Metal Church – “VI” (Nuclear Blast Records)
Releasing one of the 80s landmark albums in their self titled debut, Metal Church had what it took to be up there with the thrash greats – and they weren’t even thrash – just playing a blistering OTT heavy metal! Signing to Elektra, things looked on the up for the band, until founder guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof took a back seat and shortly after vocalist Dave Wayne departed. Thereafter began the slide due to numerous line up changes, partial reformations and increased friction between Wayne and Vanderhoof over usage of the band’s name. Despite Wayne passing away in 2005 and Vanderhoof having health problems, the band – whatever form it took – sporadically put out releases in its 32 year career, with Vanderhoof consistently playing a role, either to a greater or lesser degree. Even if “VI” as a title sounds uninventive, the big news about it is that Mike Howe, who replaced Dave Wayne 28 years ago, has now returned! Indeed, opening with the high octane ‘Reset’ there is a definite headbang back to those glory, with Howe’s high shrill accompanying Vanderhoof’s wild soloing amid a chugging pace. It’s not as OTT as their debut, but fair do’s, things weren’t as thrashy after the Wayne era and nowadays everyone’s gotten a little older. These days Metal Church has an above tempo speed, with Vanderhoof placing the emphasis on hooks and grooves through well though out song structures using melody as needed like on ‘Signal Path’. That said, there’s a definite raw n heavy sound throughout the 11 tracks with plenty of double bass drumming across them courtesy of Jeff Plate (Savatage, Trans Siberian Orchestra). Equally, on the slower and darker material like ‘Blow Your Mind’ with its cool blues guitar sexily blended into Plate’s double bass runs, Metal Church shows its technical artistry alongside its class. Another thing often overlooked is the very American sound that the band has always had, while others may have gone for a more generically appealing tone for the global masses. So I think I get it: Vanderhoof still wants to keep it heavy and in style, which “VI” definitely does, but its time to move on into mature metal that smartly makes it interesting for grown men and leave the smashing to the younger guys.