Metal Church – Damned If You Do (Rat Pak Records)Tuesday, 11th December 2018
Firing back from a self-imposed sabbatical to real life, Mike Howe returned to Metal Church a couple of years ago with XI – and the subsequent touring cemented his elite status as a vocalist in this veteran melodic power/thrash outfit. Never one to rest on their laurels, Damned If You Do aims to prove that this reunion isn’t going to waver on the creative front. Even though the drum seat has shifted in between records (welcome Stet Howland), it’s business as usual for Kurdt Vanderhoof and the gentlemen of the Church – churning out another solid testament of anthems sure to appease the faithful and possibly bring more newcomers to the fold.
Where else are you going to hear a low ringing vocal ‘hum’ to start a metal record? That’s what you get from Mike Howe instead of a haunting/overdrawn keyboard intro before the double kick and circular riff parade carries the title cut to glory – along with Mike’s versatile strength in the maniacal verse delivery into his resplendent melodic singing for the hook-infested chorus. Elsewhere there are spots of familiarity when it comes to the rhythm layers and lead breaks Kurdt and fellow guitarist Rick van Zandt display in that tasteful meets heavy barometer. Check out “The Black Things” where the clean strumming evokes “Badlands” memories, or “Out of Balance” channeling some of the early NWOBHM history that these guys cut their teeth on in their youth. Keeping the material very sharp and on point in that four-five minute range, there’s no epic this go around – and that’s okay, because the ten tracks here each contain enough meat and bones to not necessitate anything prolonged beyond the get in/ get out attack.
Topically continuing their mix of social/personal topics such as ‘freedom isn’t free’ mantra within “Guillotine” (love the drum/guitar interplay gallop for this one) and subtle political/religious discussion for “Into the Fold” – it’s the superior expression of screams, mid-range bellows, and convincing high falsettos that put Metal Church at the top of their game. It’s as if time has stood still, these musicians playing to their strengths and not deviating from what they do best – delivering high quality melodic thrash with power nuances. Even when they chose to go for a more commercial Teutonic/Accept-like groove effort for “Monkey Finger”, it’s not as left-field as you’d think and helps the second half get that dynamic difference maker.
Damned If You Do is stronger than XI – possessing more attack and focus for these songs to jump to the stage.