I've been collecting hard rock and heavy metal CDs since the late '80s.
Metal Church—"Damned If You Do"
Rat Pak Records, 2018
10 Tracks, Run Time: 45:26
The old school metal nation rejoiced when Metal Church announced that prodigal vocalist Mike Howe was returning to the band in 2016 after nearly a quarter century away. Mike fronted the Church during their brief flirtation with late '80s/early '90s mainstream success on albums like Blessing in Disguise (1989) and The Human Factor (1991), but he walked away from the music biz after 1993's Hanging in the Balance crashed into the brick wall known as Grunge Rock and heavy metal fell out of favor.
After a few years off the radar, guitarist Kurt Vanderhoof re-lit Metal Church's flame in the late '90s, first with original vocalist David Wayne (who sadly passed away in '05) and then with Ronny Munroe, who recorded four albums with the band but departed in 2014, clearing the way for Howe's return. Not to take anything away from either of those fine gentlemen or their performances, but in my book Metal Church and Mike Howe go together like peanut butter and jelly. Mike's distinctive, hissing snarl gave the Metal Church sound a certain special "something" that was sorely missed during his absence.
Howe's comeback album, XI, was released in 2016 and it was warmly received by faithful Church-goers (like me) who hailed it as their best work since the glory days. When the Church's follow up sermon, Damned If You Do, was released in late 2018, I personally was so stoked for it that I even pre-ordered the extra-special deluxe version of the CD, which came in a cardboard slipcase autographed by the entire band and included an assortment of cool Metal Church swag like guitar picks and stickers. Woo-hoo! Once a fanboy, always a fanboy! So, how does Damned If You Do stack up against its still-awesome predecessor? Quite well, I'd say.
"Damned If You Do"
The title track opens the album with an ominous "Hummmmm..." and once the band kicks in it's pure, classy Metal Church style shred/power metal all the way. Kurt Vanderhoof (the lone original Church member) and Rick Van Zandt (who's been in the band since 2008's This Present Wasteland) have developed into a tight and formidable guitar team with a seemingly endless well of cool riffs, and Howe's voice hasn't lost a step -- he sounds just as youthful, snarly and pissed-off as he did back in the day. Backed by the rock solid rhythm section of bassist Steve Unger and new drummer Stet Howland (ex-W.A.S.P.), the current lineup of Metal Church is definitely standing on solid ground!
The chunky "By The Numbers" feels almost like a 21st century recession-era update of the Church classic "Date With Poverty" (from 1991's The Human Factor), and the majestic chug of "Revolution Underway" bears some resemblance to Blessing In Disguise's "Badlands," but these guys aren't here just to re-hash past glories. The speedy "Guillotine" barrels along at a nice head-bangable pace and crashes into the heavy burner "Rot Away," which finds Howe reaching some particularly impressive high notes. The sinister "Into The Fold" has a nice mid-tempo thump and the oddly titled "Monkey Finger" has one of the catchiest choruses on the record as well as some of the nastiest riffing. Metal Church stomps the gas pedal to the floor again with the killer "Out Of Balance" and brings things to a satisfactory close with the fast-paced thrasher "The War Electric."
I'm still not quite sure if I prefer Damned If You Do or XI, but then I haven't owned Damned for as long, either. Either way, it's a close race. The band has definitely been firing on all cylinders since Howe's return, so if you haven't attended a Metal Church service in a while, Damned If You Do would be a damned fine place to get back on board with these elder statesmen of true heaviness. Can I get an Amen?
"By The Numbers"
METAL CHURCH Discography:
Metal Church - Elektra, 1984
The Dark - Elektra, 1986
Blessing In Disguise - Elektra, 1989
The Human Factor - Epic, 1991
Hanging in the Balance - Blackheart, 1993
Live - Nuclear Blast, 1998
Masterpeace - Nuclear Blast, 1999
The Weight of the World - SPV, 2004
A Light in the Dark - SPV, 2006
This Present Wasteland - SPV, 2008
Generation Nothing - Rat Pak, 2013
XI - Rat Pak, 2016
Classic Live - Rat Pak, 2017
Damned If You Do - Rat Pak, 2018
© 2019 Keith Abt
Kaili Bisson from Canada on March 09, 2019:
Great review Keith! I first heard the Church in their early days, then didn't hear anything about them forever, it seemed, until a young guy I work with mentioned "XI" was getting some airplay...I'll need to check this one out. Amen!