Review Summary: One of Tankard’s best albums, with the band essentially doing what they do best: play thrash and drink beer.
The 90s were unkind to thrash metal, with both big and minor names either staying true to their roots with the consequence of fading into obscurity and irrelevance or starting to follow trends and trying to grasp the mainstream radio success Metallica had reached at that time with their self-titled album. It seemed that if you were still playing thrash in the mid-90s, you were little less than an old glory, a dinosaur. The four German thrash titans weren’t exempt from this, with Kreator and Sodom embracing industrial and punkish sounds respectively, while Destruction simply didn’t have a very well-established direction back then. What happened to Tankard" Well, it’s in this context when the band’s fifth studio album came out, and surprisingly band came out victorious once again.
Stone Cold Sober
is not only the band’s longest album to date (an hour of empowering and fun music), but also another evidence that Tankard could continue kicking butts in the grunge decade. At that time Tankard was still a consistent band, and fortunately Stone Cold Sober
doesn’t represent a major stylistic detour regarding their previous works. In fact, it’s actually an improvement over The Meaning of Life
as it has a more polished production work and better sound quality (kudos to Harris Johns), with the guitars sounding cleaner without losing any power, roughness and grit. The band sounds completely comfortable in its own skin as the kings of beer, a thrash metal band about getting pissed, and this album is another full-blown celebration and glorification of that style. No more, no less.
However, that doesn’t mean they completely refuse to add some new elements to their music occasionally or improve as instrumentalists. A particularly interesting thing is that, for all of the album’s wild postures, some of the best tracks are the ones that try to renew a little the band’s aggressive and elemental style. The closing instrumental epic ''Of Strange Talking People Under Arabian Skies'' is perhaps the best example I can think of. Being one of Tankard’s most prog-influenced songs, in its seven minutes this track shows a band that has learned from the little mistakes they’d made in some of The Meaning of Life
longest compositions (''Mechanical Man'') as it’s more of a frantic multipart thrash effort with fantastic guitar work spiced with some atmospheric, epic sounding sections. It even has a banjo popping out occasionally, something the band never tried before in its previous epics. Another highlight of the album is ''Freibier'', essentially the counterpart of ''Arabian Skies'', another punchy and direct punk-influenced song with the peculiarity of being sung in German, adding more rawness and angriness to the song, especially in its rebellious chorus (Freibier für alle - Sonst gibt's Krawalle
). A great example of true thrash madness.
The band as a whole has improved a bit technically speaking, offering more technically-proficient riffs and complex solos, while the rhythm section is still as strong, powerful and unstoppable as in their previous works. The guitar duo also delivers more interesting ideas and melodic variety in riffs here than in some of its predecessor’s songs, which actually helps to justify the length of many of the songs (average track duration is five minutes) and make the sound in general not so overwhelming. ''Mindwild'' and ''Lost and Found (Tantrum Pt. 2)'' are the best examples of the band’s great instrumental prowess, pulsed with insane drumming and raging riffs, while songs like ''Broken Image'' or the title track have enough energy and melody to remain memorable and exciting.
As usual on every Tankard’s album, seriousness is perfectly contrasted with humor. While this is the album that has powerful songs like ''Behind the Back'' or the opener ''Jurisdiction'' (Gerre essentially ranting against the system and establishment), with more vicious riffs and the band sounding as angry as ever, it’s also the same record that contains some funny moments like the chorus of the title track (No more beer! No more booze! We'll play healthy metal instead
) or ''Ugly Beauty''. Fortunately none of them affect the album’s incredible consistency or sound out of place. There’s also a J. Geils Band cover, ''Centrefold'', in which the band adopts a more old school heavy metal sound and essentially makes the song seem like it belonged to them forever, with a rocking upbeat pace, a catchy chorus made to be sung live and the guitars providing a happier atmosphere. Perfect to be sung at the nearest bar. Overall the band still sounds just as fresh and enjoyable as in their previous works, and songs like ''Blood, Guts & Rock ‘n’ Roll'' or ''Sleeping With the Past'' do nothing more than prove it.
Why Tankard has always been in the shadow of its compatriots Sodom, Kreator and Destruction is a question that I think will remain unanswered for a long time. There's no reason for a Tankard fan not to buy this, but there's pretty much no chance that it will convert somebody who doesn't already really like the band. Stone Cold Sober
shows us once again the band essentially continuing milking its trademark sound. It would be easy to criticize these guys if it weren’t because the music continues to sound excellent and the musicians hadn’t yet begun to show symptoms of decay. Another successful venture in Tankard’s catalog.