Metal Church – XI (Rat Pak Records)

Friday, 18th March 2016
Rating: 8/10

Coaxed out of music business retirement, when news hit last year that former Metal Church vocalist Mike Howe would be returning to the microphone for a second go around following Ronny Munroe’s departure, the metal hordes familiar with the excellence of Blessing in Disguise and The Human Factor were hopeful if not cautiously optimistic. XI serves up 11 tracks of metal that resonates in Howe’s gritty yet strong mid-range and slightly higher power delivery – guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof wise to keep the riffing and hooks consistent to his past work while also throwing a couple of minor sliders for creative freshness.

Channeling “The Power and the Glory” from Saxon on the opening circular riff for “Reset”, it only takes about 40 seconds to realize all is well in the sinister spitfire vocal realm Howe resides. Acoustic guitars factor into a number of XI cuts, giving add musical depth to the double shot highlights “No Tomorrow” as well as the epic 7:12 “Signal Path” – the latter very similar in feel to the classic “Badlands”. Darker tinges of atmosphere allow “It Waits” to be a second half surprise, a creepy vibe that gives off a Sabbath meets King Diamond texture especially in terms of the rhythm section work from bassist Steve Unger and drummer Jeff Plate – Metal Church again one of the leaders for shifting moodiness from ballad to power mastery.

Self-produced by the band, there’s a natural snappiness to the proceedings that keeps the material very meat and potatoes oriented – not drowning in a lot of extraneous studio effects that can’t be replicated in live outings. Faced with a choice to continue as Metal Church or not, Howe’s obvious professionalism keeps Vanderhoof and the band on the path to glory. XI hopefully is the start of another steady stream of high caliber Metal Church records – know going in that this is not going to be a pure thrash extravaganza as the Howe-era always featured a multi-dimensional power and traditional metal approach as well and the horns will rise in approval. (Metal Church official website

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