A Devil’s Dozen – Metal Church

The first week of April, 2016 was a great stretch. Not only did it deliver another opportunity to break away from the daily grind to meet up with some fellow Last Rites folks and drink during the day(s), there was also the fairly significant event that involved two momentous gigs: Some band called Iron Maiden midweek, and the triumphant return of a Mike Howe-fronted Metal Church at a significantly smaller venue two days prior.

While both bands justly fall under an abiding “80s Metal” banner, Metal Church and Iron Maiden obviously arrived into April 2016 from decidedly different paths. What’s notable for this particular tale, however, is the fact that the two continue to flaunt a near identical tonnage of vitality and conviction.

Certainly, Maiden has every reason for steadfastness: The band flashes an insanely durable overall sense of integrity, and they’re pulling in an average of 15,000 people per show while traveling around the world IN AN IRON MAIDEN AIRPLANE. Metal Church, on the other hand, appears to endure mostly on heart and passion alone. They packed Reggie’s Rock Club with an impressive number of howling fans – a notable deed for a Monday night before an Iron Maiden show – and they performed as if the joint held fifty times its capacity. In truth, Metal Church has always attacked their live shows as if they were pulling in Maiden crowds, even during the leaner Ronny Munroe years. That’s a proven fact I sincerely hope more than just a handful of our readers have been lucky enough to witness.

Put simply, Metal Church is a band that is committed to heavy metal with an unwavering “Faith in the Riff,” and they are relentlessly devoted to their fanbase. This time-tested formula has resulted in over 30 years worth of classic metal that’s clearly worthy of celebration, and certainly appropriate for entry into the hallowed halls of Last Rites’ Devil’s Dozen.

If you’ve somehow managed to remain unaware of the band’s material to date, you’ve got a lot of fun catching up to do. And if you’re a member of the Old Guard who’s ridden the ups and downs that inevitably accompany any band that manages to survive AND remain vital over three long decades, please join us in celebrating one of the genre’s most treasured reserves.

[MICHAEL WUENSCH]

 

 

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FAKE HEALER

[Blessing In Disguise, 1989] 

“Fake Healer” is the opening track off Metal Church’s 1989 release Blessing in Disguise and introduced the world to vocalist Mike Howe. Ahead of its time lyrically, the track highlighted the health care debate that was about to dominate the Clinton-era presidency. Certainly, the life of a rocker can require frequent doctor visits, and “Fake Healer” spoke honestly and directly about the cost of “health” in a Western capitalist culture. Artists, often without proper medical insurance, were forced to pay out of pocket for procedures which when may not be necessary but are certainly costly. Capitalism often means that “money talks” and, as Metal Church points out, without a fortune attached to it a life might not be “worth” saving. Despite the change in vocalists, musically, the track is not dissimilar to earlier Metal Church despite the shuffle beat played by the drums. “Fake Healer” is full of muted chord riffs, driving rhythms, blues inspired bridges and understated yet melodic soloing. [MANNY-O-WAR] 

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METAL CHURCH

[Metal Church, 1985]

DJJJUNN jugguda jugguda jugguda jugguda jugguda DJJJUNN DJJJUNN DJJJUNN DJJJUNN jugguda jugguda jugguda jugguda jugguda jugguda DJJJUNN jugguda jugguda jugguda jugguda jugguda DJJJUNN DJJJUNN DJJJUNN DJJJUNN jugguda jugguda jugguda jugguda jugguda juggudaMetal Church’s classic eponymous track features an intro and build so effective that it essentially encompasses a large portion of the song. The drums begin simply, a single, foreboding, minor key guitar riff sets the tone, and eventually it all arrives at THAT GODDAMN RIFF. Perhaps nowhere else in metal has there been a line more worthy of group air guitar action, more worthy of Beavis and Butthead’s couch potato emulation, more worthy of a slow but righteous headbang. It’s just that completely irresistible, and one of the top examples of just how gobsmackingly cool heavy metal can be. That this verse riff is perfectly paired with some of the late David Wayne’s most dominant, memorable vocals can only push the whole thing further into greatness. That the song also contains an equally memorable chorus and killer dueling solo section can only push it further into its rightful place as a bonafide heavy metal classic.

