album to? It had all the key elements to it; treachery, power struggles, a medieval setting, ghosts, backstabbing and a guy who gets his eyes poked out. Conklin set about brushing up on his Cliffs Notes to craft the lyrics. He recorded the vocals in some strange places, like outdoors and a closet, and included a classical piece performed by the Moscow String Quartet.
"Thane to the Throne" was the result, a groundbreaking album of short interludes and the chapters of "Banquo's Final Rest" and "Bloody Crime." On one track, the choir is credited as 'Monks of the Order of St. Hubbins.' This was actually a band inside joke. Jag Panzer used some internet Latin verbage to put more mystery to it, the choir actually consisting of Denver singers and Harry's then-ten-year-old daughter. Mark Briody used his home basement studio along with the auspices of Jim Morris for this album.
On 2001's "Mechanized Warfare," Jag Panzer filmed that classic "Take to the Sky" video high up on a summit in the Rockies - on the highest paved road in America. Jim Morris provided the inspiration and insight into the theme, since he had just earned his private pilot/single engine land license. His mind was consumed with the stealth pilots of the lyrics. Powerful tracks like "Frozen in Fear" and "Power Surge" were accompanied by "Unworthy," redolent in Gregorian chants.
After 2003's compilation "Decade of the Nail Spiked Bat," the seventh Jag Panzer album dropped a year later. This release, "Chain of Command," was actually those dusty shelved sessions with Bob Parduba from 1987. Finally, that never-issued 'second' album would get a proper release on Century Media. The band did a cover of "Inna Gadda da Vida" on it, just like fellow metal band Blind Guardian had done. This came as no surprise, considering that Mark is a huge fan of Blind Guardian. This album gave fans the chance to hear Christian Lasegue's first performances with the band - and he would return, too.
2004's "Casting the Stones" was the actual new release of the year. "Precipice" was about going insane and "Achilles" was not about the Troy movie that came out that year. "Cold," a song about Harry and some woman, is a track that Mark Briody despises to this day. Jag Panzer kept the release traditional with its prerequisite war themes of "Mission (1943)" and power melodic in the inclusion of seven string guitar passages. By the following year, the band was flying back from a show in Wisconsin. They looked out over the Great Lakes, giving Mark Briody the idea of recording a cover of the Gordon Lightfoot folk classic "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." That song was released as a B-side in 2005. Come to think of it didn't the Butthole Surfers also do a cover of this song?
During this epoch, guitarist Chris Broderick had been busying himself as touring guitarist with Nevermore. A couple of years later, the Lakewood, CO native got the call that would change his course. He was asked to replace Glen Drover in Megadeth. Jag Panzer, as a collective, told him he would be crazy not to take this opportunity and wished him well. He keeps in contact with his former band members to this day. After that announcement, the band took a couple of years off before resuming recording once again. This time, another familiar face was to return. Christian Lasegue found his way back, the band preferring to collaborate with a musician that knew its inner workings.
The album cover would be another good fantasy theme done by the artistic Mark Briody, who had a pretty unique career doing computer rendering and design. Mark had done all sorts of high level design commissions for countless entities, including doing logos for fighter jets, in his line of work. Harry's line of work during this period would take a backseat to the band. He had been working at a company that sent out religious pamplets to the elderly. He often toyed with the idea of what would happen should he put a Jag Panzer flyer into one of those envelopes by mistake. Some octogenarian would have a heart attack.
The ninth Jag Panzer album, "The Scourge of the Light," descended in 2011 on new label SPV/Steamhammer. The label gave the band a hands-off approach, a bit more of a budget and some promo power - earning them a 117 spot on Billboard. Frank Lynn was brought in for the violin segment on "Overlord" and the band did a video for the track "Burn." The song was shot outdoors in a balmy -10 F degree Colorado winter. Along with the album, Christian Lasegue made a guest appearance with Sylencer - the band featuring Kevin Talley (Six Feet Under/Chimaira), along with ten other guests stars ranging from members of Zimmer's Hole, Cynic and Anthrax.
By the end of 2012, Jag Panzer made an announcement that had become all too familiar with devotees of the band. They would be calling it a day, since Christian would be continuing his studies at the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver. The guitarist/instructor would be working towards his PhD to become a music professor. Chris now has a website with guitar and piano compositions. At first Jag Panzer were about to recruit a 19 year old as its new guitarist, but decided on using this period in a reflective capacity.
Upon this news came the announcement that Harry Conklin reunited his vintage blackened thrash band Satan's Host. His name is Leviathan Thisiren in this band, and they have out a 25th anniversary compilation titled "Celebration for the Love of Satan." Satan's Host also released a new full-length last year, "By the Hands of the Devil." Mark Briody, in the meantime, has posted about the limited edition Jag Panzer anthology "Historical Battles - The Early Years," coming out in April on High Roller records. The band will also play a special early days show at the Keep It True 17 Festival in Germany in April of 2014 with Joey Tafolla. The band, and its members, always seems to find its way home.
Jag Panzer - "The Metal Melts the Ice"
Jag Panzer - "Harder than Steel"
Jag Panzer - "Licensed to Kill"
Jag Panzer - "Three Voices of Fate"
Jag Panzer - "Take to the Sky"
Jag Panzer - "Burn"
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