Metal Church_XIWay back in 1984 I was pretty much blown away by the Metal Church debut. David Wayne’s (R.I.P.) air raid demon vocals were one-of-a-kind and the slick, hooky writing and quasi-thrash energy really won me over. While their follow up The Dark was widely panned, I loved it almost as much as the debut. When Wayne packed off for greener pastures, I was loathe to accept the band without him, until they wrangled Mike Howe from Heretic and made stellar use of his leather lunged roar on the amazing Blessing in Disguise. I went on to love all the Howe era albums and struggled mightily to get into subsequent platters with Ronny Munroe standing in his stead. Now 23 years after he left, Howe is back for their 11th album, the cleverly titled XI.

The band he rejoins has certainly rough sailing since his departure, with 2013s Generation Nothing being a failed attempt to revisit their early 80s speed-driven style. It ended up their worst album (though I’m willing to entertain arguments Masterpeace deserves that honor) and things seemed to be over for the long running act. Could the return of Mr. Howe breathe new life into this old dog and help restore their former glory? Well, it certainly can’t hurt none!

Without knowing what to expect from XI, I was happy to hear the classic blue collar, hard rocking sound from albums like The Human Factor and Hanging in the Balance back again on opener “Reset.” Howe’s remarkably unchanged bellowing snarl is out in front of hooky, meaty riffs that walk a fine line between traditional metal and hard rock and it feels like old times all over again. This sets the tone for most of what’s to come as the band seems content to be themselves – sometimes going balls out and other times content to park and idle in hard rock loading zones.

Mike HoweKilling Your Time” uses a mid-tempo chunky riff as the foundation for Howe’s pissed off, acerbic rants which have just as much bite as they did back in 93. The album “single” “No Tomorrow” is the most like classic Metal Church, sounding as if it was left over from Blessing in Disguise. “Signal Path” is a very addictive rocker with an interesting mood and hooky vocal patterns. “Sky Falls In” is also very catchy with a winning chorus and a cool, laid back charm. “Shadow” has the same slithering groove and swagger as “Hypnotized” off of Hanging in the Balance and “Soul Eating Machine” is the perfect fusion of angry, rowdy metal and hard rock accessibility – all attitude, piss and vinegar. Lastly, closer “Suffer Fools” is a wicked stomper with a punky Overkill/Anthrax feel.

The only song that doesn’t click is “It Waits” which strives for an ominous and dark atmosphere but comes across as languid and dull. There are some minor issues with song length and editing as well. Several cuts run over 7 minutes and trimming would definitely increase their impact (“Killing Your Time,” “Sky Falls In”). That XI runs just shy of an hour isn’t optimal either, despite the quality material.

Metal Church_2016

The big surprises here are twofold: one is how great Mike Howe sounds after nearly 25 years out of the limelight. He’s lost none of the power in his mid-range and he can still dial up the venom quite impressively. He’s more than up to the task of supplying the necessary balls and attitude and he does an amazing job here. The other shocker is how good the song writing is this time out. I thought the writing quality took a big nosedive following Hanging in the Balance and most of the Munroe era albums felt flat and uninspired, especially Generation Nothing. This is the first time in a long time Metal Church founder Kurt Vanderhoof penned a consistently high quality album with songs that really dig in and lay earworm larvae. His and Rick Van Zandt’s  riffing is simple but very engaging throughout, keeping the listener tuned in and fired up. I’ve always found Vanderhoof’s playing to be distinctive and classy and he demonstrates both throughout XI. Add in some slick drumming by Jeff Plate (Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra) and you have some genuinely badass playing from these grizzled bastards.

This was one of my most anticipated releases of 2016 and I’m thrilled it came out as solid as it did. XI is the best and most consistent Metal Church album since Hanging in the Balance and a welcome return to ass kicking form. Hell, they even managed to continue their unbroken run of truly awful album covers! If you love the older material, this should be a win, but any fan of traditional metal will appreciate what’s going on here. Welcome back from beyond the black!


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 274 kbps mp3
Label: Rat Pak Records
Websites: metalchurchofficial.comfacebook.com/officialmetalchurch
Releases Worldwide: March 25th, 2016

 

 

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  • AlphaBetaFoxface

    I think Steel is the only person from the staff qualified to write a metal review on a band that have the word ‘Metal’ in their name.

    Oh, and obligatory “In b4 Blueberry Balls” because I am hip and trendy like all the kool kidz.

    • Iain Gleasure

      You say that but why was Druhm allowed to review something without a barbarian with a sword on the cover?

      • Old School Exception 5A(c-666) of the AMG Bylaws.

