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Jag Panzer - Shakespeare Metal - June 2000


"MacBeth", William Shakespeare's famous drama, is the foundation for the lyrical concept of the new JAG PANZER-album "Thane To The Throne". Even though concept-albums are quite "in", I just had to ask the band for myself, how the hell they came upon such an unusual topic.
Guitarist Mark Briody was the one to answer my questions, even though the odds had been against us. After a gig in Las Vegas it took the band 14 (!) hours to get home with their bus. Mark then had the grand total of ONE hour of sleep before he had to embark onto a ten-hour-interview-marathon, which was ended with the script you can find here.
Also this interview features the premiere of our Eighties-Metal-specialist Roman, who nearly fell onto his knees, when he heard that JAG PANZER was the band to be interviewed, hehe...

"Thane To The Throne" has a quite ambitious lyrical concept with the Shakespearean drama of "MacBeth". It's a pretty unusual choice for a Metal-band, so how did you come up with that?

Well, Harry had dreamt for a long time to do a really epic story and when he read "MacBeth", he somehow knew that this would be a fitting choice, also because it is something that nobody ever has done before.

Hm, maybe you invented a new genre...

You mean Shakespeare Metal? (laughs really hard)

Yes, we could ask some Danish band to do "Hamlet"...

Mark Briody

Yeah, that would be a really cool idea. (hasn't calmed down yet)

Do you think that you might bring at least a few Heavy Metal-fans to read "MacBeth" or Shakespeare in general?

I think so. Just this weekend I have been listening to GRAVE DIGGER's "Excalibur" and I just wanted to read more and I started reading more and more about the characters, so I think that there most definitely will be at least some people, who will read "MacBeth" after listening to the album.

How did you do the album? Did you have the lyrics, the story first and then tried to capture the atmosphere with the music or the other way round?

We have had the basic skeleton of the concept and then tried to capture the atmosphere, tried to support the lyrics with the compositions. We envisioned what would go on in the play at that time and then wrote the music that we thought would highlight the scene best.

Did you think about using medieval instruments, too?

Well, we thought about that, but there are so many bands out there doing just that, and they do it really good (laughs), so we decided not to use them. You always have to make sure that you don't start to sound too close to other bands, so we refrained from doing that.
We also had thought about doing narration on the album, but that had been done before, too, so we didn't go there either.

To come to the music, when I heard "Three Voices Of Fate" for the first time, I thought that I heard a song off the DEMONS & WIZARDS-album. Normally you are not used to the use of choirs by JAG PANZER... Is it something we might expect more often in the future or was it a one-off-thing?

I really like that, so I think that you'll probably see it in the future, too. The whole scene of "Three Voices Of Fate" really calls for it, because it has the three witches that are doing almost all the lyrics, so we agreed that we just have to have a choir there, simply because it's more than one person.
I think that it came out very good, so you should see more choirs from us.

Band-Photo

Another rather unusual track is "Fate's Triumph", where the violin creates a very interesting atmosphere. Here, too, a one-off-experiment or could you imagine using elements like that again?

Basically we have used the violin on the last two albums as well, but not so prominently. On "Fate's Triumph" the violin is playing a half-beat off the band, but it really works musically. We wanted a little more of a chaotic atmosphere, because the song is about the fall of MacBeth's empire and the violin just adds the element of chaos and destruction.
It was just what the song needed to be complete.

You also use quite a few interludes on "Thane To The Throne". Don't you think that they disrupt the flow of the record a bit?

No, the reason we have those was that when we were doing the record, we imagined it, as Shakespeare had written it as a play, as a theatrical production of "MacBeth", so you need something to lead you from one scene to the next, so we tried to put in something musically to lead you from one scene to the other.
Actually three of those interludes have themes of other songs on the album. They're really hard to pick out, but they're really there. For example the theme of "Fate's Triumph" is in an interlude five songs earlier, so we paid a lot of attention to the interludes.

So could you imagine to perform the whole play as a Metal-show?

Haha, that would be a lot of work. I think that we would have to wait until everybody is very familiar with the album. On the "Bang Your Head"-festival we should do just four or five songs off "Thane To The Throne".

Something that I also have missed on the album were one or two faster tracks. Don't you think that they would have been some welcome variation, as most of the songs are mid-paced?

