REVIEW: METAL CHURCH – “Damned If You Do”
Metal Church is one of the most revered and classic heavy metal acts of the 1980’s, when they put out arguably some of the best traditional metal albums to date, the homonym juggernaut in 1984 and the orgasmic follow-up ‘The Dark’ (1986), all under the undeniably marvelous vocals of David Wayne (R.I.P.). Closing service for a while, the preachers came back in 2012 to release the so-so ‘Generation Nothing’ (2013), but it is with Father Mike Howe back on the helm for the second time since he left in the middle of the 1990’s that they celebrate their mass number 12, ‘Damned If You Do’.
The quasi-thrash instrumental, the harsher vocal lines and the ability to write sexy riffs were always part of the band’s style of play, which was somewhat toned down in their 21st century comeback. With ‘XI’ (2016), Kurdt Vanderhoof managed to rescue that aura and provide us with a good taste of the good old Metal Church and further solidifies this in the new album by adding more mature songwriting and slicker playing.
Howe’s pipes are as ridiculous as ever and he proves it right from the start with the title track. A great beginning to the record, it flows smoothly with good energy – especially in the main riff and the chorus – and virtuous instrumental, adding a cool spice to what we are used to see with the California natives.
Follow-ups “The Black Things” and “By the Numbers” continue with the solid rhythm, this time around with a somewhat evil aura that is uncommon for the band. The constant riffing by Vanderhoof and Rick van Zandt and Howe’s aggressive vocals are what make these special, even when Stet Howland’s drums feel muffled at times and the bass lines by Steve Unger are almost inexistent, courtesy of bad production work. The riff machine never stops, though, and both tracks are masterfully constructed to be blood-pumping, full of attitude anthems.
Even the weaker songs here have a little bit of charm, these being the mid-tempo “Revolution Underway” and the Accept-esque “Monkey Finger”. While the first serves as the most “epic” track here by displaying a sense of urgency, almost melodic and melancholic, the second reminds us of the hard/heavy acts of the 1980’s by being more cadenced and with little flair or prolific passages. These are fine, don’t get me wrong, but they’re just not on par with the rest of the tunes in the album.
The smooth flow and the thrashy vibe continue in the mid portion with energetic moments like “Guillotine” and “Rot Away”. Galloping riffs are the weapon of choice for the former, which then changes pace in the second verse slowly building again, while the latter is just some straight up, no frills heavy metal tune that strikes like a punch in the liver; two selected moments that are likely to make you grab that leather jacket you keep stored in the closet in case some kick ass music comes around and you want to pump it up to the max volume to blow your stupid neighbor’s ears off.
“Into the Fold” is also a winner and, similarly to “The Black Things”, shows a darker side of Metal Church. It’s one of the most powerful and savage tracks in the album when it doesn’t suffer from muffled sound, a problem which plagues the entire effort. “The War Electric”, a good but ultimately forgettable track, closes the album. It would fare better if not for the song that it follows, which is one of the best Metal Church tracks, period.
“Out of Balance” destroys, obliterates and completely puts to shame every other song released by Metal Church since, I don’t know, ‘Hanging in the Balance’ (1993). It has so much firepower, it’s so badass that even the shitty production is not enough to diminish its superiority. It’s a steamroller with ace guitar work and one of the best moments of Howe’s legacy since his return.
The production and mixing could be better, as the sound often times is muffled and only Howe’s vocals stand out, leaving all instruments in the background, consequently hurting the final product. The overall sound is so good, though, that the bad production itself is put in the background, so this is nothing to be fret about.
‘Damned If You Do’ has an old-school vibe that reminds us of the same Metal Church we heard in the early 90’s and even some glimpses of the 80’s. It stands somewhere between classic albums like ‘Hanging in the Balance’ and ‘Blessing in Disguise’ (1989) and their modern works like ‘XI’ and ‘A Light in the Dark’ (2006). With Vanderhoof and Howe at their finest and the other members equally doing a great job, it’s clear that this church will prosper with competent preaching for a long time; o come, all ye faithful, as it is Sunday morning in the metal world.