Who’d have thought that a career built around alcohol-themed thrash could last a remarkable thirty-five years? And yet Tankard, the German metal institution, have managed to carve out a career that has done exactly that, releasing seventeen albums and touring the world in the process. Like Anthrax, Tankard recognise that thrash doesn’t always have to be serious (although the band do cover some pretty heavy themes when the mood takes them) and so their albums, housed in some of the coolest artwork in metal, display a frequently irreverent humour and, of course, plenty of references to anything with a percentage. This latest release, following on from 2014’s well-received ‘R.I.B’, is the band’s third album from Nuclear Blast and, like its predecessor, it comes housed in a typically handsome digi-book (all the better to show off Patrick Strogulski’s brilliant artwork) complete with a live show from Rock Hard Festival, 2016. Although the band’s sense of humour remains fully intact, some of the dark social themes that have engulfed Europe in the last three years have seeped into the band’s music and so, alongside the fantastically dumb ‘don’t bullshit us!’, we find the harrowing ‘Syrian nightmare’ which deals with the ongoing crisis in that country with considerable depth. It makes for one of the most consistently ferocious albums Tankard have ever released.
Opening with the frantic ‘Pay to pray’ (which, lyrically, treads similar ground to Genesis’ mega-hit single ‘Jesus he loves me’), it’s clear that Tankard are on the sort of form you’d expect from a band just starting out upon their career. Offering up a more potent social commentary than might be expected. ‘Pay to pray’ opens the album perfectly, shining a light on the ever-increasing commercialisation of religion over a neck-snapping riff that is quite devestating. A full-blooded mosh pit monster, it sees the band hit the ground running (despite the tongue-in-cheek album title), and the energy hardly dissipates as we head into ‘arena of the true lies’, a wary look at the fake news industry that has flourished in the post-Trump, post-Brexit world. Of course, this is Tankard and humour is never far from the surface as ‘Don’t bullshit us’ demonstrates. A heavy metal anthem, it’s a leather ‘n’ denim belter that recalls Judas Priest’s heyday with its campy sense of fun and blistering guitar work. Similarly, the title track offers a heartening vision for all metallers worried about the process of aging: “with death face to face – the god of beer is calling!” A slower-paced track (as befits its comi-tragic subject matter), ‘one foot in the grave’ sees harmonised guitars leading into a brilliantly realised piece of music that sees considerable influence from the NWOBH mingling with the band’s pulverising thrash overload. The social commentary of the early tracks resurfaces on the crushing ‘Syrian nightmare’. Dealing with the hell of a civil war that has thrown an entire region into turmoil and kickstarted a mass flow of refugees the like of which has not been seen since World War II, it makes for one of the fiercest tracks the band have ever laid down with powerful solos duelling for supremacy over a gloriously violent riff.
With a more serious message imparted, Tankard head back into the realms of fantasy with ‘Northern crown (lament of the undead king)’ but it’s a brief respite and the band’s brilliantly satirical ‘lock ‘em up’ takes a hefty swing at a certain US president, employing his twisted rhetoric both to drive the song and lampoon him utterly. It’s a kick ass riff and kick ass subject matter delivered with plenty of groove, and once again there’s a feeling that, far from being one foot in the grave, Tankard are more inspired than ever. It’s not all politicians in the firing line. ‘The evil that men display’ is a spot-on skewering (albeit laced with an affection that is most certainly absent in the previous song) of the corpse paint metal scene, told as a series of vignettes over a blustery riff. Opening with a darkly cinematic piece of music created by Arkadius Antonik, ‘secret order 1516’ is simply devastating. It’s hard to believe a band on their seventeenth album sound so inspired, and yet Tankard draw on thrash tropes (reminiscent of the band’s own ‘fooled by your guts’) and even throw in a touch of Bavarian folk for good measure with a chorus that sounds like a heavy metal version of the songs you hear emanating late at night from Bierkellers. The album closes with satirical ‘sole grinder’ which is sung from the perspective of an unscrupulous tour promoter. So close to the bone it practically is the bone, ‘sole grinder’ captures the shark-like nature of the music business and brings the album to a juddering halt with all the adrenalin spent over the course of just fifty short minutes.
If you love old school thrash, Tankard (one of the Teutonic big four), should already be amidst your collection. This album manages to raise itself above the pack, however, thanks to some darkly incisive lyrics and a sense of purpose that is utterly irresistible. The band aren’t reinventing the wheel here and, like Slayer, there’s a good chance that fans would be distraught if they did, but Tankard are on the form of their lives here and if you want to head bang until you puke, then ‘one foot in the grave’ is the album for you. 9
Special edition notes
The album is available in a special two disc digi book which features expanded packaging and a bonus disc. Nuclear Blast have recently excelled themselves in this field, offering up bonus CDs, DVDs and Blu rays (depending upon the release) of live shows and the like with albums such as Slayer’s ‘Repentless’. Given that the difference in price between the standard and special versions is negligible, it’d be tempting to argue that the expanded packaging alone would justify interest, but given that the bonus in this case is a well-recorded (albeit a touch ragged) live set from the 2016 Rock Hard Festival, this is the essential version for Tankard fans. Featuring hyper-speed run throughs of Tankard standards like ‘zombie attack’ and newer gems like ‘R.I.B (rest in beer)’, it’s a fair representation of the band on stage and a most welcome bonus that will certainly merit repeated listens.