Tank - War Machine (Metal Mind)

To paraphrase someone very famous - they've been a long time coming but they're here at last...

Veteran British rockers Tank, as you’ll remember from MaF’s piece on them not too long ago, are champing at the bit to show the world just how good English metal of a certain age can be. War Machine, their first album of all new material in almost a decade, has been built up by the band itself as not just a return to form, but almost as a manifesto, a statement of what the band in this form is all about. A declaration of war, if you will.

Such bellicose statements are usually rendered laughable come the final washup. Many a barrel-chested boast falls by the wayside, let down by talent levels not quite commensurate in real life with those in the heads of those making the claims.

Which brings us back to War Machine. Put simply, Tank have delivered a staggeringly good slab of traditional heavy metal, which at its best resembles nothing more than a titanic agglomeration of  all the classic aspects of that genre rolled into one. Opening track Judgement Day steamrollers its way into your consciousness on the back of a stately riff and a marvellous performance by new vocalist Doogie White, whilst its successor Feast of the Devil is pure non-Ozzy Sabbath, stentorian yet accessible in equal parts, White again taking a starring role with a fabulously leather-lunged performance.

Next track Phoenix Rising ups the pace a little, with guitarists Mick Tucker  and Cliff Evans taking time out to indulge in a little NWOBHM twin axe attack hysteria to marvellous effect on the chorus, whilst White amusingly alludes to the ‘power of the hunter’, surely to the delight of all longstanding filth hounds listening. Phoenix Rising is pure metal, not unlike something from one of Bruce Dickinson’s later solo outings, and it sets the listener up nicely for the album’s title track.

War Machine the album was, according to the band themselves, a tip of the riff to all ‘the great classic rock and metal of the last thirty years’. And whilst that’s broadly true, War Machine the track is surely a tribute to all the great Saxon songs from that period. Epically brooding, totally metal, it does however doff its cap a little too respectfully to the Barnsley Big Teasers for comfort. In fact I challenge you to listen to it and not find yourself singing The Eagle Has Landed, trousers round your ankles, before realising what a terrible, terrible mistake you’ve made.

But this is of small consequence, As full-blooded metallians, I’m sure we’re all in agreeance that the odd Saxon riff here and there is surely preferential to our wizened heroes trying to go all modern and sounding like Disturbed, or, perish the thought, Alter Bridge, and in the context of such an out and out metal album it is actually rather fine.

Or it would be, if it was just an isolated moment. However next up is Great Expectations, coming atcha straight out of the file marked ‘Wheels of Steel outtakes’. Doogie White here is a sonic dead-ringer for Biff Byford, whilst the solo screams Paul Quinn – loudly. Once again its an absolutely blinding song – classic British metal straight out of the top drawer- just too close to the source for comfort.

Next track After All sets things back on an even keel, it’s classy balladic nature quickly erasing all Saxonesque thoughts, and in the process steering the band, rather improbably, towards the sort of power ballad territory usually reserved for the personal use of David Coverdale. It’s a welcome break from the sturm und drang happening elsewhere, but also sets us up for the final assault on the finish line.

Normal service is resumed with the heads down mania of The Last Laugh, a simplistic bruiser that gets the job done and then has it away on its toes, all to the tune of some more fleet-fingered fretwork from Tucker and Evans, whilst penultimate track World Without Pity is pure Dioesque pomp and grandeur, based around a great storytelling lyric from White and another classy set of riffs from Mick Tucker.

All of which just parting shot My Insanity, another mid-paced epic featuring perhaps White’s best performance of the album alongside – you guessed it- more startling good rifferama.

So there you have it. To these ears, the band has succeeded in all of their stated War aims, and this is the band’s best album since 1984’s Honour and Blood. The fact that longtime Tank mainman Algy Ward is not missed here at all – either in a singing or perhaps more importantly a songwriting capacity- is surely proof that the band made the right decision in jettisoning the man, but far beyond any personal matters the fact remains that this is a very, very good heavy metal record indeed.

Tank's War Machine is out now on Metal Mind.