Jag Panzer - Thane To The Throne

Year of Release: 2000
Label: Century Media
Catalog Number: 7993-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 64:43:00

When Mark Briody mentioned on the Perpetual Motion board last year that the concept behind Jag Panzer's next album, this album, would be Shakespeare's MacBeth, my ears perked up. Now, I'm no student of Shakespeare, though I did take a college course devoted to Shakespeare's works, but MacBeth has been one of my favourites. And, I think, it's one of the three most people are familiar with, the others being Hamlet and Romeo And Juliet. However, you don't need to know the play to understand Jag Panzer's presentation, but as I always say, knowing a little is helpful, knowing a lot makes for a richer experience.

For those unfamiliar with the play, here is a brief overview (well, brief for me). MacBeth is given three prophecies: "All Hail MacBeth! Hail to thee Thane of Glamis [...] Thane of Cawdor [...] All Hail MacBeth, that shalt be King hereafter!" MacBeth is already Thane (or Lord) of Glamis - it is how he becomes Thane of Cawdor that sets the play's action into motion. He is given the second by King Duncan, who has had the previous Thane of Cawdor dispatched (i.e. killed) for his treachery in siding with Norway. MacBeth takes the third, in cahoots with this wife Lady MacBeth, by killing King Duncan. Banquo, MacBeth's friend, also hears a prophecy: "Lesser than MacBeth, and greater / Not so happy, yet much happier / Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none." It is for this and because Banquo is growing suspect of MacBeth's innocence that MacBeth contracts with murderers to kill both Banquo and his son; only, Banquo's son escapes. Upon seeing Banquo's ghost at his coronation banquet, a ghost there to reveal the conscience of the king (a phrase from another of Shakespeare's plays, Hamlet), returns to the witches and sees an apparition that warns him to "Beware MacDuff" (another of Duncan's soldiers). The other part of this prophecy says, one, that "none of woman born / Shall harm MacBeth" and two, that MacBeth "shall never vanquished be until / Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill / Shall come against him." MacBeth doesn't fret about MacDuff, despite the warning; he does plan to kill him - and has MacDuff's wife and children killed. MacDuff has already fled to England and joins up with Malcolm, Duncan's son. Together they will seek to remove MacBeth from the throne and place Malcolm in his rightful place. MacBeth isn't worried, as he interprets the last part of this last prophecy ("Birnam Wood...") far too literally and scoffs at the idea. However, MacDuff and Malcolm seek to disguise the numbers of their army advancing on Dunsinane by shielding some of the soldiers with tree branches ... branches of trees from Birnam Wood. The twist, though you can probably see it coming, involves MacDuff and that "woman born" part of the prophecy, though it isn't supernatural. Malcolm succeeds MacBeth as Malcolm III MacDuncan.

Some of the story is fanciful fiction, but there was a MacBeth who ruled from 1040 - 1057 and he did kill King Duncan.

Okay, this is a review of a Jag Panzer album, not an essay on MacBeth. So what do I have to say about Thane To The Throne? The play's text is followed closely in terms of the elements, but certain colorings to the characters - MacBeth, Lady MacBeth, MacDuff, Banquo, etc. - have been added that are interpretive yet consistent with the play. MacBeth here is a bit beefier, a bit surer of himself, whereas I get the feeling from the play itself that MacBeth is merely being carried along by events. In the play, it is Lady MacBeth who is much more eager for MacBeth to gain and preserve the throne than MacBeth, though that isn't to suggest that MacBeth is namby-pamby and not without his own ambition. Briody's interpretation isn't, as I said, inconsistent with the play in that regard, but given the genre of music they play, and the way Conklin sings, MacBeth couldn't be anything other. And somehow, I find it more convincing with the gruff voiced Conklin than I would with Andre Matos, say, or Fabio Leone. Great vocalists, of course, but as MacBeth is a dark and gritty play, it takes a dark and gritty vocalist to lend it some gravity. That Conklin can also convince as the voice of Lady MacBeth without going into falsetto a la Matos (I think of Angra's take on "Wuthering Heights" especially), shows a deft use of his range without compromising the bands integrity.

My only previous experience with Jag Panzer is a track called "Iron Eagle" that I downloaded from the Century Media site, so I can't compare this to their previous works. I can tell you that to me Jag Panzer owe a lot to Iron Maiden, though the music doesn't have that rolling gallop that I associate with Maiden. Here the music isn't quite as smooth and flowing, it's a bit more angular and choppy. There is a certain darkness that this brand of metal brings to music, not just in subject matter, but in the choice of tone colours. It's highly dramatic, like opera in some respects, perhaps in a lot of respects, actually, but for the instrumentation. The other band I thought of often was Metallica, around the period of ...And Justice For All mainly, but also of their self-titled mega-release. In some ways, and perhaps in most ways, this is very typical of the genre - vocals ranging from growly and grizzled (though not "cookie monster") to high and soaring - the contrasts between MacBeth and Lady MacBeth in this case. Guitars and drums are up front, only giving way to the vocals ... in fact, one might say that the guitars are more percussive instrument than a lyrical instrument - other than the solos. I don't know enough about Jag Panzer to tell you whether it is Briody or Chris Broderick playing rippling leads.

