Review Summary: The pinnacle of United States power metal. Absolutely essential for any metal fan.
Ground Zero for power metal begins here. Jag Panzer formed in Colorado, of all places, in 1981 under the moniker 'Tyrant', and immediately took to playing the Denver club circuit, eventually garnering interest from Californian record labels. Upon the band's realisation that Tyrant already existed in California, the band was renamed after the German Jagdpanzer tank destroyer, and Ample Destruction
was released in August 1984 to considerable success and critical acclaim in the underground metal community.
It's easy to see why. Ample Destruction
is a simply astonishing debut which defined an entire genre, power metal, much in the same way Metallica's Kill 'Em All
and Exodus' Bonded by Blood
defined thrash, and importantly, was created by a talented bunch of musicians who already had considerable experience under their collective belt. Golden-throated frontman Harry Conklin (who adopted the old 'Tyrant' moniker as his nickname) turns in a stunning vocal performance, effortlessly blending the operatic finesse and high-register range of vocalists such as Bruce Dickinson and Geoff Tate with fearsome levels of power neither have ever been capable of, as well as an extremely commanding low register - this is a singer who can scream for the heavens and growl from the pits of hell. The rest of the band is no slouch, either: guitarist Mark Briody's tight playing would not be at all out of place in a thrash band, but here he is joined by virtuoso Joey Tafolla (of Shrapnel Records fame), making for a formidable six-string tandem. This is buoyed by the thunderously supportive rhythm section of John Tetley on bass and Rick Hilyard behind the kit.
This is an album that does not wait around. Jag Panzer checks in all sense of restraint at the door and tears into the violent "Licensed to Kill", which immediately lays out the album's modus operandi, every bit as lethal as the killers it speaks of. Banshee wails, guitar pyrotechnics, muscular riffing, powerful rhythm and surprising amounts of melody all feature prominently, but at the same time, this song is effortlessly eclipsed by the following "Warfare", the first of the album's many flawless tracks, and boasting some of its most memorable riffs from Briody, as well as a jaw-dropping display of soloing from Tafolla. "Symphony of Terror" doesn't manage to top it, but "Harder than Steel" comes close thanks to its memorable lyrics, matched to an absolutely superb vocal performance from Conklin. "Generally Hostile" pushes the album firmly into speed metal territory, shows off Hilyard's double bass skills, and again features excellent vocal and guitar performances, before leading into the haunting and lyrically obscure "The Watching" - again, upholding the sky-high standard of vocal and guitar work.
Side two opens with a brief, mesmerising guitar/keyboard instrumental called - wait for it - "Unnamed Interlude", penned by Briody (who also happens to be a skilled keyboard player), before ripping straight into another winner in "Reign of the Tyrants". Following hot on its heels is "Cardiac Arrest", which offers up power and bravado in doses that would make any red-blooded metal fan proud, before shocking the listener with a series of blood-curdling, throat-shredding screams from Conklin, each of them over seven seconds long and making the fabled "Number of the Beast" Dickinson intro seem tame by comparison. Original issues of the album close with the dark, haunting, extended epic "The Crucifix", which certainly takes its sweet time warming up - and although it does deliver in its climax, it would've benefited greatly from being either longer or shorter.
The early-1990s Azra International re-release, however, restores two tracks originally intended to be included on the album (along with the aforementioned "Unnamed Interlude" instrumental), and both are not only excellent, but fit in perfectly. "Black Sunday" is a fun little stomper with yet another stellar Conklin performance, and the truly grand "Eyes of the Night" is the perfect closer, meeting the album's usual standard of excellence and capping it off with a strong synth/vocal/guitar performance.
The mix is about as good as it gets for such an album; while most underground metal debuts are saddled with poor production jobs, Ample Destruction
rings relatively clear with its pleasant sonic palette of meaty guitars, organic drums, up-front vocals and semi-audible bass guitar. Even the original cover art has a certain majesty to it, although subsequent bootlegs and re-issues butchered it with a number of seemingly home-made creations.
Thanks to Azra's poor marketing of the record, Ample Destruction
would forever remain a cult classic of heavy metal, coveted by the enlightened denizens of the underground community. Jag Panzer, meanwhile, was rocked by the departures of Tafolla (who left to begin his solo career with shredder label Shrapnel Records), Conklin (who briefly joined Riot and later formed his own band, Titan Force), and Hilyard. The decapitation of the band ensured that no decent follow-up would be released for over a decade, sealing the album's status as a classic, and lending credence to the cries of fans: there will never be another Ample Destruction