I've been an obsessed hard rock & heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.
From the Vault by Metal Church
- Rat Pak Records (2020)
- 14 Tracks (73:36)
When prodigal lead vocalist Mike Howe (R.I.P.) returned to the Metal Church fold in 2015 after nearly a quarter-century away from the music business, the Church quickly made up for lost time, cranking out two excellent studio albums (2016's massive XI and 2018's fine Damned If You Do), one live disc (2017's Classic Live) and a satisfying odds-and-ends collection, From the Vault, in 2020.
This aptly named collection offers a tempting selection of rare and hard to find MC goodies, including four brand new studio cuts, a batch of B-sides, a handful of cover tunes, and a few live tracks, all of which are sure to have every good Churchgoer reaching for their neck braces.
Sadly, it also represents Mike Howe's final recorded work with Metal Church. Mike tragically passed away in July of 2021, making From the Vault a bittersweet yet satisfying listen for longtime Church fans.
From the Vault kicks off with four excellent new studio tracks, starting with the blistering speed metal piledriver "Dead on the Vine," which may be the best song the Church has whipped up since Howe's return. The guitar tandem of Kurt Vanderhoof and Rick Van Zandt keeps the riffage flowing hot 'n' heavy and Howe's sinister snarl remains in excellent form.
The headbanging "For No Reason" keeps up the pummeling while a newly rebooted take on "Conductor" (which originally appeared on 1993's unjustly-maligned Hanging In The Balance album) and the thumping "Above the Madness" bring the high-quality mayhem, getting From The Vault off to a good start.
The album's midsection is comprised of bonus tracks from the various international and digital editions of 2018's fine Damned If You Do album. "Mind Thief" and the chunky "Tell Lie Vision" lead into the chugging crunch of "False Flag," which sounds like it could've come off of 1991's classic The Human Factor.
Howe led the charge with his distinctive voice so far, but a pair of sans-vocals jams—"Insta Mental" and the tasteful, mellow acoustic piece "432hz"—gave him a chance to catch his breath and allowed the musicians (Vanderhoof and Van Zandt, bassist Steve Unger, and drummer Stet Howland) ample chance to show off their instrumental prowess.
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Three cover songs close out the studio portion of From the Vault—the Nazareth oldie "Please Don't Judas Me" is a slow-burning, moody treat, and the bluesy "Green Eyed Lady" (originally by Sugarloaf, with whom I am unfamiliar) has a bouncy, hippy-dippy early '70s hard rock vibe with just the right amount of grit. Speaking of '70s rock, the ripping cover of Ram Jam's FM-radio staple "Black Betty" is irresistible and bound to get the air guitars out and sing-alongs going!
From the Vault wraps up with a pair of live tracks recorded at Club Citta in Kawasaki, Japan. Presumably, these were leftover from 2017's Classic Live set? Anyway, the in-concert versions of two fan favorites, "Agent Green" (from The Human Factor) and the epic "Anthem to the Estranged" (a personal favorite from 1989's classic Blessing In Disguise) show that Metal Church has still got impressive live chops.
Comic Book Special Edition
For the obsessive, gotta-have-it-all completists, there's also a special "comic book" edition of From the Vault available which includes two additional bonus tracks—a so-called "Wizard Mix" of "Killing Your Time" and a "Metal Mix" of "Needle & Suture," both originally from XI. Pushing everyone's collector's O.C.D. even further into overdrive, the digital version of the album has two more bonuses: XI-era extras "The Enemy Mind" and "The Coward." However, I only have the standard retail CD version of From the Vault, so I can offer no insight into any of these cuts.
Summing It Up
Usually, odds-and-ends compilations like these are quick cash-grabs full of C-list material, intended merely to keep a band's spot warm on the new-release shelf while buying them some extra time between new albums. However, judging from the strength of the material offered on From the Vault, the Metal Church boys are on a roll. I actually think I like this compilation better than the Damned If You Do album—it's certainly gotten more play from me.
In short, From the Vault is another ace collection from one of the most consistently bad-ass classic metal bands out there, and the faithful Metal Church congregation will surely rejoice at the headbanging hymns contained therein. Here endeth today's sermon. Pick up the CD, go in peace, praise the Metal, hallelujah, Amen!
© 2020 Keith Abt
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on July 20, 2020:
Hey Metalhead - Kurt Vanderhoof was recently asked if any unreleased material from the David Wayne era exists. He said there is, but it's still the property of their former label Elektra Records so the band doesn't have access to it. I guess that's why there aren't any David Wayne era tracks on this comp.
Metalhead666 on July 20, 2020:
The vault is only appealing to Mike howe ers fans. Mc must have something in the vaults from Wayne and ronny eras.