When talking about underrated Metal bands, the name of METAL CHURCH often is mentioned. Since the 80s Kurdt Vanderhoof is not just the glue holding the band together, but also the driving creative force in one of Metal’s best kept secrets in the Power Metal genre. Within the scene the status that albums such as the self-titled album, “The Dark”, “Blessing In Disguise”, ...well, basically any of their albums could be taken as potential cult album, but in the end they never received the recognition they more than definitely would have deserved.
Now in the year 2008 the Seattle-based band is back with its ninth studio album, the third one with latest vocalist Ronny Munroe, titled “This Present Wasteland” and once more they do not disappoint. Out of the three METAL CHURCH singers so far, Mike Howe still is my favourite, mainly because of his almost acidic vocal performance, but as many reservations as had about Ronny, he definitely has proven his worth for the band and he is one of the factors that METAL CHURCH are still going as strong as ever. For the first time featuring ROTTWEILLER guitarist Rick van Zandt as six-stringed partner of Kurdt Vanderhoof, and together they shell out great, strong riffs and technical playing over a more than solid and powerful rhythm section above all Ronny delivers his probably strongest vocal delivery to date.
As before, elements of Thrash line the Heavy/Power Metal of the Americans, but never ever does it (the Thrash) take over nor does it (the Power Metal) ever even get close to the regions of the RHAPSODY (IN FIRE)s or HAMMERFALLs of the world. METAL CHURCH always have been known for their more gritty approach to the genre and I think that is at the same time one of the reasons for their longevity and the relatively limited success, as they are not as immediately catchy as many of the other bands out there, but are at the same time firmly planted in the real world, as their lyrics also showcase, which do not feature and dragons and princesses, but death, inner struggles and social issues, talk about down to earth there.
And from the sweeping opener “The Company Of Sorrow” on you can feel the bristling energy of this album, driven forward by the powerhouse drumming of SAVATAGE’s Jeff Plate and the sharp riffing of Vanderhoof. I don’t know if the continuing line-up changes in this case have led to the band sounding fresh and energetic, but whatever the cause, it works for “This Present Wasteland”, because it keeps you on your toes and engaged, even if it might take two or three spins to fully appreciate what the quintet is firing off. METAL CHURCH never have been about flashy elements and the sheer power of tracks such as the mentioned opener, thrashy “Meet Your Maker”, “Monster”, or “Breathe Again” (a little less on the powerful side, but still very dynamic) makes it clear that sometimes these flashy elements are just there to mask shortcomings in the songwriting department, but not with these veterans. But they are not just all “through the wall” power, as the dark “Deeds Of A Dead Soul” showcases, which is slow, but by no means a ballad, with over eight minutes it is just too long, shaving off a few minutes would have done it good, though. Same goes for the grooving “Crawling To Extinction”,
From the vocals over the guitars to the drum sound, the overall impression of “This Present Wasteland” is earthy and as far removed from bombast and pomp as you probably can be within this genre. Surely that will limit their appeal to some segregations of fans, but hey, sounds more handmade than quite a few of those bands that use the keyboard as a lead instrument, accompanied by guitars, if you ask me. The production also adds this equally earthy feeling to the songs, giving them the exact right surroundings to unfold their best effect. METAL CHURCH probably will never commercially break through, but they continue to delivery nothing but quality, so support this shamelessly underrated band!
(Online December 16, 2008)