        • AlphaBetaFoxface

          I believe certain topics sit on an equal Steel playing field, and thus allow him to exclude others for the sake of cohesion. Topics include (but are not limited to):

          -Anything with ‘metal’ in the title
          -Covers with barbarians and swords
          -Excessive Jornography
          -Drunken rage
          -Anything pirate related
          -Cheddar, Mozzarella, and other forms of power metal
          -Best 17th century cafe spots
          -How the lack of beards in current day prog is ruining metal

          • You forgot obscure Latvian neo-thrash acts from before 1983.

          • Westpaceagle

            I will volunteer for one-man ambient Ghostcore. (First wave, of course). Its a tough job but someone has to do it…

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            You’ve got to be kidding… there was no Latvia before 1983!

          • That’s why it was so damn obscure!

          • Bart the Repairman

            I spit my coffee at 6th point. You’ll be quoted.

          • André Snyde Lopes

            “Best 17th century cafe spots.” Phahahaha, genius.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            Spock’s Beard is the only beard currently left alive in prog.

      • Monsterth Goatom

        Something like this?

  • So. DR:5? Let me ask you this, did they — TURN IT UP TO XI?

  • Dr. A.N. Grier

    Yes!!!

  • André Snyde Lopes

    Had no clue The Dark was panned back in the day… That album is excellent, maybe better than the debut.

    • Yeah, it wasn’t all that well received by the metal press or fans. Some felt it was too watered down or an attempt to sell out.

      • André Snyde Lopes

        I can actually see how they would think it would be “watered down”. It is slightly more “controlled”, I guess. But it’s still a blast to listen to.

        • I agree. Over time I’ve come to prefer it to the debut. Bring down the HAMMA!

  • Maximos662

    I like the embedded track, and I’ll be interested to hear more of this. More than anything, this has motivated me to go back and listen to Blessing in Disguise. Weak production aside, that album just kills.

    • It’s a staggering work of heartbreaking genius.

      • Bart the Repairman

        Just like Green Carnation’s album with the same title. Coincidence? I have to find out by listening to Annie Haslam’s “Blessing in Disguise” – maybe I will discover some Rule of the Title which Automatically Makes an Album Great.

  • Diego Molero

    I know pretty much nothing about music when it comes down to theory and writing and all that stuff, so when you always talk about “good” and “bad” song writing, what does that mean? What separates one from the other?

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      It’s basically like the difference between pornography and art… I know it when I see it

      • Diego Molero

        But I know some crazy people would dare to call that art, so is just a matter of opinion then?

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          You hit the nail in the head with the “some crazy people” part.
          Basically a good song should be memorable and at least have a couple of moments that makes you go “WOW!” and the only reason stopping you from rewinding those parts is because you know that something better comes after.
          That’s just my opinion. I hope someone can add a better, more technical explanation.

    • Bart the Repairman

      IMO good song, just like movie or novel, should have a memorable theme which is exposed, and developed (by creating tension and releasing it at the end). The whole thing should be more than sum of it’s parts – you feel it when verses, choruses, bridges etc. are „natural results” of each other, rather than being just random collection of motives.
      Besides, if interesting, innovative things happen in departments of melody and harmony, if arrangements, colors and textures are clever and fitting, then we can talk about good songwriting.

      But hey, it’s just me. I don’t write professional reviews:)

      • Diego Molero

        And what about a song that is well writing but is still bad? Bad executed or something like that. Is there such thing?

    • Music is a very subjectively thing so it really just comes down to whether or not the songs hit you right. To me this is the best written album the band put out since 1993. I suppose others might love some of the Munroe era platters but they never did much for me.

  • METAL OTTER

    Metal Church worldwide release on a Good Friday eh?

  • savafreak

    Don’t you think it is over produced and too polished that it lacks some grittiness and necessary power? I mean MC is one of my top 5 bands of all time, heck i spent about 100 Canadian dollars for the ultimate fan bundle of this album. I dunno man songs seems half baked, some brilliant ideas but something is missing on interpreting those ideas into reality. it just lacks the intensity of the first 5 albums, which I consider Masterpieces in Metal !

    • While I don’t think it’s on par with those first 5 albums it’s not far behind them either, especially The Human Factor. I think the stripped down, simple delivery works well and I find all but one song hooky and worthy of repeat play.

      I also went into this with exceedingly low expectations. Maybe the ultimate fan bundle thing made you expect a new Blessing in Disguise?

