I was never really able to appreciate METAL CHURCH’S body of work when I was younger. Why that is I don’t know, but that’s the truth. Then, a few years ago, I received Generation Nothing in the mail and it knocked some sense into me, and prompted me to go back and check out what I had been missing all those years. I also got the chance to interview band members and catch them live at the legendary Trees Dallas in early 2014. So now, with one major lineup change later bringing singer Mike Howe back into the fold, METAL CHURCH returns with XI (out now, Rat Pak Records). Seriously, it’s almost like he never left. And that’s not to disparage any of the band’s other work because I am a big, big fan of the Ronny Munroe-era records, but this one sounds like it could have been released right after 1989’s Blessing In Disguise without missing a beat.
The production on the disc is very sharp and clear, courtesy of guitarist and founding member Kurdt Vanderhoof and Chris “The Wizard” Collier. You can hear all the instruments perfectly, most notably Steve Unger’s bass on “Killing Your Time,” an immediate standout. Not surprisingly, Vanderhoof and fellow gunslinger Rick Van Zandt are sharp as a tack not just here but across the board, drummer Jeff Plate pounds the skins something fierce, and Howe sounds terrific. One more thing about Vanderhoof: the man has a seemingly endless supply of riffs in his back pocket as is evidenced the minute you hit PLAY and opener “Reset” starts. The guys had to make a statement with this tune, and they sure as hell did that and more. Then, the aforementioned “Killing” just drives that point home even further.
One of the songs that has a sick groove and swagger for days is the seven-minute and change “Sky Falls In.” I couldn’t get enough of it and the guitar solo is very unique in its tone and feel. And man, that swamp-blues beginning and end had me at “Hello.” There’s more precision guitar work to be found on “Soul Eating Machine” and there are a couple of moments when Howe sounds a bit like TWISTED SISTER frontman Dee Snider, albeit with a higher voice. It’s more in his delivery. First single “No Tomorrow” was destined to be a favorite and is already on several of my playlists. The whole band is fully armed and ready to annihilate all those who dare oppose them.
It’s really hard to believe so much time has passed since Howe was in the band because he really sounds like he hasn’t aged a day on Every. Single. Song. One that really sounds like it could have been written back in the day is “Signal Path”; it’s got a great hook and a nice bite. Speaking of bite, check out the music on “Needle & Suture”. THIS is a song made for putting people in a wood chipper to if ever I heard one. Now don’t go getting any ideas because I wanna do it first!! Another groovalicious affair is “Shadow” where the guitar licks dance about and wrap you up in them. Dark and moody best describes “Blow Your Mind” while “Suffer Fools” drives home the winning run to close out the album.
All told METAL CHURCH have done a very good job with XI. There were maybe one or two I didn’t love but they certainly don’t detract from what is a highly enjoyable album that fans old and new can rage to. And not just fans of METAL CHURCH; anyone who likes a great mix of NWOBHM and speed/thrash should pick this one up right away. It’s so great to hear Mike Howe’s voice again over the sharp and angry riffs Kurdt Vanderhoof came up with. There’s no Philly date for the tour yet, but when there is I’ll be there, money in hand.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Suffer Fools”, “No Tomorrow”, “Killing Your Time”, “Sky Falls In”, “Needle & Suture”, “Signal Path”