Review : Tankard – 'The Very Best Of The Noise Years 1986 -1995’

Ahhhh… music and beer. Beer and music. Both essential, natch. So what could be better than kicking back with the alcoholic beverage(s) of your choice, and cranking up a career’s worth of can-crunching, head-smashing, hangover-inducing, metal mayhem, courtesy of Frankfurt’s finest, Tankard? Songs? Check. Beer? Check. Songs about beer? Fuck yeah! Released as part of a celebration of the Noise Records catalogue, to tie in with the re-emergence of the label this year, this 2 CD set collects the very best of Tankard’s catalogue during a decade of consistently excellent albums, from the seminal ‘Zombie Attack’ through to ’95’s underrated ‘The Tankard’.

Formed way back in ’82 by Andreas Geremia (vocals), Axel Katzmann (guitar), and Frank Thorwarth (bass), whilst still at school, the trio, joined by Andy Bulgaropulos (guitar), and Oliver Werner (drums) learned their craft whilst shlepping round the clubs of the Ruhr. A showcase featuring fellow teutonic-titans Sodom and Destruction ended with the two latter bands offered deals on SPV Steamhammer; so the story goes,Tankard were passed on because they didn’t take things too seriously, Bulgaropulos playing the gig wearing a blue Christmas jumper, juxtaposed with the bullet belt and chain fixations of their countrymen… While SPV moved on, Noise head honcho, Karl-Ulrich Walterbach, proved he had both a good ear for catchy thrash, and a sense of humour, and offered the band a deal.

This collection comprises cuts from each of the seven releases cut for Noise, plus three from 1989’s ‘Alien’ e.p., and highlights the consistent quality that Tankard maintained throughout. Their aim was not to follow a money-grabbing path of commerciality or po-faced artistic integrity, but to play fast, booze-fuelled metal, as well as they could, and entertain as many as they could, and drink as much as they could. Did I mention drinking?

Their debut record is a furious 36 minute, ten track assault on the ears. A heady cocktail of early thrash and US hardcore, represented here by five tunes, including the timeless title track and live favourite ‘(Empty) Tankard’. The appeal of the band is obvious; buzzsaw guitars and a pounding rhythm section, and Gerre screaming over the top, the material played with a youthful enthusiasm and no little skill, despite their none-too-serious reputation. Indeed, the band’s strength, and ultimate longevity, lay in the fact that they weren’t just all about the beer; they had the tunes and musical muscle to match any of their peers.

The band stepped up their game with second album, ‘Chemical Invasion’; a thrashier, more diverse, and better produced collection than the debut, hence the six cuts from a total of ten on show here. The guitars, in particular, sound superb with some blistering solo work; whilst lyrically, the band still focused on beer and humour (‘Chemical Invasion’ is a stein-raising attack on the EU’s move to redefine German beer purity laws…), the excellent ‘Don’t Panic’ was a sardonic political polemic. The cover of Gang Green’s career defining ‘Alcohol’ was an inspired move, finishing the record on a definite drunken high.

1988’s ‘The Morning After’ is arguably the band’s strongest album, an extremely cohesive blend of thrash and crossover, with several standout moments; the title track and the blistering ‘Commandments’ are comparable with anything around at the time in terms of songwriting and arrangement, whilst ’T.V. Hero’, ‘F.U.N.’ and the glorious ‘Shit Faced’ are drunken speed romps, par excellence.

The band, alongside compatriots Kreator, and the aforementioned Sodom and Destruction, were breaking territories worldwide at this point, as thrash exploded across the globe. On tour for much of the late 80’s, the band released the stop-gap e.p. ‘Alien’, before hitting the studio again in 1990, minus original drummer Werner, who was replaced by Arnulf Tunn.

‘The Meaning of Life’ introduces a little progression without deviating too far from their signature sound. Whilst there remain a couple of bona fide classics, namely the title track and ‘Wheel Of Life’, the album struggles to maintain the high standards of the previous two long players. However, that is not to say this a bad record, and indeed like all Tankard albums, is a great soundtrack to a party. One in which copious amounts of ale are quaffed, and much questionable fun is had.

Follow up ‘Stone Cold Sober’ (as if) continues this progression, a more mature record in terms of lyrical approach, understandable given the P.C. nature of the time; only three tunes concern themselves with alcohol, the rest given over to personal and political politics. Musically, the band still thrashed with the best of them; for proof look no further than the gloriously demented cover of J. Geil’s Band ‘Centrefold’. 1994’s ‘Two Faced’ continues this approach, mixing considered, mid-tempo chuggery, such as the excellent title track, with uptempo savagery, such as the face-melting ‘Nation Over Nation’.

The line up of the band changed for their final release for Noise, 1995’s ‘The Tankard’. Guitarist Katzmann departed (later to be replaced with Andreas Gutjahr) while drummer Tunn left to be replaced by the inspirational Olaff Zissel. A superb production job by Harris Johns, coupled with a real sense of playfulness and experimentation whilst laying down, as usual, some ferocious thrash, meant that this was the most fun Tankard album since their early days.

‘Oldies And Goldies’ is a reminder not only of how good Tankard were (and still are), but also of how exciting those early days of thrash and speed metal were, and how different each band was, offering their own unique take on the music that was in their blood. It is also testament to the belief shown by Noise Records in those artists, and the risks they took to get the music out to the fans.

Tankard moved on from Noise, and are still continuing to record excellent alcoholic anthems to this very day. Now where did I put that beer….

Review: Rivethead

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