      • savafreak

        That exactly what I thought ! with the return of Howie and watching their video of No Tomorrow raised my expectations sky high, alas it was the highlight of the album. There was a time when MC could make an album heavy, powerful, intense, catchy with ripping solos from start till finish with no compromise; here is not the case ! and Remember man Vanderhoof did not play guitar in BID, THF, and HITB, Craig Wells and John Marshall did, so I guess they what made those albums Masterpieces and their talents are sorely missed here. Still a good album but below my expectations and “hopes”

  • Brother Ben

    I’ve only ever listened to the first two albums. Anything with glorious falsetto shrieks is bound to please in my book. I will certainly check this out

  • Wuchak

    Actually MASTERPEACE is one of their all-around better albums. THE DARK and BLESSING IN DISGUISE have a couple of great cuts (e.g. “Watch the Children Pray” and “Fake Healer), but the rest is mostly mediocre with utterly flat production. You’re obviously looking at these albums through nostalgia-tinged glasses. I used to own THE HUMAN FACTOR and thought it was pretty mediocre as well (I’ll take GENERATION NOTHING over it any day). MASTERPEACE is all-around better than all three; it just lacks one of those ultra-stellar tracks, like “Watch” and “Fake Healer.” Bottom Line: Quit dissin’ a quality album!

    • It’s terrible.

      • Wuchak

        No it’s not. Rather your taste in music is (obviously) terrible.

    • kgubbas

      yeah I like Masterpeace to, was quite the times when David Wayne was still in the band. it had a few strong tracks but they could perhaps have been better produced.

      • Wuchak

        Thanks Kgubbas. Songs like “Falldown,” “Into Dust,” the epic “They Signed in Blood,” “Kiss for the Dead,” “Sand Kings,” “Lb. of Cure” and “Faster than Life” all testify to the quality of MASTERPEACE.
        In light of the evidence of these songs, lambasting MASTERPEACE as a “terrible” album is clearly a negative OVERreaction and calls into question the reviewer’s validity as a reviewer.

        • Ah, the “someome disagrees with me so he is invalid as a reviewer” line. That’s a good one.

          I don’t recall the album getting good press when released and I was certainly let down by it, but hey, if you love it, good for you.

          • Wuchak

            That’s not what I said. I said that, in light of the general quality of the songs on MASTERPEACE, you’re calling it “terrible,” etc. is clearly a negative OVERreaction, which naturally brings into question your validity as a reliable reviewer. C’mon, man, it’s not even close to being as bad as you say. Like I pointed out earlier, with the exception of “Watch the Children Pray,” it’s clearly better than THE DARK, not to mention the overall production is noticeably superior.
            You’re a good writer and a respectable person though and I’m glad XI is a quality addition to the Metal Church discography. I really like “No Tomorrow.”

  • Wilhelm

    They should have took the money they used to make this god awful video and put it towards a decent sound engineer.

  • IamRipper

    I love the debut, and the title track is an all-time classic for me. The follow-up had it’s moments, but they lost me after that. This review got me interested in the new one.

  • Flyingguillotine

    Who the hell panned The Dark? “Burial at Sea” is a fucking CUT. That break with the reverb on the drums… Man, that’s the good stuff.

    • I’d say almost everybody took shots at The Dark when it first dropped. It was generally regarded as a let down from the debut. I agree “Burial at Sea” is a righteous tune. I saw the charts, I saw the maps, I know we’re way off course!

  • Refined-Iron Cranium

    These guys write some of the best choruses ever. I mean, the songs are already good, but they really put effort into making those choruses powerful and hooky without overpowering the rest of the music. Plus their lyrics are really in tune with humanity, which I find to be quite poignant at times.

    Looking forward to hearing more of this album, since Mike Howe’s stint with the band was really good. Could’ve done without that extremely cheesy video though.

  • kgubbas

    I think the album sounds great, compared to how Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica, Slayer, Death Angel and Exodus sounds today, Metal Church feels much more relevant if you’re into 80’s metal!

  • Paul Koedam

    I do disagree with the assessment above of Generation Nothing: it’s definitely better than the preceding This Present Wasteland. By the way, as much as I struggled with Munroe as lead singer, he won me over when I saw the band perform live two years ago. It goes without saying that Mike Howe’s return makes Metal Church Metal Church once more.

  • Patrick Winter

    This metal church album is about as good as anything they have done since the 1980s. Sometimes you don’t realize what a singer can add to a band until they leave and come back. Having the original MC singerr back in the fold has really brought back the unique feel this band had in the 80s. Amidst the mediocre, forced sounding releases from slayer, anthrax and megadeath this one is a breath fresh air. I enjoyed every song and at times it took me back to the 80s while at the same time be fresh enough in sound for 2016. Amazing!!!! 4.5/5 for me

    • Mike Howe wasn’t their original singer but his return definitely makes a big impact on this record.