PÄNZER
"Fatal Command"

(Nuclear Blast)

01. Satan's Hollow
02. Fatal Command
03. We Cannot Be Silenced
04. I'll Bring You the Night
05. Scorn and Hate
06. Afflicted
07. Skullbreaker
08. Bleeding Allies
09. The Decline (…And the Downfall)
10. Mistaken
11. Promised Land

RATING: 8.5/10

Schmier's a busy fella these days. Following DESTRUCTION's outstanding Under Attack" from last year, the legendary thrash band is about to uncork another batch of re-recordings from its vault with "Thrash Anthems II". Meanwhile, Schmier's other band, PÄNZER, may be suffering the departure of ACCEPT and VICTORY icon, Herman Frank, but that's not stopping him and fellow ACCEPT refugee, Stefan Schwarzmann. Following the group's raucous 2014 debut, "Send Them All to Hell", PÄNZER (also featuring HAMMERFALL's Pontus Norgren and GURD's V.O. Pulver) resumes its mission to restore the glory of classic, Germanized heavy metal with "Fatal Command".

"Contemporary heavy metal sounds like kindergarten," Schmier states in a recent press release. "Just look at the bands getting really big right now: pop melodies and nonsense." You can take this statement as tongue-in-cheek if you like, perhaps as flippant as the gonzo if confrontational artwork for "Fatal Command". Though that's not accurate across the board, there's still enough truth to what Schmier says.

Old school rules not only modern metal: the genre again carries the unfortunate burden of once more balking at repeated global crises it survived 30 years ago. Again during the height of a big swing in metal music, we're under threat of nuclear war beneath the stream of a superpower pissing match. Instead of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev, the caricaturized political figures under fire in "Fatal Command"'s raspberry-blowing cover art is a bong-hitting Donald Trump and a bomb-horny Kim Jong Un. The collected heads of terrorists past like Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein are provocative enough, but look closely at the gunner getting head with other party girls peeking out the hatch. Some potential hell is sure to rain down from the right. Punk, hardcore and thrash bands were always the leaders of socio-political ramrodding, particularly against conservative leadership. Consider the opening soundbite, "Is that really the best way to protect our country?" leading off the double-timed crush of "We Cannot Be Silenced".

As a running theme throughout the entire album, the banged-out "Satan's Hollow" is more ACCEPT than DESTRUCTION or SODOM, which isn't so much a warning as an invitation to cozy up to an archetypal vibe dropped by pros. The personnel may be different, but this is a song ACCEPT would be proud to own, be it the Udo or Tornillo factions. Stefan Schwarzmann, still one of the best power metal drummers in history (he's a freak of nature on "Afflicted"), drives this thing full throttle behind Schmeir's screeching natters. Schmier must be relishing his opportunity to play Udo Dirkschneider to his own design. He and Schwarzmann plow a ferocious rhythm for the group's twin guitarists to wreak all over the title track. The glue between all four is marked, even as some listeners may miss the presence of Herman Frank. Still, the sheer force of this quartet's hasty attack more than compensates.

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"Bring You the Night" slows the tempo down but not the intensity (ditto on the crawly and snarly "Skullbreaker"), while "Scorn and Hate" and "Bleeding Allies" sound the reveille once more, the former turning some of the most melodic passages on the album, the latter relentlessly trouncing anything resembling the word "poser" in its flattening smoosh.

"Fatal Command" is frequently awesome and always with its metal heart intent on proving why German power metal has historically reigned as one of the mightiest and loudest forms of the genre. This old school Teutonic metal party goes down even more palatably than a pint of Veltins or Hefeweizen.

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