Tankard: Chemical invasion
21/06/12 || Habakuk
It’s easy to deem Tankard a hit-and-miss affair when looking at their back catalogue as a whole. Luckily, before we all downloaded “discogs”, there was this concept of listening to individual albums. Now if you try that approach with the album at hand, you might just find out why people still at least kept having an opinion on the band’s proceedings instead of just letting them fade into modern thrash Nirvana. Or why Tankard was once considered a part of Germany’s “Big Four”. Being the identifying album for Tankard both musically and lyrically and a big step forward from the debut in terms of the maturity of their sound, “Chemical Invasion” definitely is a thrash classic.
8. Thanks to the release of a (great, I might add) Gang Green cover version on their sophomore release, Tankard is the only band I know with two recorded songs of the same name – “Alcohol”. Contrary to this nod to punk, the rest of the material might not be named more creatively (“Puke”), but definitely is a lot more metal in structure. Tankard however had their own approach to thrash, steering clear from other contenders’ “classic” chugging e-string break proceedings. The band experiment with concepts from a 57-seconds smasher to a 7-minutes-plus instrumental, with lots of more “conventional” songs in between that alternate from all-out speed topped off with over the top soloing, to more controlled rhythmic parts. A high point of what this band was capable of is the title track containing everything from a boozy intro build-up to the uniquely crafted, creative verse riffing and a bad ass sing-along chorus. Some songs turned out a bit long, but if all trademark elements are present, it all stays enjoyable – I just usually skip the instrumental.
7. Without looking it up, I’d say this is a Harris Johns production, just because every Noise record of the era had that. The album sports a pretty transparent overall sound where bass (!), drums and guitars are weighted equally and form a solid base for Geremiah’s vocals, which have just the right volume. With both guitars having a similar garage-y tone, you can’t really tell them apart from each other (except for when two solos are in immediate contrast) but is that a problem? Hardly. Yes, the guitars are thin, but the bass makes up for it – an early Tankard trademark that their recent works with shinier, modern production just can’t hold a candle to. Downside: The drums are just way too flimsy.
9. Contrary to the still sometimes prevalent impression of Tankard as a bunch of drunk fucks messing around in a Frankfurt rehearsal room, the double guitar barrage on “Chemical Invasion” has most definitely been recorded in a rather sober state. How do I know? The riffs are just way too detailed for Katzmann & Bulgaropoulus just hammering them in during one beer-filled take. It’s almost like they were expecting some kind of reward if only they crammed more notes into their playing. Hence, this is miles away from the standard one note thrash fare many a classic band can be heard spreading: A lot of the riffs here are little fretboard runs eager to keep up with the picking hands’ ferocious pace. Don’t get me wrong, the playing is too straightforward to be called “technical”, but the guys were definitely interpreting “extremity” not just as speed, but rather speed + a lot of different notes. “Cool”, you think, “but is it good?” – Sure thing it is. Over their scientific morning debates about extremity analysis, a lot of second tier bands forgot to make their riffs engaging and memorable, but Tankard in their prime were no second tier band. They sure as hell delivered the goods on this album. So despite the rather thin guitar sound, you’ll definitely get that I have to play air guitar & headbang urge expected of a good thrash album from songs like “Chemical Invasion”, “Don’t Panic”, “Total Addiction” or almost every other one of them.
8.5. Although he has a rather high pitch, young Andreas “Gerre” Geremia avoids the annoyance pit where Sean Kilkenny, John Connelly and the dude from Hirax hold their daily cringe contest. He definitely gets my vote as a great thrash singer, as he sounds frantic, angry and energetic at high speed. Plus, he has worked on his rudimentary english from the debut more than the one year pause before this album might suggest. And as if the band wanted to prove his worth, they put in a boring, somewhat soulless instrumental just before the title track. Gerre definitely embodies Tankard’s personality, and I couldn’t think of any other singer on this album.
8. Frank Thorwarth’s last name minus the “h“s actually tranlates to “goalkeeper”, and like a good goalie he ensures that the other players can do their thing. Thorwarth seems to feel pretty comfortable in that role and thus mainly adds low-end to the guitars by following their patterns way closer than it would be needed. Given the speed of the riffs, that is actually a lot more than what many a thrash bassist used to deliver. Positive effects are that he can be made out clearly, and no basenotes boredom detracts from the riffing at hand. Good job.
6. Not exactly blessed with an especially punchy or articulate sound, Oliver Werner does his best to keep energy levels high, and accordingly acts as the album’s Duracell thrash rabbit. Big on endurance and speed, low on impact. At least it’s not really his fault.
7. Looking at the basic language and humor, it might seem a little weird to see how much better (though still not Pulitzer worthy) the lyrics have become compared to the songs on “Zombie attack”. Given that those could already be found on the earlier demos, it starts to make a little more sense. Topically, Tankard apparently had by 1987 discovered the crowd-pleasing function of their earlier alcohol-related lyrics. Hence, they shifted the non-existent focus from the debut album towards them almost completely. So, “Chemical invasion” features five songs dealing with alcohol and various related effects, one instrumental called “For a thousand beers”, an intro that’s basically a burp, and one song calling the listener to step away from drugs and “drink some beer and mosh” instead (believe it or not, Gerre is a social worker for drug addicts). The remaining two cover a) not selling out and b) AIDS, nuclear energy, war, imperialism & acid rain. Good thing they had the checklist at hand.
8.5 Well, as the cover just mirrors the lyrics for the title track, it is pretty brilliant (though not the prettiest painting I’ve seen). It takes the “classic 80s thrash” title (combine adjective and noun, reference war, violence, ecology and/or technology) and twists it into the most unexpected, but then again typical direction for Tankard. “Chemical invasion” in this case is the nutty professor mixing some chemicals in his secret lab into a beer mug.
3. No matter what’s on the cover, Tankard consistently used their shitty logo from the eighties until today.
7. Another cheap Sanctuary /Universal re-release. Didn’t expect much except for lyrics, but the band picture and old live show posters (“Local Crew Security”, Deathrow and Assassin supporting, Tankard headlining a gig opened up by Blind Guardian at 5pm) actually made me enjoy it a little.
Overall and ending rant
While it is no “Agent Orange” or “Coma of souls”, this album shows a very distinct take on the genre and shouldn’t be missed by German Thrash lovers. The reason why I score it lower than the band’s debut – though postulating its greater maturity – is just that I miss the anarchic flair which surrounded “Zombie attack” a little, but that shouldn’t detract you. If you only want to buy one Tankard album, this is probably it.
- Released: 1987
- Label: Noise Records
- Website: Tankard MySpace
- Andreas “Gerre” Geremia: vocals
- Andy Bulgaropoulus: guitars
- Axel Katzmann: guitars
- Frank Thorwarth: bass
- Oliver Werner: drums
- 01. Intro
- 02. Total addiction
- 03. Tantrum
- 04. Don’t panic
- 05. Puke
- 06. For a thousand beers
- 07. Chemical invasion
- 08. Farewell to a slut
- 09. Traitor
- 10. Alcohol (Gang Green cover)