One, if not THE most underrated album by an already criminally underrated band is "Hanging In The Balance" by American METAL CHURCH. From their already legendary, self titled debut on they had been a guarantor for very powerful Power Metal of the American school, but still sounding different than most of their countrymen. Ok, their latest output "Masterpeace" had not really been convincing, but that only on the side.
What might very well have caused some dislikings right from the start has been the admittedly pretty strange and un-Metal cover, which does have some connection to the album title, but in an area, where the visual side is an integral part of the whole package, I could really imagine that it might have barred the entrance to the album for some people, but "Hanging In The Balance" is one of those cases, where you should not do this mistake, because it would be a big one, trust me!
If you now read Power Metal, then do not expect fast double bass, big epics or choirs, that would not only be the European school, but METAL CHURCH do not follow in the tracks of bands like HELSTAR, OMEN and the likes. Ever since the Seattle based band had sounded original, not least thanks to their singers. At first David "Reverend" Wayne, then (also on this album) former HERETIC fronter Mike Howe, who definitely are not standard, but leave their own mark on the songs.
With "Gods Of Second Chance" METAL CHURCH set out broodingly energetic, without really getting fast, intense rather is the right word. Right after "Losers In The Game" accelerates the whole thing, with an almost swinging guitar melody, strong drive and equally strong melody, great track, but it's getting even better, with the fourth song "No Friend Of Mine". Altogether a good bit more aggressive the track convinces with damn strong vocals, good tension, once more great drive and damn good melodies, a true killer!
With the emotionally starting, then more crunching "Waiting For A Savior" and the rougher and dirtier "Conductor" they continue until we get a double pack in form of "Down To The River" and "End Of The Age". The first killer is driving, riff laden, with another great delivery by Mike Howe, while the more than seven minute "End Of The Age" starts out balladesque, with acoustic guitars, just to rise in intensity and heaviness, that is how variable and energetic Heavy Metal has to sound like! Right after they surprise with the very emotional acoustic instrumental "Lovers And Madmen".
The German license version of "Hanging In The Balance" contains the bonus track "Low To Overdrive", a driving mid tempo song with an a bit more aggressive list, while the limited DigiPak (fold out, but contrary to the jewel case without the booklet) has three live tracks instead, in not too great sound quality, but in any way usable. So as true METAL CHURCH fan you will need both, more or less…
"Hanging In The Balance" for sure has not turned out to be a spectacular album, but reveals many details and just strong songs, which should appeal to any fan of high quality Metal. The attention that they have deserved, METAL CHURCH never received, which is an injustice in itself, so please try to at least get their first four albums, you will not regret it! (Online November 16, 2003)