Harry 'The Tyrant' Conklin

We thought about using some faster tunes, I always have liked to have fast songs. So the first thing we thought of was that there are two battle-scenes in "MacBeth", and there also is the murder, so they would have been the only reasonable chances to fit in something fast, but the first battle scene is over by the time the story starts, the murder has Lady MacBeth sneaking in in the dead of the night, with everybody sleeping, so we couldn't take that as well and in the last battle, the English forces are sneaking uphill, holding tree-branches, so we thought that wasn't a very swift battle either (laughs softly), so JAG PANZER hasn't given up fast music, it just didn't fit into our version of "MacBeth" and we didn't want to throw one in. It would have been easy to do, though.

Have all of the compositions been written solely for "Thane To The Throne" or is there some older material, too?

Everything is completely new. Everything was specifically written for "MacBeth".

I guess that the cover shows the famous scene with the three witches standing around their cauldron. Did you present the artist with this certain image or did he have free hand under the theme of "MacBeth"?

John Tetley

We gave him one of the major scenes, either MacBeth meeting the witches, MacBeth killing Duncan or the final scene with the fall of Dunsinane. So he had the choice among those scenes and he picked the witches-scene, which I like very much, because when people in America see that, a lot of them say that it is pretty cliché to have three witches on the cover, but there they see, where the cliché came from.
Shakespeare invented the Metal-cliché of three witches around the cauldron.

Do you think that many people will recognise Shakespeare in the USA?

Ehm, probably not in the USA. Most of the music scene is all about KORN and that, so I'm not even sure that people will even care much about it anyway.

Will we be able to see a tour for "Thane To The Throne" and if so, will you try to transfer the concept of the album to the stage?

We're doing the festivals now, then I have to get my job broken. The others will work through that and we are looking forward to possibly the end of 2000 for a tour.
And we'll try to get something done on-stage, too. It all depends on the budget. We cannot afford a really extravagant show. We'll have to see, what we can afford with the money we have at our hands.

You had been an absolute cult-band, at least in Europe, I don't know how it had been in the U.S...

Cult-band yes, but on a much smaller scale.

...so what is your status in your home-country today?

We're getting bigger slowly with each album. A lot of people never had heard of us in the beginnings, unless you are really familiar with the scene of the early Eighties.

"Thane To The Throne" is the third album of the new JAG PANZER-time-count. What have been the reactions to your albums since "The Fourth Judgement"?

It's really getting better and better with each one. Sales are getting better, the overall response is getting better.

Did the "Dissident Alliance" damage your reputation?

Oh yes, a lot! It took a lot to get the reputation back again. If we could take it back, we would most definitely never do it again, because it just wasn't JAG PANZER, the fans never accepted it, and nor do I now.

Since "Age Of Mastery" you also have a new guitarist in Chris Broderick. What has changed for you in the band since he replaced Joey Tafolla?

Chris Broderick

He is very different from Joey. Chris does a lot of the business-stuff for the band, doing interviews and things like that, whereas Joey was very busy playing all the time. Chris also has a lot of input in the song-writing, which also is very helpful.

And why did Joey leave after all?

He makes his living playing guitar, so he wants to play all the time, doing studio recordings, playing live and everything. He just doesn't have the time for a job as the rest of JAG PANZER does, getting three weeks for touring in Europe after the release of a new album and then do another three weeks for America and no more touring for the rest of the year.

So you cannot live off JAG PANZER!?

No, not yet. It's getting better, but it's not enough yet.
I work as a systems analyst with computer programs and that, but I want to play music exclusively. But I would rather work a job and play the music JAG PANZER does than try to change my music style to earn money with it.
I want to play what I like, what I write. To me KORN and all of those are just Rap with distorted electric guitars, not very musical at all.

What's your favourite song of JAG PANZER and why?

Probably "The Moors" off "Age Of Mastery", because everything is catchy on it, with the nice harpsichord, the violin-solo and I also think that the vocal-lines are great. It has this slow, driving bass-part, nice harmony-guitar-part, it just adds to a whole.
And what I really like about it is that when I listen to it, I always think that it's only about one-and-a-half minutes long, even though it is much longer. For me that's a sign for a good song.

Rikard Stjernquist

And your favourite JAG PANZER-album?

The new one, because it was the biggest production yet and also the most ambitious one.

