I don’t think I’m being disrespectful if I say Metal Church is a band that have never been at the forefront of breaking down boundaries. Even back in the day, their brand of Thrash was within the accepted parameters of the genre and they delivered every single time. It’s been thirty-two years and counting since The Dark (still one the greatest album covers of the entire Thrash movement) was released and songs like Ton of Bricks and the title track can still stand toe to toe with anything put out by the Big Four.
Since that time Metal Church have been through an evolution rather than a revolution and the rotating door policy of band members, with only Kurt Vanderhoof remaining a constant, has seen the band move from their all-out Thrash roots to a more Power Metal orientation.
There are points on the new Metal Church album, Damned If You Do, that feel like you’re listening to a band at the top of their game: that there’s huge riffs right across the record should be a given and the drumming on the tracks Into the Fold and The War Electric feel as though they’re never going to let up. But then there’s other times on the album that it feels a little stale.
The record begin with an odd humming and although that is subsumed by a big guitar line, there something a bit Queensryche about the song. Third track, By the Numbers, whose title pretty much sums up the song for me, just feels lacklustre and phoned in. Luckily, By the Numbers is followed by the monstrous Revolution Underway and four tracks in and Damned If You Do suddenly springs into life. For the remainder of the album, Metal Church deliver a paean to their roots, smashing out all those tropes which made a Metal Church album a hidden pleasure back in the day.
Mike Howe’s vocal veers between low and doomy and a high falsetto reminiscent of Udo at his most shrill and his performance is the up there with the one he turned in on 1989 criminally under-rated Blessing in Disguise. The guitars of Vanderhoof and Rick Van Zandt veer between devastating riffage and more gentle passages which allow the music to breath. For the most part the solos on Damned If You Do eschew the need for shredding and are understated, complimenting the music rather than rioting over the top of it. It goes without saying that the rhythm section keep it all together, driving the album with an inexorable force.
While far from being a perfect album, Damned If You Do is a good, old-school metal record that, if you forgive its trespasses, will have you fist pumping and smashing shit up before you know it. And with them having just been confirmed for Bloodstock 2019 I’ll be in the pit, starting the fire, just like the old days.