Metal Church

Picture of Metal Church

Blessing In Disguise

Metal Church - Blessing In Disguise ©1989 Elektra
1. Fake Healer
2. Rest In Pieces (April 15, 1912)
3. Of Unsound Mind
4. Anthem To The Estranged
5. Badlands
6. The Spell Can't Be Broken
7. It's A Secret
8. Cannot Tell A Lie
9. The Powers That Be

Metal Church seems to have been cursed in their existence. One could slap on the old platitude, "Always the bridesmaid, never the bride" and anyone familiar with their career would know precisely what is meant. The band suffered many lineup changes and ultimately watched the music scene in Washington explode into superstardom with them standing on the sidelines, the ultimate "uncool" band in a grunge world. The tragic thing is that the band had been releasing quality albums for years while never attaining access to the next level, unless you consider guitarist John Marshall's occasional stints as live guitarist for Metallica while James Hetfield was injured as getting to the next level.

Blessing In Disguise should have been the album that pushed the band over the hump. Although the band saw original vocalist David Wayne and founding guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof leave (Vanderhoof did remain in a working relationship with the rest of the band, providing quite a bit of songwriting), the replacements, the aforementioned Marshall and new singer Mike Howe, were more the satisfactory new team members. Howe possessed a mighty, Dio-esque, throaty voice that discarded some of the silly stereotypical metal vibratto and tailings, but offered a meaty jab. The music on Blessing in Disguise falls between stylistic boxes, being not quite thrash, not quite speed metal, but rumbles along in a very efficient way. The songs covered a range of topics, from the sinking of the Titanic ("Rest in Pieces (April 15, 1912)"), to modern health care ("Fake Healer") to homelessness and derangement (the token "ballad" of "Anthem to the Estranged"). Most of the songs are at least pretty darned good, but "Badlands" excels above the rest with a great tempo and smart use of overlaying an acoustic guitar during sections of it. The production is a tad flat, muddying up the bottom end a bit more than necessary, but overall is fairly clear.

On a whole, Blessing in Disguise was one of the better metal releases for 1989 and that was with quite a bit of stiff competition from their contemporaries. Metal Church should have received more recognition from the metal world with this release, but it seemed their career was on the slow track to obscurity from this point on. Regardless, a fine release for those with an interest in 80s metal.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 06/2001

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The Human Factor

Metal Church - The Human Factor ©1991 Epic
1. The Human Factor
2. Date With Poverty
3. The Final Word
4. In Mourning
5. In Harm's Way
6. In Due Time
7. Agent Green
8. Flee From Reality
9. Betrayed
10. The Fight Song

A recurring theme (at least in my mind, for whatever that's worth) about this time period of heavy metal is how so many bands reacted to the winds of change. As we all know, thrash metal was on the way out the door and it's interesting on a sociological level to see how bands adapted and dealt with it. No doubt many were enraged by the industry around them and perhaps some even tilted at a few windmills. Metal Church, for instance, went about business as usual but did seem as though they had an axe to grind. They were coming off a rather good album in 1989's Blessing in Disguise, but were facing a rather indifferent record buying public.

The Human Factor is the sound of a band playing the only sound they really know, which is ramped up heavy metal that had roots in traditional metal and thrash metal energy. It certainly wasn't going to wow any sets of ears seeking out a new sound. But for those who enjoyed the 80s and didn't want to see it end, The Human Factor was fairly satisfying. It wasn't quite as impressive as Blessing in Disguise, but good enough to please Metal Church fans. Throughout this album, the band sneaks in some very catchy hooks and singer Mike Howe, despite being a bit over the top, really delivers the lyrics with vigor and vim. But although I have a generally warm feeling towards this album, I do occasionally have issues with some of the lyrics. The title track is a rant against the practice of sampling, which offended Metal Church's musical purist ways. Heavy metal didn't have the greatest relationship with keyboards and synthesizers in the 80s and no doubt many were offended by rappers borrowing recorded material. This song seems a bit quaint in this day and age where mash-ups, remixes and sampling is so common that even I do it for giggles. The other song that caught my attention was "The Final Word", which was about the flag burning nonsense in the early 90s in the United States. The song unfortunately has that redneck mentality of "Love it or leave it" that stifles debate of social issues in the United States. But in general, the band concentrated on various social topics with The Human Factor and did it with plenty of earnest inspiration.

This recommendation is pretty easy. If you liked Blessing in Disguise, this is a good, if slightly less impressive follow up (but with a rather good production). Metal Church was one of the better thrash metal bands of the time and should please those exploring that time period.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 02/2010

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Hanging in the Balance

Metal Church - Hanging in the Balance ©1993 Blackheart Records
1. Gods of Second Chance
2. Losers in the Game
3. Hypnotized
4. No Friend of Mine
5. Waiting for a Savior
6. Conductor
7. Little Boy
8. Down to the River
9. End of the Age
10. Lovers and Madmen
11. A Subtle War
12. Low to Overdrive

Undoubtedly, Metal Church's Hanging in the Balance suffers from some of the worst artwork to ever adorn a heavy metal album cover. The cartoonish image reminds me of some of the lamest pop-punk bands of the 90s who also thought having a cartoon cover was all sorts of rad. It's not. And considering how uncool metal was in 1993, this artwork did Metal Church absolutely no favors regarding their credibility.

Ironically, this actually one of the band's better records. I suspect most of us figured this out a decade later, of course. While Hanging in the Balance allowed a few more diverse ideas into the songwriting, the album retains much of the same flavor of the previous two albums (Blessing in Disguise and The Human Factor). The most impressive thing about this album is that singer Mike Howe never sounds more confident in his ability to deliver the melodies, which really elevates things. The song arrangements are solid, particularly in the highlight track "End of the Age". You can tell this lineup of Metal Church benefits from the years they had been together as everything gels nicely. The band works in some nice dynamics, varies the songs, and generally make Hanging in the Balance a quite enjoyable record. Considering many of their contemporaries either moved towards the groove metal territory (Whiplash, for instance), broke up (countless bands), or simply put out lame records (Overkill's I Hear Black), Metal Church was able to add to their sound and still come across as true to their roots. Hanging in the Balance strikes me as a natural progression for the band.

If you liked the previous two Metal Church albums featuring this lineup, you most certainly need to be a completist and find this one, despite that awful cover. Metal Church did ultimately break up for awhile after this album, reforming with original vocalist David Wayne and guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof. Eventually, Metal Church would become one of those bands where not a single member actually appears on every studio release. But to me, the lineup on the trio of albums released from 1989 to 1993 is the best and most impressive, making three very good (if shy of excellent) albums that most any metal fans can enjoy.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 03/2010

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