Roman: I love vinyl a thousand times better than CDs. It seems that slowly the LP is coming back with more albums released on vinyl again, some even with bonus-tracks, just the other way round from the change from LP to CD, what format do you prefer yourself?

When I'm sitting at home, I have a very good turntable, so I think that vinyl sounds really good, as long as it's a new record. Vinyl a few years old doesn't sound that good anymore. For my car and everywhere else I prefer the CD or cassette.
Overall I'd say CD, except when I get some brand-new vinyl, but you still don't get any vinyl over here in the U.S., just in Europe and I also don't think that there is any real interest here anyway.

Roman: Will "Thane To The Throne" be released on vinyl, too?

Yes, it will, on vinyl and as a DigiPak-CD.

Roman: Are you a collector yourself? And if so, how many LPs/CDs do you have in your collection?

Yes. I used to have a huuuge collection of NWoBHM-records on vinyl, but they got stolen, so now I just have some rare pieces like original IRON MAIDEN-Talbot-singles and things like the original DEF LEPPARD-single on vinyl, way back of an independent label and just a few more collectable things like that.

Roman: The "Ample Destruction"-album is a collectible itself, too, as it is sold for around 30 to 35 dollars on vinyl and the CD-version is not available anymore either. Who holds the rights on this record?

The rights are with all the musicians that played on it and that's just the problem, because there's one guy (Rick Hilyard - Alex), who used to be in the band that doesn't want to release the rights, so 'til both ends work together, we cannot re-release it.
It would be right time to do that, but unfortunately we don't see any real chance yet.

Band-Photo

Roman: The CD had been released on three labels, Metal Blade, Metal Core and Barricade, each with different covers and also with different bonus-tracks. Were all of those official releases or bootlegs?

Metal Core and Metal Blade were the official releases. Barricade was a bootleg and the Canadian Banzai (or Bonsai - Alex) was a bootleg, too.

Roman: So what do you think about the different versions yourself?

The Metal Blade-version absolutely is the best, I think, because it has a full re-mix on it.
There are two arguments concerning the bonus-tracks, actually. When we did the Metal Blade-version, we released it a little after we did the Metal Core and somebody had said, and we had thought, let's put the same bonus-tracks on there, so the fans won't have to buy both CDs to get all the songs, but then a friend of mine in Germany said that there are people that collect JAG PANZER and they WILL buy both CDs, so it wouldn't be fair, if they didn't get anything different, except for the different cover. That's the reason, why we put the different bonus-tracks on those two.
As for the bootleggers, I really don't know, what they are doing and where they took their bonus-tracks from.

Roman: If you could take five albums to the famous lonely island, which ones would you choose?

"Number Of The Beast" by IRON MAIDEN, "Angelwitch" by ANGELWITCH, ""The Whole Story" by Kate Bush, "Shaking The Tree" by Peter Gabriel and "Heaven And Hell" by BLACK SABBATH.

Interesting mixture...
So, to come to the end again, what is your favourite question about JAG PANZER that you have never been asked yet, but would like to answer?

Phew! That's a good one. Actually we were just talking about something like this over the weekend... Maybe when we would do a live-album, but everybody's been asking that today, so I cannot take that one (laughs)...
Oh, I have it! Nobody ever asks us, how we record, because we do every album differently. We do an album in any weird order, just to get a different sound. On "Thane To The Throne" we recorded the violins first, which was totally weird for the violinist, then the guitars, the drums, the bass and in the end the vocals, so it was completely different from the way people usually record.
We also record vocals in really weird places, like in a closet or outside.
It doesn't make a huge difference, but still it is different enough to differ. I don't like bands, where the sound is the same on the whole CD, like if they have a guitar-sound for the first song, then they use it for the rest of the album as well

Well, this is it, the first co-production in the history of "The Metal Observer".
Who has become curious about the story, "MacBeth" for sure is worth the effort of reading it, even though it takes a while before you get into it, but with a sound-track like this one that should be no problem, eh?

Discography:

1983: (Tyrants) (EP)
1984: Ample Destruction (CD)
1994: Dissident Alliance (CD)
1997: The Fourth Judgement (CD; Century Media)
1998: The Age Of Mastery (CD; Century Media)
2000: Thane To The Throne (CD; Century Media)

Alexander Melzer



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