Album review: METAL CHURCH – The Elektra Years 1984-1989

METAL CHURCH - The Elektra Years 1984-1989

Cherry Red Records [Release date 28.02.20]

Before Kurdt Vanderhoof went off to invent a new genre with his band, Hall Aflame, in 1991, he released 3 albums with his startup venture, Metal Church.

Cherry Red Records have bundled these into one discrete package, titled “The Elektra Years, 1984-1989”. Specifically, they are:

Metal Church 1984

The Dark 1986

Blessing In Disguise 1989

The latter two include bonuses in the form of special edits of key tracks, most notably of ‘Watch The Children Pray’ from “The Dark” album, and ‘Badlands’ from ‘Blessing…’.

The influence of NWOBHM on the band’s central core of guitarist Vanderhoof, vocalist David Wayne and fellow guitarist, Craig Wells is unmistakeable. The debut is full of blissfully thunderous riffs, visceral thrills and armour piercing vocals. More than that, there’s a satisfying degree of complexity to the music, lifting it out of the primal sludge that bogged down much of early period Heavy Metal.

It pivots around ‘Gods Of Wrath’, which is a pretty descriptive title for an aggressively infectious heavy metal epic, though you could argue that the full burn ferocity of opener ‘Beyond The Black’ leaves little room for doubt.

In the album’s second half, Vanderhoof toys with Thrash. It’s an unsettling direction to take on a debut. A mis-step perhaps. Still, those thrashier moments, like ‘Battalions’ and ‘Hitman’, have an authentic, born-in-a-garage ambience, assuming you take “ambience” to mean high velocity riffs carved out in huge chunks from a solid rockface.

It signposted the direction for the follow up, “The Dark”, and the clue is in the title.

Vanderhoof, and fellow guitarist, Craig Wells hit a songwriting purple patch, thrashing their hearts out on ‘Ton Of Bricks’, ‘Over My Dead Body’ and ‘Psycho’. But the real meat is in what became classic MC tracks like the emotionally intense epic, ‘Watch The Children Pray’, the elemental ‘Burial At Sea’, and the hulking bruiser, ‘Start The Fire’.

Despite the commercial success of their first two albums, MC fell foul of rock music banality, losing members at just the wrong moment. Worse, one of these was Vanderhoof, burnt out from intensive touring. Against those not inconsiderable odds, they recorded and released what is arguably the best of the three, “Blessing In Disguise”. It helped enormously that Vanderhoof continued to write, and in Mike Howe they found a vocalist whose appeal reached to a wider audience than did Wayne’s siren wail.

The album (A Billboard Top 100 entry) was built around three of probably the band’s best pieces of songwriting and studio performance (helped along by Terry Date’s dynamic production touches). ‘Anthem To The Estranged’, ‘Badlands’ and ‘Fake Healer’ are propelled by thick cut, armour clad riffs and uncompromising axework. Vocalist Howe matched this blow by blow, expressing explosive lyrical rage, as the decade turned sour, politically and economically.

Despite its commercial success, the band was dropped by Elektra. These three albums are testimony to the label’s investment in a significant player whom they should never have let go.

Review by Brian McGowan

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