Black Panther was one of the first hard rock and heavy metal bands born in the People’s Republic of China, and released its first, very underground record back in 1991. Many line-up changes and several more or less lackluster records followed. As was the case for many other Chinese rock and metal bands, they didn’t release anything new for quite a while, and one could have thought that they had already split up. Finally, the legendary band is back with a sixth and very energetic, hungry, and young lead vocalist. The veterans and the young panther present us with ten powerful anthems on an album which is courageously entitled Who We Are. This is a statement. Nine years after their last record, these legends are back and they feel stronger than ever.
The opening song “Shackles” is quite surprising. It features modern sound elements, dramatic orchestrations, an almost gothic atmosphere, unusual vocal effects, and even a narrative sample. It feels as if the band tried out new paths and wanted to appeal to a younger public audience with its modernity and variety. Despite these changes in style, the characteristic hard rock riffs, wild solos, and melodic vocals are all there. While the band’s colleagues from Tang Dynasty went through rather radical changes, Black Panther has kept the best of their past and added a fresh note to it. The opening song is the most experimental, though maybe one could also cite the closer “We”, that features a few electronic elements and some dramatic female background vocals. Otherwise, it’s a fresh but classic hard rock anthem featuring one of the record’s best vocal performances.
The other tracks should please traditional fans of the band. Who We Are offers high quality hard rock hymns such as the strong “Tidal” or the slightly blues driven and Occidentalized “Run”. We also get to hear more grounded and bass guitar driven bangers like “Tiger’s Mouth”. Of course, a few ballads such as the relaxed “A Person”, including a few organ sounds that remind me of American radio rock tracks of the seventies are on here as well. This Western sound can be explained by the fact that the record was produced by Jamii Szmadzinski and post-produced by Grammy award-winner Phil Nicolo.
It’s a relief to see that these legends are back in form, and the album produced by experts. The balance between old and new elements is solid, and the new singer is a gifted performer. With the opening and closing tracks, the record includes two extremely good songs, as well as eight good ones. This is not only a comeback to get some cash and media attention, but probably the band’s strongest release since their groundbreaking debut record. The new album is not incredible, but by far the best hard rock record of this year until now for me. Fans of AC/DC, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Rush should give this a fair try.