Of all the bands on “Steel Druhm’s Soft Spot in the Heart” list, Metal Church is up near the top. Ever the over-performing underdog, their mix of semi-thrash with classic metal caused them to slip between the genre cracks. Too slow to make serious waves in the original thrash boom, they were perpetually overshadowed by Metallica, Anthrax and Slayer and never seemed to gain big traction with mainstream metal fans either. Their debut was a classic dose of melodic speed metal and had some of the band’s best writing moments (title track, “Gods of Wrath,” “My Favorite Nightmare”). Follow-up The Dark had its share of detractors though it was a high energy, enjoyable ride. When Mike Howe replaced David Wayne (R.I.P.) on vocals, the band headed in a more traditional metal direction and released a series of under-appreciated and classy albums liked Hanging in the Balance and Blessing in Disguise. After a long period of inactivity, founder/guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof reformed the band with Ronny Munroe on vocals (ex-Presto Ballet, ex-Rottweiller) and though the three albums with him have been decent, none approached the quality of the Wayne/Howe eras. Album number ten, Generation Nothing is billed as a return to the style of the early David Wayne albums where speed was king and screamy, glass-shattering vocals ruled the roost. While the music does manage to channel the raw, manic energy of their debut and especially The Dark, unlike those classic albums, the songs aren’t particularly memorable or engaging, and many sound like recycled leftovers from a bygone era of the band. There are a few respectable cuts, but this is more The Gloaming than The Dark II.
The main issue here is that while most of the songs are ballsy, fast and energetic, most just fly by without leaving much stuck in the brainpan. Tunes like “Bullet Proof,” “Jump the Gun” and “Suiciety” don’t offer anything interesting to bring me back and while Ronny sounds powerful and full of venom, the riffs are mostly dull and unimpactful. Worse is the bland title track which chugs along on a mid-tempo trip to nowhere and feels like something best left on the recording studio floor.
Not everything is a lost cause however. “Dead City” is fairly entertaining and sounds like a lost track from The Dark and even recycles the same riffs from “Over My Dead Body” (hopefully in an attempt at self-reference rather than a paucity of ideas). It has a memorable enough chorus and Ronny hits a lot of David Wayne-esque high notes and shrieks. “Scream” is extra thrashy and has one of the album’s best choruses, and “Hits Keep Comin” has a blue-collar, work-a-day charm that reminds me of Vanderhoof’s criminally neglected Hall Aflame project. The slightly oddball “The Media Horse” also has merit and sounds like a proggy version of the band’s Human Factor era material. The clear standout is “Noises in the Wall” which is way more edgy and dark than the rest of the album and functions as an interesting fusion of the Wayne/Howe/Munroe eras. It has several stark shifts in mood and Munroe gives a powerhouse performance, borrowing from Wayne, but making it his own.
Speaking of Munroe, he gets put through the paces far more on Generation Nothing than on any of the other Metal Church outings. He spends much of the album in the upper-register; screaming, hitting highs and generally sounding like his balls are in the proverbial Vice of Doom. He shows himself a versatile and dynamic metal vocalist and manages to do justice to the “David Wayne style” that made the early albums so manic. Sadly, his solid performance is largely in vain since Kurdt Vanderhoof’s long-esteemed writing chops seem to have failed him and most of the music feels by-the-numbers and forced, as if he didn’t really want to do this type of music anymore. Outside of “Noises in the Wall” and “The Media Horse,” few of the riffs from Vanderhoof and Rick Van Zandt resonate and most are cookie-cutter and generic. The only other ones that truly grabbed me were the ones lifted from “Over My Dead Body,” and that’s not a very good sign.
Even though this is the heaviest Metal Church album in over 20 years, it’s one of their least interesting. The few songs that try something a bit new fare the best and that should make the band rethink the whole “return to our semi-thrash roots” concept. I’ll keep the soft spot for them and I’ll always support them, but this is their biggest letdown since the Masterpeace album, and yeah, those are fightin’ words.