Metal Church – “Damned If You Do” (Nuclear Blast Records)
Wow, could it be second time lucky? Anyone who remembers Metal Church’s first signing to Nuclear Blast in 1999 to release the critically acclaimed “Masterpiece”, but sadly ill fated Wacken performance due to the ill health of its members will wonder if the transatlantic phone lines weren’t burning up over this revisit – I mean, is there something in that title?! Once revered in the 80s for being able to stand up to any thrash band with their searing brand of heavy metal defined by molten riffs graced by massive hooks and savage guitar work, Metal Church was poised to follow in thrash’s second wave, stepping into the path of its great pioneers as they supported Metallica, who incidentally urged Elektra Records to sign them! Despite enjoying early commercial success, fluctuating line ups (not in the least the departure of founder guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof) and style changes soon saw the band relegated, albeit respectably, to the second division. However, since the permanent return of Vanderhoof in 2012, the band have been regaining back lost ground with regular releases and touring, despite continuing line up changes. Solidifying somewhat in 2015 with the return of old vocalist Mike Howe, Metal Church’s momentum has continued onwards and upwards unto this 12th release. As if in further emphasis, “Damned If You Do” propels the band even higher by revisiting and taking on in its classic success formula of intense, guitar driven metal delivered through technically superior musicianship – so old fans will really lap this up! Recruiting former W.A.S.P. drummer Stet Howland who matches the band’s speed and precision, Vanderhoof has ably come to terms with shifting personnel by being steadfast in not lowering the quality standards, not to mention in his own composing, leading to a very interesting album indeed with 10 top songs. Stoked by fellow shredder Rick Van Zandt, the rapid fire razor riffs in time to Howland’s rapid fire kick drum set the aggressive vibe to the aptly titled ‘Guillotine’ as Howe screams while also adding in his own melodic soul before the unhurried heavy metal solos smoulder across it all. Powering in the riffola on ‘Rot Away’ with some meaty hooks, Howe’s high end vocals shred while the twin guitars inject tasty melodies and fire off breaks to not just keep the energy levels high but also ensure a catchy sensibility to the material. For those new to the band, this in essence is Metal Church i.e. a sugar coated lava bomb ha ha! Ending with that in mind on ‘The War Electric’, it could be 1984 again with its massive, twin guitar grabbing riff chugging menacingly before the guitars literally explode into solo frenzy, furiously attacking each other with Howe screaming very much like how I used to remember original vocalist Dave Wayne and Howland pummelling away in the background. If you wanna know what high octane heavy metal is all about then join the flock of the mighty Metal Church on this one!