Really, the only question that can be raised about the song – and this is in no way a shot at the great “Beyond the Black” – but how the incomprehensible hell was this song not the first track on their debut? [ZACH DUVALL]

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BADLANDS

[Blessing In Disguise, 1989]

Despite the departures of vocalist David Wayne and founding guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof (who continued as a songwriter), after the release of The Dark, Metal Church didn’t miss a beat with their follow up, Blessing In Disguise. Although opener “Fake Healer” was more than enough reassurance, the album’s defining moment is arguably “Badlands,” a 7+ minute epic that put new vocalist Mike Howe’s full vocal range on display and really presented the band as not just musicians but storytellers, as every note accentuates every word of a hardened drifter facing mortality while travelling across a barren desert. Though they would fall behind the pack commercially, “Badlands” showed that they could match up with, and even surpass, any of the big names creatively. [DAVE PIRTLE] 

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THE HUMAN FACTOR

[The Human Factor, 1991]

1991 was a volatile year in the music industry. It also was a turning point for artist’s rights. Only a few years after Dee Snider testified in front of Congress alone and Luke Skyywalker aka Uncle Luke of Two Live Crew was acquitted of obscenity, the Tipper Gore led assault against an artist’s right to free speech was dwindling. In that same year, A Tribe Called Quest released The Low End Theory which included the track “Show Business,” itself an assault on the industry’s treatment of artists. Metal Church stepped into the fold with the title track off their 1991 release The Human Factor. The upbeat banger allowed the band to speak out against copyright infringement, the wealth of one-hit wonder types, and the struggle for fame and fortune by so many artists in the slowly eroding metal genre. “The Human Factor” is, without a doubt, one of the characteristic tracks of the Mike Howe era: assaultive, in your face, and relentless, “The Human Factor” summarizes much of what Metal Church is all about: truth, pure rock n’ roll and catchy tracks that feel accessible and intimate. [MANNY-O-WAR]

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METHOD TO YOUR MADNESS

[The Dark, 1986]

I’ve had an ongoing conversation the past few years with some friends about metal albums throughout the ages that have never quite been replicated. The Dark is one of those examples, thanks to the perfect balance of its unique sound and an archaic (but weirdly lovable) production. The album’s harder, thrashier cuts hit with a beautiful blunt punchiness, but it’s the darker, slightly slower numbers that push it over the edge and make it my go-to choice these days when the Church bug bites. “Watch the Children Pray” was the closest thing to a radio hit (remember Z-Rock?), but “Method to Your Madness” was perfection. Perhaps David Wayne’s previous life as a military field medic is what slams home the added sense of authenticity; there is a true sense of despair when he laments “I’ve walked death’s quiet paths, each lonely mile.” Plus, the seamless transition into the song’s quiet midpoint does a fantastic job of showcasing the softer side of Wayne, a vocalist who was always best known for his unmistakable grittiness. He is still greatly missed. [MICHAEL WUENSCH]

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BATTALIONS

[Metal Church, 1984]

As one who got his first taste of Metal Church with The Human Factor, it was a bit jarring to go back to their debut album and hear just how much the band had evolved (and considering my second taste was the mostly forgettable Masterpeace, just how savage a vocalist David Wayne could be). This blistering track shows a group of young thrashers more concerned with speed than with melody, with forging their own path in a genre on the rise than to simply go along with their contemporaries. It certainly worked out for them: The independent release attracted the attention of Metallica and Elektra Records, the former encouraging the latter to sign them before someone else did. [DAVE PIRTLE]

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IN HARM’S WAY

[The Human Factor, 1991]

Plenty of heavy metal bands have written songs about the horrors people inflict upon other people. What makes “In Harm’s Way” special is how it manages to so honestly convey the emotion of child abuse, first from the child’s perspective and then from that of the man he becomes. The opening juxtaposition of gently picked acoustic guitar with sharp snare cracks sets the stage for the contrasted sadness and anger that defines the track. Mike Howe handles the vulnerability of the verses and conviction of the chorus perfectly with a heavy investment of passion and dynamic phrasing. And when the hard stop bridge explodes into John Marshall’s fiercely emotive solo, it’s near impossible to keep your fists unclenched, to not run out and scoop up every kid with shithead abusive parents and pack ‘em home where they can enjoy warm smiles and hugs with their cartoons and breakfast cereal in the afternoon like god intended. [LONE WATIE]

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BEYOND THE BLACK

[Metal Church, 1984]

