Tiger Army are currently enjoying their biggest success in their nearly 10 years as a band. But the success has come at an extremely steep price. Last year drummer Fred Hell was the victim of a botched robbery and was shot four times, including once in the head. While he recovered from the shooting—and with a bullet still in his brain—the drummer was unable to work in the studio for this new studio album and a replacement was found. But Hell’s name is still in the credits. The band also appeared earlier this year on the Vans Warped Tour and had a sweet opening slot on Social Distortion’s North American tour. “Tiger Army Never Die” is their motto and this album only adds to that reputation.
A rockabilly-cum-psychobilly-cum-punk rock outfit should never start an album with intro music that is best kept for some prog rock album, but “Prelude: Death of a Tiger” is such a tune. The minute-long instrumental has all the obligatory cymbal crashes and percussion you need before the title track comes on. A lot of people will see similarities between the trio and “punkabilly” bands like Stray Cats, but the standup bass playing of Geoff Kresge and the guitar work of Nick 13 evolves into a quasi Spaghetti Western number. “Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise!” they shout as the music resembles Canada’s Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet on a caffeine binge. “Wander Alone” continues down this road with better than expected results. The surf guitar accents are perfect as drummer Mark Fasano does his best to fill Hell’s shoes. Nick 13’s vocals are a cross between Bryan Ferry and the Misfits, just rough enough for punk but still with a touch of some old-time crooner in him.
Tiger Army go all over the musical map on this album, especially on “Santa Carla Twilight”, which consists of an opening riff that could be taken from an Iron Maiden album or any early heavy metal record. The toe-tapping tempo chimes in and they hit the ground running on a song which isn’t quite rockabilly and not quite punk. Envision them covering some ‘50s Del Shannon song and you get the idea of what they’re going for. Kresge plucks the thick bass strings while Neil 13 plays a great melodic riff. “Ghostfire” is edgier and ragged in parts, but there’s a quality to it that makes one take notice, sort of like Chris Isaak’s contribution to Eyes Wide Shut. The first clunker, though, is “Rose of the Devil’s Garden”, which is a bland, going-through-the-motions song one would expect left as a b-side. Compared to the other tracks, it sounds as if it’s performed at half the speed it should be.
As is often the case, this tune is an exception to a well-crafted, fun-loving, good-time rule for Tiger Army. “Atomic” (no, not the Blondie song!) speeds along with the same verve and passion as “Wander Alone”. Here Nick 13 and Kresge lend harmonies as the song bounces along with a head-bobbing beat. The obvious highlight comes during the Stray Cats-like “keep it simple stupid” mentality of “What Happens?” It’s what happens when you write a very good tune and can deliver it even better. “I want to show you what happens when we die!” Nick 13 sings before the band goes “psycho”. “The Long Road” opts for more of a mellow country, hillbilly feeling with Greg Leisz on pedal steel guitar. This is the sleeper pick on the record!
Tiger Army will not lose any fans with this album judging by straightforward, sing-along gems like “Calling” and fist-pumpers such as “Swift Silent Deadly”. Although the last year has been hell for this band, the trio seems to have come up with their best effort thus far.