Album review: METAL CHURCH – Damned If You Do

Nuclear Blast [Release date 7.12.18]

Metal Church rank up among the founders of the early US thrash metal scene. Although never quite breaking into first tier territory, they remain a worthy outfit to this day with a series of classic albums under their belt. After a period of hit or miss albums and line-up changes the band reunited again with Mike Howe, arguably their best vocalist to date.

Apart from Mr. Howe coming back to the helm, the band shifted gears musically towards a more classical recalibration of the Metal Church sound of the late 80’s-early 90’s, having more apparent and evident features and traits from that era. “IX” signaled the beginning towards such a musical path and “Damned If You Do” picks up the torch from its predecessor which flying colors.

While the band relishes to construct rich and lengthy compositions, this time around they opted towards a more direct approach in comparison to this album’s immediate predecessor (which the band is more than adept on delivering just as well). With compositions more straightforward, direct and to the point this time round, “Damned If You Do “ accomplishes what it sets out to do – offer us a Metal Church record whose style is a step closer to the days of old.

The opener is a no bells and whistles track with a rather strong riff  and, while it’s a grower, it ultimately lacks the punch of “Reset” – the opening track from the band’s previous album. From that point on the record fully unleashes it’s old school/old fashioned vibe and often shines its darkened light. Follow up is “Black Things” where Mr. Vanderhoof who remains the driving force behind the compositions to this day, lays out a clean electric guitar intro passage that sets a gloomy mood followed by a short guitar fill and soon afterwards the larger than life voice of Mr. Howe enters the fold, giving a living presence to the dark atmosphere of the track.

It is actually a sort of a wonder the quality of the vocals which when compared to the studio performances of the past shows minimum attrition. His studio and live performances simply destroy any shroud of question whether Mike Howe is a random screamer or a force to be reckoned with. Next is “Living By The Numbers”, one of the record’s singles and among the instant hits of the album. This track and “Out Of Balance” features enough hooks to keep you coming back for more and their quality is good enough for them to earn their place in the band’s live shows for a long time.

Another excellent track is “Revolution Underway” of typical old school  Metal Church feeling featuring a catchy chorus, clean electric guitars and a more adventurous structure when compared to the other songs of the album with a series of guitar solo’s building up in the middle section of the song. As the record approaches the second half, the band turns up the heat and three consecutive headbangers are unleashed to make your blood boil.

Fast picking, up tempo and sleek guitar playing is the order of the day. The weaker song out of the ten tracks on offer is “Monkey Finger“ –  not so much because of being a lesser good song but because it sounds out of place with the overall vibe of the album. Track number 9 is “Out of Balance” which sets things back on track with the most powerful way. A blistering old-school song and certainly among the stand out tracks of the album.

The record comes to a close with no signs of letting up – with the fully energized  and straightforward  charger “Electrical Warfare”. The musicianship hereby is of top notch and while the production is adequate the finer details are distinguishable and the sound is rather enjoyable although a bit on the “dry “side.

“Damned If You Do” is heavy, melodic, thrashy and, along with “IX”, finds the band right back on track on earning their rightful place in today’s metal scene. While “Damned If You Do” is by no means a flawless record, it is more than capable of keeping  the old guard happy and, at the same time, introduce Metal Church to younger audiences who can experience first-hand the beneficial effects of well-crafted and surely blessed Metal Church music. Rejoice!

Rating: **** (4/5)


Review by Kiriakos Lightbringer


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