30 May 2017

Review: Tankard – One Foot in the Grave

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You speak of German thrash, and chances are you’ll get talking about the ‘Teutonic trio’ of Kreator, Sodom and Destruction. However, to many, there is, and always has been, a ‘big four’ to rival their American contemporaries across the pond, with the beer loving bunch Tankard completing the line up. With a 30 year plus career 16 albums deep, the four piece are very much set in their ways, and with One Foot in the Grave (record number 17), they’re showing no signs of slowing down or diminishing returns.

Tankard are very much the Anthrax of the Teutonic thrash scene, in that they’re viewed as the fun loving group, which is something that they’re able to translate well into the music they write. Not that they don’t take their profession seriously, but there’s something so damn enjoyable about what they do. There’s nothing terribly inventive about One Foot in the Grave, but Tankard overcome that drawback because everything is so well written that you can’t help but smile as they tear through the ten tracks here. The songs exude so much contagious energy that you’ll pay no mind if a riff sounds a little uninspired or under developed, as chances are you’ll be too busy banging in your head to the neck snapping rhythmic charges to care. There’s always something going on, but the album doesn’t feel overly busy or cluttered; Tankard have simply covered every inch of sonic space superbly. The whole thing is well produced, with a balanced mix accentuating every instrument. There is a slightly sterile, overly processed feel (as is common in a lot of modern metal albums), but the band’s lively performances do well to counteract this.

Whilst their fellow countrymen always took a straight faced lyrical approach, Tankard have generally done things with a pinch of sardonic glee, regularly tackling serious subjects with tongue firmly in cheek. One need only look at the lyrics to the title track or “Pay to Pray” for example to see that the Germans can put a humorous spin on subjects such as ageing or religious manipulation. The title track, also the lead single from the album, is fantastic, with duelling guitars playing off each other, building up a wonderful harmony before launching into a speedy, melodic riff. There’s also a suitably anthemic chorus and a great mix of melody and groove in the break, culminating in one of the best songs here. There’s a fair bit of melody throughout the record, mostly integrated into the riffs, making many of them accessible and catchy. This isn’t melo-thrash in the style of modern Kreator however, and it never feels cheesy or saccharine; it’s just a way to add another dimension to the music, and it is done without feeling contrived. The likes of “Syrian Nightmare”, the chorus to “Northern Crown” and the break in “Lock ‘Em Up” all benefit from this added melodicism; the latter a cracking tune that toes the line between ’80s thrash and modern thrash in fine fashion. “Arena of the True Lies”, which seems to take aim at this ‘fake news’ agenda that is being played out in the public domain, is a punkier number, with shifting chords in the verse and a siren like guitar wail in the chorus, akin to an alarm warning of a subversive, steadily encroaching doom. “Secret Order 1516” goes for a more bludgeoning riffing style and features a massive mid song break, all bookended by a symphonic soundscape complete with choral vocals.

Whilst there are no slackers or weak links in the group, special mention has to be given to lead guitar work from Andy Gutjahr. It is spell-bindingly good, to put it mildly. Every solo in every song is a brilliant piece of fretboard wizardry, played with composure and grace. The phrasing is perfect, the tone and playing incredibly clean, with every note having equal weight and value. It got to the point where I stopped referencing it in my notes as I’d be surprised if there was a solo that wasn’t of a very high quality. Kudos to Mr. Gutjahr, a winner on an album where there are no losers.

The title of the album may be One Foot in the Grave, but Tankard show that there’s still plenty of life left in them, with another solid album that shows how consistent they are in producing the goods. Thrash fans rejoice and raise your stein to another cracker from Tankard. Here’s to a few more down the road.

Rating: 8/10

Highlights: “Arena of the True Lies”, “One Foot in the Grave”

Links: Facebook, Official Website

One Foot in the Grave is available worldwide on June 2nd, via Nuclear Blast Records.

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