For those out of the loop, we’re now into the first chapter of Metal Church’s second reformation.
Though the first one largely passed by with little fan-fare, there appears to be a bit more of a buzz around the band these days.
This may be in no small part attributed to their appearance on the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise in 2012 performing their debut album in it’s entirety – the Youtube videos were fairly impressive and the band have kept up a solid social media presence ever since, promising a return to the Classic Metal sound that made the band famous.
It’s been accurately dubbed a “reformation” not just for the religious connotations, but in so far as it’s not a re-union of a “classic” Metal Church line-up, and while some keyboard warriors have derided the band as a cover act, since Kurt Vanderhoof is the sole original member – considering the band’s history, and Vanderhoof’s continuing participation even when not a full time touring member of Metal Church (1986-93) it’s pretty unfair… it was, and always will be Vanderhoof’s band.
While its obvious on first listen that the band are all about capturing that early Power/Thrash vibe evident on their first 2 albums, this is still a relatively modern sounding album and it’s the most well rounded production the band have had since 1991’s underrated “The Human Factor”.
Opener “Bulletproof” is immediate and fast, a catchy “punk rock” opening riff bringing to mind “Psycho” from “The Dark” – solid, but not amazing and let down by a slightly pedestrian chorus.
It’s not until track 2, “Dead City”, that I’m in no doubt that this is the classic Metal Church sound we were promised, while “Jump The Gun” opens with the kind of intro you wish Metallica could write these days, the opening riff is then re-used in really cool bridge to the last chorus around the 3:35 mark, it’s the kind of material that will please the fans – mid paced, traditional 80s Metal.
The title track isn’t bad, it’s heavy enough and you could see it being a live favourite – with it’s chorus of “I’m just a damaged case who just found overdrive, another chance to be alive” finding resonance with old school Metal heads reliving their youth at a Metal Festival, but it doesn’t really go anywhere and the riffs are a bit “stock”.
With David Wayne sadly passed away and Mike Howe in retirement since the mid 1990s, the band is now fronted by ex-Presto Ballet man Ronny Munroe.
He does a remarkably good job of capturing the essence of Wayne on this album more so than on any of his previous releases with Metal Church, and it’s definitely a marked improvement on past performances.
During the epic “Noises In The Wall” he lets a bit more of himself shine though, while also managing to sound like the bastard offspring of Rob Halford and one of Dr Who’s Daleks.
Lyrically it’s lacking the dark subject matter of the first 2 releases and appears to take it’s cues from the more socially aware and personal aspects of the Howe period, but it’s the sheer quality of vocal performance that shines through – something that’s been lacking in Monroe’s previous efforts with the band.
Easily the heaviest and most modern tune on offer is “Scream”, it’s got pounding riffs, pacey drums and a melodic chorus – this really should have been the opening track on the album, while “Close to the Bone”comes off sounding like “King Of The Kill” era Annihilator meets modern Megadeth – good solid Heavy Metal.
It’s funny how many of the 1980s Metal “all so rans” such as Annihilator, Overkill, Death Angel, and now Metal Church are currently enjoying a renaissance – releasing material that is arguably as quality as their golden eras, while the so called “big four” and progenitors of the genre continue to flounder in mediocrity – Metallica would do well to hire Vanderhoof as a ghost writer!
Towards the end of the album we get the obligatory softer track in the mould of “Gods Of Wrath” or “Watch The Children Pray”, again it’s pretty much by the numbers and in keeping with the dynamic found on those earlier releases.
The band have obviously taken on board the feedback given by critics & fans alike on their last 4 albums and really tried to deliver an album that satisfies long-term converts but also manages to sound relevant and modern, with a slight emphasis toward the Wayne era.
All the compositions are credited to Kurdt Vanderhoof and sometimes “the one man band” approach works, and here there’s little to criticize but I can’t help wonder how the “Generation Nothing” might have turned out with creative input from someone like John Marshall or Craig Wells, it certainly would have helped create more buzz around the release and maybe drove Kurdt to up his game.
The visual aesthetic in Heavy Metal has always been important – from a bands clothes & image to their album cover – it could make or break you, and in the pre-internet days an album cover could dictate taking a chance on something you hadn’t heard or been recommended… If Ed Repka or Michael Whelan drew it, you knew you probably needed it in your collection! So what the hell has been up with Metal Church’s art direction for all these years?
Their debut album cover was really cool in a “Killing Is My Business…” low budget, early 80s Metal kind of way, but ever since then their album covers have been total shite with the exception of “This Present Wasteland” & “A Light in the Dark”. “Generation Nothing” is contender for worst album artwork of the decade, completely thoughtless and crap by even demo band standards!
Many people would argue in the age of digital downloads, artwork is less important than ever, though I would disagree – touring and merchandise is where the money is to be made, and if you have a shit album cover your merchandise probably won’t be up to much either, thus losing out on possible revenue – it makes sense to have good album cover.
This is by no means one of Metal Church’s best albums, but it’s definitely a grower, and their best in 2 decades. Lets face it though, the first four would be impossible to top (much like the first four of many a great Metal band!) it’s certainly better than their last album with David Wayne, it’s easily the best of the Monroe years and its probably as good, if not slightly better than “Hanging In The Balance”.
Metal Church fans will not be disappointed – while it isn’t “The Dark II”, it’s as close as you’re likely to get without a minor miracle, and if it gets them touring again then all the better!
3.7 / 5 – David Cleland ::: 30/10/13