Metal Church – Congregation of Annihilation Review

Metal Church have walked uphill most of their decades-spanning career. Launching in the heat of the 80s thrash explosion, they were never fast enough for the speed merchants and didn’t quite fit in with the traditional metal genre either. Despite very good early releases, they never got the traction or notoriety of acts like Metallica or Anthrax. Then they lost one-of-a-kind vocalist David Wayne and switched to a less speedy style with new frontman Mike Howe. By 93 they seemed to have run their race following the very underrated Hanging in the Balance, only to return 6 years later with David Wayne back in the wrecktory. Then Wayne bailed again and sadly passed away a few years later, and after a period of inactivity, Ronny Munroe took over for 4 decent if not exceptional albums. Mike Howe made an unexpected return to the fold in 2016 for what fans hoped would be a Metal Church revival, but tragically, he passed away in 2021 and the band was set adrift once again. Ever the resilient bunch, they’re back with album number 13 and new frontman, Marc Lopes (Ross the Boss, Let Us Prey). With interviews and promo materials promising a return to the band’s early days on Congregation of Annihilation, can Metal Church rise from the ashes one more time after so much heartache and bad luck?1

The band does partially recapture the sound of early platters like their debut and The Dark for brief moments, and I’ll note up front that Marc Lopes has a big voice with an impressive range. On riffy, punchy opener “Another Judgment Day” he partially resurrects Mr. Wayne with his high-pitched caterwauling and screeching, and when teamed with beefy riffs and tasteful guitarwork, the entire package is modestly effective and entertaining. “Children of the Lie” is a solid song with sharp, commanding riffs and a dark, ominous mood which Lopes sells well. “Me the Nothing” is especially edgy and the album standout, with the right combination of heaviness, crunch and mood. Elsewhere, “Making Monsters” channels The Dark era effectively in its riffwork, structure, and mood.

Sadly, there are some tracks that don’t land as successfully. The title track is plenty aggressive but not all that memorable, “Pick a God and Prey” is okay but suffers from Lopes’ tendency to oversing muchly, as does “Say a Prayer with 7 Bullets,” though that one is a fairly catchy, anthemic rocker nonetheless. “These Violent Thrills” is pretty generic, and “All That We Destroy” also fails to distinguish itself much. For some reason, my promo package didn’t include album closer “Salvation,” and even the PR text omits it in the track listing, so confusion reigns at the House of Steel. Some songs suffer from bloat, running a minute or so too long, including some of the best cuts like “Me the Nothing” and “Making Monsters.” Perhaps my biggest issue with the material other than the overdone vocals is the fact that so much of it doesn’t really sound like Metal Church. If I was given this promo without context, I wouldn’t know it was them. Since I do know, I’m able to divine traces of their classic sound here and there and Kurdt Vanderhoof’s riffing style strikes familiar notes at times, but much of this sounds like an entirely different band to me. I’m also not a fan of the production, which is loud and flat. The guitar tone isn’t especially beefy and things just sound too safe and sterile.

Talented though Marc Lopes may be, he pulls a Ripper here, using his voice as a sledgehammer and treating every song like a nail. He way overdoes things on every track, rushing from raspy singing to screams and on to higher-pitched wails without rhyme or reason. David Wayne certainly brought excess to the Church but he knew when to go nuclear and when to lay back. Lopes utterly lacks this restraint and sense of nuance and the songs often suffer for it, with him sounding like he’s trying way too hard to leave his mark. Seasoned guitar warriors Kurdt Vanderhoof and Rick van Zandt provide a collection of effectively driving riffs and tasteful harmonies that keep things moving over the album’s 41 minutes, but their determination to bring the sound around to the early days ends up making things feel a bit one-note and forced in the same ways Generation Nothing did back in 2013.

This release is overshadowed by the tragic passing of original Metal Church drummer Kirk Arrington yesterday, and in that grim light, I’m put in the regrettable position of reporting that Congregation of Annihilation isn’t the album I was hoping for. There are decent to good moments to be found, but the cons outweigh the pros. With a more disciplined vocal approach and one or two fewer filler-grade tracks, this would click up half a point. It’s not bad, but it isn’t consistently good and it won’t be a Metal Church album I put into rotation much. That saddens me, and all the more so in light of recent developments. Worth a spin for long-time fans but don’t expect to be blown away.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 4 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Rat Pak Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: May 26th, 2023

Show 1 footnote

  1. They do firmly re-establish the trend of having lousy album art, as they have continually since 1984.
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