Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Tygers of Pan Tang's 'Tygers of Pan Tang' - Album Review

No bands defines the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) movement quite like Whitley Bay's Tygers of Pan Tang. Taking inspiration for their name from a series of novels by fantasy writing Michael Moorcock, and with an array of fantastic album covers featuring dangerous-looking tigers, Tygers of Pan Tang are the quintessential NWOBHM band. While many bands from this movement disappeared as quickly as they had arrived, the Tygers actually did quite well for themselves in the early 1980s. I doubt there are many metalheads out there who would dispute the fact that the band's first four albums are metal classics. Three of these four reached the Top 40 of the Official Album Charts, and showed a band that was constantly evolving. Their 1980 debut album Wild Cat is raw, in your face, and full of energy. This is what the NWOBHM movement was all about, and Wild Cat is as good an example of that energy as you will find. Spellbound and Crazy Nights, both released in 1981, are more streamlined and melodic releases. It is these two that best define the band's sound however, and contain some true underrated metal anthems. 1982's The Cage saw the band add more keyboards and AOR sensibilities into the mix which probably helped to widen their appeal somewhat but at the cost of some of their early fans. It is still a classic album however, but it was the last as numerous line-up changes and changes in the musical landscape saw the band come to an end in 1987. The band left behind a strong legacy however, and helped to launch the career of guitarist John Sykes who went on to find greater fame with Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake, and Blue Murder after leaving the Tygers in 1982. After a successful one-off reunion at Wacken Festival in 1999, founding guitarist Robb Weir reforming the band in 2000 and has continued to record and tour ever since. He is the sole original member left in the Tygers of Pan Tang and quite a few members have come and gone since this reunion. Drummer Craig Ellis has been with Weir since the 2000 reunion however, and has become a major songwriting force in the band contributing many of the lyrics to the new songs. Frontman Jacopo Meille has been in the band for over a decade now too, and his powerful voice certainly allows him to do justice to the band's classic material. Bassist Gavin Gray is a more recent addition, having joined in 2011, but has already made his mark in the band with plenty of contributions to 2012's excellent Ambush album, which was the band's 10th studio release. The release of this new self-titled album sees the addition of guitarist Micky Crystal (DeeExpus) to the band's line-up and his songwriting skills have been used to the max on this album. This new self-produced album certainly follows on from where Ambush left off, but adds a little more variety throughout to create a dynamic album that manages to sound fresh despite being built on a solid, reliable formula.

The album gets underway with probably the album's best track, the roaring rocker Only the Brave. This song is typical of the band's sound, and would not have sounded out of place on one of the band's classic early 1980s albums. New boy Crystal makes his impression felt right away with a riff that John Sykes could have written, and Meille shows his impressive vocal chops from the off. I would argue that this is his best performance on a Tygers of Pan Tang album yet, with a good mix of styles to suit different moods. The song's chorus is extremely catchy, and sees the pace of the song slow somewhat to allow the melodies to stand out more. A flashy solo really gets the blood pumping during the latter stages of the song, before a final reprise of the chorus hits home how strong this song really is. Dust is a much more clinical song, which moves along at more of a mid-pace with a collection of similar guitar riffs. The chugging verses, punctuated by riffs that are all variations on a central theme, are powerful and show the heavier side of the band's songwriting. The chorus is one that only grips hold after repeated listens. The harmony vocals help it to stand out however, but the melodies are more subtle than you might expect. Glad Rags is a feel-good party anthem that feels quite unlike anything the band have done before. The bluesy strut of the main riff and the bass-heavy verses bring to mind early Whitesnake. The song is packed full of groove with Gray's bass taking on a prominent role while Weir and Crystal's guitars dance around with blues licks and the occasional crunching power chord. The chorus is insanely catchy, with a real Black Crowes vibe, as Meille sings with a percussive accompaniment before the rest of the band comes back in for added power. This song shows a different side to the band, one that I do not think has really been seen much in the past and it works really well. Never Give In returns to the fast-paced NWOBHM of the opening number. Ellis' double bass drumming drives the song and the main guitar riff is razor sharp. This is not a song that is packed full of catchy melodies, but instead uses it's energy and power to hit you. It is relentless, and only lets up the pace for a short section in the middle. After a rocking start to the album, The Reason Why comes along and offers listeners a bit of a breather. The murky guitar driven verses are slow and methodical, with ringing cleaning guitar melodies and mournful leads that swell around beneath Meille's vocals. Singing in his lower register does not really suit him, but he still manages to turn in a convincing vocal performance, especially when he lets rip more during the harder rocking choruses. The perfectly phrased guitar solo is the perfect fit for the darker song, and helps this tune fit into an album that is dominated by rock.

Do It Again returns to the rock, and the early 1980s sound is back in full force. It is one of the best examples of that sound that the band have done for a while, and the nostalgic lyrics really help to fit in with the overall sound. The riffing is really solid here, showcasing the bond that Weir and Crystal have already built despite their relatively new working relationship. This song sums up Tygers of Pan Tang's sound throughout their career, and would be a perfect introduction for a new listener. I Got the Music in Me is a cover of the old Kiki Dee Band song from the early 1970s, which has been covered by many artists over the years. The song suits the band's gritty hard rock sound well, with Meille's vocals taking on a more ballsy feel than usual that emphasises the bluesy part of him. While there are many more songs that Tygers of Pan Tang could probably cover better than this, it proves to be a welcome addition to the album and does not feel out of place. Starting out with some delicate acoustic playing Praying for a Miracle has the feel of a ballad while still managing to rock out occasionally. The song's verses are slower, with acoustic guitar dominating the sound, while the verses rock out more with a catchy vocal melody to help drive the song. The guitar solo is probably the song's best moment however. The album's booklet does not credit who actually plays it, but Weir or Crystal really outdo themselves here with a slow, moody piece that is perfectly phrased and suits the song's overall mood. Blood Red Sky seems to be a bit of an attempt to be the album's 'epic', and it works to an extent. There is a slight progressive bent to the songwriting, with hard rock sections mixed in with moody atmospheric sections to a good effect. The chorus is very strong too, with a great screeching vocal performance and some really muscular guitar riffing that backs everything up. Lengthier songs have never been the band's forte however, and it is their punchier, shorter songs that make more of an impact. After the short acoustic number Angel in Disguise, which again is something different for the band, comes the closing number Devil You Know. Gray's skills are once again showcased, with a great rumbling bassline that drives everything while the guitars take on a more supporting role. Again, the song is a good example of the band's classic sound with a chorus that really catches the attention with strong melodies. You even get a tiger growl at the end to finish the album off with! Overall, Tygers of Pan Tang is a great modern-sounding NWOBHM album that showcases the band's sound. I am not sure it quite reaches the heights of Ambush, but there are no real weak links here with each song being at least solidly enjoyable. With interest in this kind of music slowly on the rise again, it will be interesting to see if this album is a success for the band.

The album was released on 21st October 2016 via Mighty Music/Target. Below is the band's promotional video for Only the Brave.

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