Although the lyrics aren't credited on the sleeve, it is my recollection that Briody penned them and I feel he has captured the character of MacBeth quite well. Some who aren't metal fans might find this a little over wrought, but then so is opera at times. What Briody does isn't so much trying to capture every moment of the play, but the significant events, told mainly from MacBeth's point of view, but we also hear from Lady MacBeth, Banquo, Malcolm, and MacDuff. It's all mainly Harry Conklin on vocals, voicing all the parts, though bassist John Tetley provides backing vocals. In addition, there are numerous guests including a choir and The Moscow String Quartet. While they seem to be those that are briefly heard in the short acoustic interludes that appear throughout, they are longest heard in "The Prophecies (Fugue In D Minor)" (longest at 1:43, that is). We'll call this intermission, as it comes before we have the "Insanity's Mind" (Lady MacBeth losing it - "Out, damned spot! Out, I say!") and the final scenes between MacBeth and MacDuff ... with MacBeth also losing it - his mind and throne.

The track that stands out most for me at a musical level is "King At Any Price," which could well be the first single, as it has a more traditional chorus/verse structure in comparison to the rest of the material. "Bloody Crime," where Duncan is killed, is a duet between Lady MacBeth and MacBeth (both Conklin, as mentioned) that chugs like a lot of this type of metal does, yet does so slowly, darkly. It was the moment when I thought most of Metallica, especially during the instrumental interlude, which includes a guitar solo that I both liked but also felt was fairly routine. "Three Voices Of Fates" is one of the few tracks here that has a galloping rhythm, which serves to keep the track driving forward. It concludes with a drum solo from Rikard Stjernquist. "Fall Of Dunsinane" is eerily like early Metallica, but also where we find the return of the martial percussion that opened the album, before segueing into Maiden-esque metal, again a bit choppier than Maiden, though. Stjernquist's drumming doesn't go in a predictable pattern, making this much more abstract than Maiden, and keeps everything feeling too comfortable and safe - battle never is. The track ends with the snares and darkly chiming church bells - death knells. This is picked up again in percussion for "Fate's Triumph" - the final encounter between MacBeth and MacDuff. The lyrics are sparse, this scene being told with percussion and searing guitar leads - imagine heavy swords clashing as the two battle it out to the death. Underlying this, aside from the death bells, is Todd Ehle's violin providing a sad, Celtic feel to the track. Acoustic guitars play the final interlude, "The Downward Fall" - to death or to hell. While this section is nice, it seems a little clumsy as strings are plucked and strummed a bit awkwardly.

The album ends with "Tragedy Of MacBeth." Ehle's violin and acoustic guitar open the track with Conklin singing in gentle balladic form, recapping the tale. Interestingly, this section of the track wouldn't be surprising to find on a Tempest album; the second part of it again brings them close to the Rhapsody style of progressive with the sweet choruses, and Conklin's delivery.

Thane Of Cawdor (4:50) / King At Any Price (3:40) / Bloody Crime (5:34) / The Premonitions (0:27) / Treachery's Stain (4:11) / Spectres Of The Past (3:46) / Banquo's Final Rest (0:21) / Three Voices Of Fate (5:13) / Hell To Pay (4:31) / The Prophecies (Fugue In D Minor) (1:43) / Insanity's Mind (5:25) / Requiem For Lady MacBeth (0:23) / Face Of Fear (3:20) / Fall Of Dunsinane (5:17) / Fate's Triumph (4:37) / The Downward Fall (2:49) / Tragedy Of MacBeth (8:19)

Harry Conklin - vocals
Chris Broderick - guitar, keyboards
Mark Briody - guitar, keyboards
John Tetley - bass, backing vocals
Rikard Stjernquist - drums
Todd Ehle - violin
Kimberly Kendall, M. Wayne Jones, and Jim Morris - choir
Mike Rice, Steve Yates, and Jeff Gust - marching snares
The Moscow String Quartet - strings

Tyrants (1983)
Ample Destruction (1984)
Dissident Alliance (1994)
The Fourth Judgement (1997)
The Age Of Mastery (1998)
Thane To The Throne (2000)
Mechanized Warfare (2001)
Decade Of The Nail Spiked Bat (2003)
Casting The Stones (2004)
The Fourth Judgement (expanded reissue) (2007)
Scourge Of Light (2011)
Tyrants (expanded reissue) (2013)
Dissident Alliance (expanded reissue) (2013)
Shadow Thief (2013)
Chain Of Command (expanded reissue) (2013)
Historical Battles (LP boxset) (2013)
The Deviant Chord (2017)

Genre: Progressive-Power Metal

Origin US

Added: February 17th 2001
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.jagpanzer.com
Hits: 1044
Language: english


[ Back to Reviews Index | Post Comment ]