In some respects, NWOBHM legends TYGERS OF PAN TANG's history parallels its peer SAXON, albeit Biff Byford, Paul Quinn, Nibbs Carter and Nigel Glockler have pulled off a heftier and more prolific comeback. Nevertheless, the TYGERS and SAXON both released a slew of raw yet tremendous albums in their foundation years, only to victimize themselves by seeking more commercial directions that were both misfires and momentary career killers. For SAXON's "Wheels of Steel", "Strong Arm of the Law" and "Denim and Leather", there's TYGERS OF PAN TANG's "Wild Cat", "Spellbound" and the generally underappreciated "Crazy Nights". On the flipside, for SAXON's mid-to-late '80s disasters "Rock the Nations", "Destiny" and "Solid Ball of Rock", there was, in the same L.A. pining timeframe, an equal number of embarrassing, soft-soaped flops for the TYGERS: "The Cage", "The Wreck-Age" and the inexcusable "Burning in the Shade". Granted, the rogue, rebranded entity of TYGERS OF PAN TANG recording those bombs was hardly the same one (other than Brian Dick) knocking out "Wild Cat".
While SAXON has long redeemed itself with some of its strongest albums in recent years (i.e. "Lionheart", "Call to Arms", "Sacrifice" and "Battering Ram"), TYGERS OF PAN TANG guitarist Robb Weir modestly soldiers on as the last holdout from the old days. From 2004 to 2013, Weir had himself a steady lineup that generated a few albums including the "Animal Instinct" couplet and 2012's "Ambush". Bassist Gavin "Gav" Gray and drummer Craig Ellis holding the most seniority after Weir, TYGERS OF PAN TANG today boasts second guitarist Micky Crystal alongside vocalist Jacopo Meille, who's been holding it down here for twelve years now.
Most people today still talk about John Sykes's momentous if momentary stay in TYGERS OF PAN TANG during their most critically acclaimed period, while others continue to lament the day Jess Cox rolled out in '81. If you listen closely to rock fans in a pub, you just might trip over a besotted argument over which bassist had the cooler nickname, "Gav" or Richard "Rocky" Lewis. We're here in the now, however, and the band has a new self-titled album for 2016. While there may not be anything to rival "Suzie Smiled", one of the toughest songs recorded by anybody, there's a decided lease on life to this album that will thrill longtime fans just enough.
TYGERS OF PAN TANG launches this album with a winning trad power metal blaster, "Only The Brave", a song melding a contemporary twist upon the choruses, but otherwise the band sounds like a polished-up take of their early days. Also on the throwback power metal trip is "Blood Red Sky", "Dust", "The Devil You Know" and the groove-banged speedsters "Never Give In" and "Do It Again". The latter two carry remnant adrenaline from the early '80s, only with spiffier, cleaner vocal attacks. "Never Give In" falls into a run-amok place betweenJUDAS PRIEST's "Painkiller" and SNOT's "Joy Ride".
Give Robb Weir credit for owning a sliver of TYGERS OF PAN TANG's shocking pop swerve, given the fact he had nothing to do with the band then. For contemporary relevance, he recognizes a subversive need to hit John Deverill's melodic punchbowl without dipping the proverbial ladle too deep. The ballad "Praying for a Miracle" treads close to the mid-'80s years yet maintains heaviness on the choruses and rains an emotive guitar solo without being sappy or overt. "The Reason Why" may scare fans that the TYGERS are returning to "Burning in the Shade", yet there's subtle melancholy, stiffer guitar lines and a stirring vocal performance from Jacopo Meille ringing of late INXS singer Michael Hutchence. All of it takes this song to a new corner of experimental songwriting and it hardly sucks—unlike 1987's "Sweet Lies".
Otherwise, TYGERS OF PAN TANG issues a couple of straight rockers like the shuck 'n' jive bob of "Glad Rags" and the peppy, talkbox-assisted "I Got the Music In Me", another point where Meille inadvertently replicates Michael Hutchence at certain octaves. As these songs, like "The Reason Why" and "Praying for a Miracle", counter the power metal punches swinging around them, they're gutsy and sharply executed, creating a dynamic unification of the band's history. This new joint could've stayed obvious by attempting to drop as a "Spellbound" 2.0, but its core strength is knowing just when to rock hard, which is plenty of the time. It shows no shame in dropping back to gratuitous harmony, only without the synth-showered schmaltz and falsetto hell that nearly put these TYGERS on the endangered list behind the real thing.