Monday, March 4, 2024

Metal Church - XI (2016)

It might not be the prevailing opinion, but Metal Church is a band that never quite amounted to much for me beyond their first two albums, both of which I consider, if not masterpieces, then classic American heavy metal records which have withstood the ravages of time quite fine on their own. Since that point, though I've struggled with so much of their's very often adequate, but just never blowing me away as I would have liked if that initial trajectory held true. The original Mike Howe run, while decent, never impressed me as much as his work with power/thrash outfit Heretic on Breaking Point, but he certainly had that similar attack to David Wayne with the inherent edge and anger to his performance; the songs just were not there for me. So having him return to the lineup some 20+ years later seemed like it couldn't hurt, because they hadn't exactly been knocking it out of the park in the interim, why not give it another go with their second most popular frontman? 

I was pretty satisfied from the first singles, because the reunion definitely works out in their favor. This is not the stuff of the eponymous debut or my favorite, The Dark, but it's hard enough hitting where it needs to be, and the band in general sounds more fired up than on the albums leading to it. The riffs are fairly creative, at least within the band's own canon, and they try to incorporate a bit of a modern groove or edge with some of the palm muting parts that keep it from sounding too forcibly nostalgic. Mike sounds just like he left off, in fact I think his performance here is superior Blessing in Disguise, with that harrowing decay to his sustain that feels angry and unique. Not exactly melodic and never as screamy as he might have been when he was younger, but that character to his style is in full effect, and he still to its day sounded like the most natural successor to Wayne. It just helps a lot that he's supported here by songs from Vanherhoof and company that leave a little visceral impact, that show some effort where a few of the albums between the two Howe eras were slightly lethargic or phoned in. There is an enthusiasm and virility here across all instruments that seems to concur with Mike's return.

The production is super clean here, and though it doesn't necessarily do the material any favors, and if anything creates a drier atmosphere, audio purists will really love the clarity of the bass, the acoustics, the beats and vocals and who can blame them. These tunes don't always end up with the catchiest of chorus parts, but at least they are striving for that, culminating with "Killing Your Time", "Sky Falls In" and the lumbering "It Waits" with the cool effects, shining if minimalistic synth lines, and searing chorus line. But really, there's nothing I feel compelled to skip when I'm revisiting this one, all the material holds at least some modicum of consistency and quality, and I remember at the time being happier with XI than I had been with any of their other albums since 1986. I STILL feel that way, though I've overall cooled on the material slightly since it's release. A good Metal Church record, and a worthy reunion, with some explosive potential for moving forward.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

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