Friday, March 8, 2024

Metal Church - Congregation of Annihilation (2023)

Having now weathered the tragic passing of two of their most popular singers, Metal Church pressed on with the increasingly heavy and angry sound they had struck on the later Mike Howe records, once again flirting with a style we'd most associate with USPM, which they were both inspirational towards in their early years, and then ultimately found themselves embracing rather than watering down their sound as they often did throughout the 90s. Marc Lopes is brought on, another beast of a front man, who could embrace the style of David Wayne and Mike Howe quite well, while bringing his own spin on it. He'd already played on a bunch of the Ross the Boss records, which were impressive, and he slides right into the formula here; some have stated that this guy might be a little TOO over the top, and we'll get into that.

Congregation of Annihilation often sounds like Painkiller with David Wayne singing, and that can only be a good thing, brought out by a lot of the riffing patterns in tunes like opener "Another Judgement Day". They also do some heavier, chugging groove riffs to keep it a bit more modern and close to the belt, but for the most part this album has a lot of parallels to Priest of perhaps even some of the Halford solo stuff. Lopes doesn't sound quite the same as Rob, but he loves to inject a lot of one-line screams, so he's always bouncing back and forth between the mid-ranged, angrier pitch and then this shrill pitch which can often come across a little forced and tacky. That's not to say he isn't hitting the notes right, he is, if you've heard him with Ross then you know the guy has pipes, but it seems like he could have been managed better on a few of the tunes here so that that back & forth technique didn't feel so predictable; though to be fair, there are a couple screams he embeds in tunes like "Me the Nothing" which totally smash you. There's a natural feel to his voice that sometimes he's about to lose his breath or choke, but that's not always a bad thing. Otherwise, his middle range timbre is pretty awesome, certainly even trumping Howe in terms of viciousness, even if I don't quite like the voice as much as his predecessor. 

The rest of the band is just handing out a beating throughout so much of this, whether it's on the more obvious power metal thumpers or the most atmospheric pieces like "Me the Nothing" which sound more like an amped up, muscular take on the Tony Martin Sabbath years or maybe some Dio solo stuff. There's a good balance of bluesy, heavy grooves and thick palm muted passages which might not feel like some of their most creative material, but certainly propulsive and powerful, especially with the meaty studio punch giving by the mix. The drums are hammering along, the bass beefy and the leads are also pretty good here, although usually brief and not terribly adventurous. Though it's not perfect, this one definitely continues what for me is the strongest streak of Metal Church since the first two albums, and if they can rein in the vocals just a fraction, maybe get more ambitious with the leads and have a few more of the slower, atmospheric tunes to balance out the raging, we might still hear some magnum opus with this very same lineup.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

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