Metal Church – XI
Metal Church Line Up:
Mike Howe | vocals
Kurdt Vanderhoof | guitar
Rick van Zandt | guitar
Steve Unger | bass
Jeff Plate | drums
When you think of thrash metal there are four bands who immediately spring to mind. Metal Church isn’t one of them and that’s a shame, because whilst The Big Four were releasing quality albums throughout the eighties, so were Metal Church. The Dark and Blessing In Disguise are two the of the best that thrash has to offer. But that was a long time ago, and a plethora of line-up changes along with changing music tastes hasn’t favoured the San Francisco natives. Is that all about to change with their 11th studio album, imaginatively titled XI? Possibly. Maybe.
Widely hailed as an absolute coup, Mike Howe’s reconnection as singer has brought the band back to its roots. I don’t know what herbal or chemical concoction Howe has been gurgling in the last 22 years since retiring in Tennessee, but whatever it was worked. From opening track ‘Reset’ there are none more metal than Mike Howe. Impressive vocals aside, Jeff Plate proves he’s no slouch behind the drums either. Plate has a unique ability to create thrashing drums without having to rely on the double kick effect. ‘Killing Your Time’ continues in furious fashion with Kurt Vanderhoof and Rick van Zandt supplying crunching riffs backed by Steve Unger, almost faultless bass.
What’s an old school thrash album without an acoustic intro? That’s exactly what we get with ‘No Tomorrow’ before the band launches into a wall of sound courtesy of Plate and Unger. This track gallops along at a frantic pace, and is an early highlight – if the previous two tracks weren’t enough. More acoustic guitars kick off ‘Signal Path’. A slower track with more groove than thrash, and driven by Unger’s bass, it demonstrates the song writing complexity of Metal Church 2016. At over 7 minutes it’s not going to get a lot of commercial radio play, but Metal Church never did. ‘Sky Falls In’ continues the groove orientated theme, with a catchy as hell chorus that’s sure to become a audience inclusive hit live.
Galloping, crunching guitars and a machine gun rhythm section return with ‘Needle and Suture’ and the riffs continue through ‘Shadow’. The haunting intro to ‘Blow Your Mind’ is an invitation to fully immerse yourself. It’s a cleverly crafted track using a tried and tested formula, yet manages to be cliché free. As with the rest of the album Mike Howe’s vocals are sublime. ‘Soul Eating Machine’ is a straight out balls-to-the-wall thrash track, both musically and lyrically, if you’ve got this far into the album and your neck muscles are holding up expect to hit the pain barrier right about now.
The penultimate track ‘It Waits’ is the stuff of nightmares, as the rhythm section of Unger and Plate set the atmosphere and Howe’s restrained vocals drag you into a pretty hellish place. But they’ve saved the best til last, as the final track ‘Suffer Fools’ is vintage Metal Church – huge riffs, driving bass, hard hitting drums, scorching solos with screaming vocals.
This is thrash as it should be, not overly technical, but brutal, headbanging tracks with some very dark themes. Metal Church don’t suffer fools, so don’t be one – get your hooks into this album. It’s the best music they’ve released in decades.
I’m giving it 9 ton of bricks out of 10
Written by Gareth Williams