Metal Church - "XI" (CD)
"XI" track listing:
2. Killing Your Time
3. No Tomorrow
4. Signal Path
5. Sky Falls In
6. Needle & Suture
8. Blow Your Mind
9. Soul Eating Machine
10. It Waits
11. Suffer Fools
Reviewed by CROMCarl on March 25, 2016
A lot of buzz has surrounded Metal Church and it’s about time, right? This perpetually underrated band that has battled and persevered through lineup changes, deaths, and disbandment deserves it. The heart and soul of the Church is guitarist/composer Kurdt Vanderhoof, the band’s lone original member. Metal Church was destined to be just as big as Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax, but fate took a different course. If you look back on the catalog, Metal Church has been consistently better than the “Big 4,” and despite all the roadblocks, appear to be able to put out a steady stream of music without ten year gaps. As you may have heard, Mike Howe has returned to the fold, after an abrupt retiring from the music scene. Was this a good move? You bet your sweet metal ass it was…and with it comes a whole other level of excitement and nostalgia.
With no disrespect to Ronny Munroe – who I absolutely adored with the band for the last four releases, especially 2013’s “Generation Nothing” – Mike Howe is the only singer outside of David Wayne that is most identifiable with Metal Church, giving the band a solid chance to finally gain the overall respect it so richly deserves. On “XI,” there is a whole lot of “Reset” and renewal – so much so that the listener gets wrapped up in the nostalgia so its hard to step back from the material and look at it without those rose colored glasses. Is “IX” as good as it appears to be? Of course, but it is by no means perfect.
In terms of great – “XI” represents resurgence…one that was truly started on “Generation Nothing.” Mike Howe’s voice is so pristine – a time capsule that instantly takes you back to “The Human Factor” or “Hanging in the Balance.” Just having his presence in the band is uplifting and will have you rooting hard for the album to be just as great as the early 90’s. The material itself has so many brilliant moments and you can tell why Mike Howe was excited enough to get back in the game. “Reset,” “Killing Your Time,” “No Tomorrow,” “Soul Eating Machine” and “Suffer Fools” are just a few of the outstanding break through tracks on “XI.” Add a change of pace with “Signal Path” and this album stands toe to toe with any other in the first phase of Mike Howe.
Stepping back from the excitement and taking a look at “IX” with a more critical eye, the one drawback is that there are many moments where the songs repeat and draw out a little too long. Take “Needle & Suture” as a primary example. Here is a track that could easily be the best on the album – if only for the fact that it contains Kurdt’s finest riff since “Fake Healer.” For the first two minutes it is bone crushingly great, to the point where my aging and out of shape body wants desperately to get in a pit and throw down with the youngins. It ascends…with Mike Howe starting soft and then belting out the best of his range (sounding his absolute best on the album)…and then repeats. 4:39 may not be a terribly long track, but it serves better with a minute shaved off.
The same goes for “Shadow,” a track with a stellar bridge/chorus, but filler type verses. On “It Waits,” I can do without the first half of the song, though when the payoff hits at 2:41 – its sounds even bigger. Both “Signal Path” and “Sky Falls In” serve much better as 4-5 minute tracks rather than 7 plus and “Blow your Mind” could do without a near two minute building intro. It’s almost as if “XI” loses its energy by track 4 only to get it back in slow building increments until “Soul Eating Machine.”
Sound wise, “XI” sounds crisp and clean – with Howe’s vocals nice and sharp. Jeff Plate’s performance is extraordinary as usual and his drums sound perfect. While the production is perfectly fine, there is a part of me that misses the grand darkness that was represented on “Metal Church,” “The Dark” and “Blessing In Disguise” – the only thing that Metal Church has yet to recapture in the modern era. When you play songs like “Beyond the Black,” “Battalions,” “Burial At Sea,” “Start the Fire” or “Fake Healer” there was a feel of darkness in the production and recording that went beyond the great songwriting. Call it youth, recording tools of the time, whatever…it still had never been duplicated. With that said, "XI" sounds stellar!
If “Generation Nothing” was the beginning of the path to total redemption for Metal Church, then “XI” really is the push of the “Reset” button which Mike Howe sings about in the album’s opening track. In so many ways, Metal Church has returned to glory days that they were never able to with Ronny at the helm (despite the fact that the material was consistently good). Looking beyond the nostalgia, “XI” would prove even better with some filler cutbacks and song shortening – which would really accentuate that ball of energy that Mike Howe brings back to the band. “XI” is a must buy for long time and new fans of the band and should be placed on the mantle in the same light as Howe, Phase One. I can only hope that respect will be bestowed and Howe, Phase Two will last another decade.
Highs: A return to glory - retirement preserved Mike Howe's amazing vocals.
Lows: The album can do with some filler and song length cutbacks that draw down the energy and excitement of "XI."
Bottom line: How did Metal Church fare on "XI"? Howe, indeed....
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