How do you open one of the greatest heavy metal records in American history? Like this. Exactly like this. Creepy spoken word intro atop minor chords… Check. Killer riff that runs headlong into a stomping beat… Check. Gravelly and yet melodic vocals, adding a certain rougher edge to the traditional metal bite… Check, and hell, yes, to all of those, the combination adding up to something even greater than all the parts. Metal Church was never an easy band to categorize – was it power? Was it thrash? Who cares, really? It’s just metal, and when it’s this good, it’s unbeatable. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]

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REST IN PIECES (APRIL 15, 1912)

[Blessing In Disguise, 1989]

While 1989’s Blessing in Disguise is opened by the ginormous “Fake Healer,” a watershed moment in its own right was its following track, “Rest in Pieces (April 15, 1912), one that underscored the full mastery of the newly re-tooled Metal Church.  A foil to “Healer’s” snarling, rhythmic groove, “Rest” instead deals in slashing riff work over the driving percussion of the underrated Kirk Arrington. Blessing in Disguise also ushered in a lyrical maturation for Metal Church, and the narrative nature of this tale of the doomed Titanic played a key role in the pacing and dynamics of this classic tune. [CLAY MOORE]

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THE POWERS THAT BE

[Blessing In Disguise, 1989]

The final cut of Mike Howe’s first Metal Church record, Blessing in Disguise, “The Powers That Be” was a key signpost in young Lone’s search for niches in which to fit. The answer it offered, of course, was to maybe stop trying so fucking hard because, after all, your heart is the key. It’s a track built from brightly toned classic metal riffs and ascendant melodies and just-punk-enough propulsive drumming that all comes together like some colossal anthemic fistpump fusillade punctuated by a pair of fiery solos from charter Church member Craig Wells and newcomer John Marshall. It may not be the best song on Blessing, but it is the most fun and easily the most inspiring after eight tracks that mostly remind us of the many shittinesses that plagued us even in those improbably romanticized 80’s; just a wonderfully fitting close to an amazing album. [LONE WATIE]

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GODS OF WRATH

[Metal Church, 1984]

Metal Church’s bullet-proof debut opens with one of the greatest one-two punches in all of metal. But bands back then loved dropping a tune like “Gods of Wrath” around the four spot on a record because being the last song on Side “A” still meant something in the 80s. Encouraging listeners to flip the platter was one thing, but a devastating cut to close out the first side essentially rifled bombed headbangers off their dead asses with a NEED to hear what was next. David Wayne’s method of belting out a screeeeeaaaaming call to arms was always exhilarating, and that fundamental component happens to be tattooed all over “Gods of Wrath,” as is an absolutely smoking lead that stretches a full minute-and-a-half before the song eventually closes on a terrifically epic, crushing note. [MICHAEL WUENSCH]

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WATCH THE CHILDREN PRAY

[The Dark, 1986]

For all of the absolute rawk and thrashing ferocity for which Metal Church is known, it is often the more serious, sorrowful tracks that help to glue their albums together. On The Dark, this role was played by the very (ahem) dark song “Watch the Children Pray.” A rather beautiful, if harrowing clean guitar line begins the song before the typically boisterous David Wayne delivers one of the more understated vocal performances of his career. Even the bombast of the song’s pre-chorus, chorus, and bridge seem restrained; the solo is far more an expression of raw emotion than some excuse to rock out. The song never gives into the temptation to unleash the full thrashing violence, instead maintaining that wonderfully haunting vibe throughout, ending with the same soft tones with which it began. One of the few times Metal Church leaned strongly to the melodic side of their thrash/melody balance, and the results were not only striking, but a great example of their full range as songwriters. [ZACH DUVALL]

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TON OF BRICKS

[The Dark, 1986]

You can’t say Metal Church didn’t warn you – and with their characteristic lack of concession to subtlety. The song flat out says that it’ll hit you like a ton of bricks, and thankfully, it backs up that statement with all the necessary power. The opening track on the band’s second album, “Bricks” is business as usual for Metal Church – killer catchy Vanderhoof riffs, a rock-solid rhythm section, and Wayne’s gritty howl declaring such niceties as “I’d love to eat your bones” and “you will feel the fatal blow.” Case closed: this one’s definitely far heavier than a ton of feathers. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]

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Posted by Last Rites

GENERALLY IMPRESSED WITH RIFFS

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