REVIEW: METAL CHURCH – “From The Vault”
Dawn 'Mama Love' Brown
Throughout the historical timeline of heavy metal, the 1980s is and will always be a hallmark decade spawning countless artists, many of whom are still active today. Metal Church is one such band that has maintained a fairly consistent stream of output since their debut album in 1984. Many line-up changes have disrupted their timeline but they seem to be stable for now, having had the same roster for the past two albums. Metal Church currently consists of Steve Unger on bass, Stet Howland on drums, Rick Van Zandt on guitar, Kurdt Vanderhoof on guitar and Mike Howe on vocals who rejoined the band in 2015 after an almost 25-year hiatus.
With their upcoming release set to drop, Metal Church continues to prove that they have the rock ’n roll chops to deliver material that’s modern with a classic metal edge. With Howe providing the lead role and main vocals, Metal Church has regained the sound they made their own as he sounds pretty much exactly the same as he did 25 years ago.
‘From the Vault’ will be the band’s 13th official release containing four new tracks, “Dead on the Vine”, “For No Reason”, “Conductor” and “Above the Madness”. All four of these are super high-energy tracks. “Dead on the Vine” has a driving drum beat and an extended guitar solo but entwined within the chorus are small guitar solo-type sequences that sound slightly muddy. “For No Reason” has the same basic make-up but has a very unique off-tempo chorus that sets this one apart. This song really showcases Howe’s vocal quality as compared to his previous work. “Conductor” proves to fit as many words into a four-minute song as possible. But, it works. It has a decidedly atmospheric breakdown that leads into a solo accentuated by the repeated chorus. “Above the Madness” is the longest of the new tracks, clocking in at 5:41. This song also has an extended solo that seems to be passed between the two guitarists.
The following five tracks are B-sides from the “Damned if I Do” sessions, their last studio release. “Mind Thief”, “Tell Lie Vision”, “False Flag”, all follow in the same vein as their predecessors. High-energy, catchy choruses, extended guitar solos. “Insta Mental”, logically enough, is, in fact, an instrumental track. There was a time when almost all hard rock albums had at least one all-instrumental track. It’s hard to say when artists stopped doing this. “Insta Mental” is a solid track and super fun to listen to. All bands should really consider doing an instrumental track as they spotlight the combined talent and musicianship of their respective members. Plus it’s a natural opportunity for ego solos during live performances. The last of the B-side tracks is “432 Hz”, another instrumental that is far different than the one before it. Starting out with an acoustic sequence, it stays fairly subdued throughout the almost four-minute running time.
The next three tracks are covers of previously released tunes by other artists. “Please Don’t Judas Me” is an inordinately long Nazareth cover with a running time of 6:52. It is a solid rendition of the Nazareth original but it does get a little tiring after a while. “Green-Eyed Lady” is a Sugarloaf cover from 1970 and is the best cover of the three. It’s an equally long song but the overall composition is much more entertaining than “Judas”. “Black Betty” is a song that is credited to the legendary blues artist Leadbelly but was made famous by Ram Jam in 1977. Howe’s vocals don’t quite seem to fit the vibe of the song and lend an almost cacophonic air.
The next two songs are reworks from Metal Church’s previous release, “Blessing in Disguise” from back in 1989. “Fake Healer” was re-recorded with the help of Todd La Torre (Queensryche) and features his vocals quite prominently. “Badlands”, one of MC’s most commercially successful singles, was also reworked with mixed results. It combines Howe’s original vocals from the classic 1989 recording with new vocals woven in although it’s hard to tell since he sounds exactly the same. It’s also mixed differently so it sounds very subtly different than the original. It’s a little odd when an aspect of the original song is no longer there but you’re still looking for it.
With this release, Metal Church continues to prove its worth in the metal industry. The new tracks, combined with the covers and reworks of their previously recorded tracks, perpetuates the new era of Metal Church which will, hopefully, continue into the future.