(Rat Pak/Nuclear Blast Records)
I can clearly remember receiving my cassette copy of the Metal Church classic The Dark (1986) via the now-defunct Columbia House. Although I was entirely unfamiliar with the group's collective works, the pre-release hype had been significant, with publications such as Kerrang! and Rock Hard offering particularly bountiful praise. Not surprisingly, once I was confronted with the histrionic-laden strains of “Ton Of Bricks”, “Start The Fire” and “Method To Your Madness”, I soon found myself in the throes of a disturbingly-intense love affair. Despite temporarily loosing touch with my inner 'Psycho' when the group announced the departure of the inimitable David Wayne, I ultimately took solace within the additions of multi-octave ex-Heretic frontman Mike Howe and former Metallica guitar tech John Marshall. Now, thirty-three years later, with the release of the triumphant return-to-form XI as well as the return of Howe, I again find myself more than happy to overindulge.
On the brilliant XI (2016), an expertly assembled eleven song collection of Thrash-infused Heavy Metal, each track, beginning with the thunderous, self-explanatory modus operandi “Reset” and the thought-provoking tirade “Killing Your Time”, immediately commands the rapt and undivided attention of all parties involved, myself most definitely included. Obviously intent on improving upon the arguably-inferior Generation Nothing (2013), the group fires on all cylinders early and often, unleashing an airtight and seamless barrage of soaring vocals, blistering fretwork and imaginatively punishing rhythms. Openly embracing their fist-pumping, mosh-inducing roots--most notably the prototypical Thrash of Blessing In Disguise (1989), The Human Factor (1991) and, to a lesser extent, Hanging In The Balance (1993)--without becoming derivative or tiresome, the group wisely capitalizes on the more-than-considerable pre-release build-ups by firing on all cylinders early and often.
Continuing with the acoustic-tinged--albeit uniquely exhaustive--tome “Signal Path” and the maddeningly infectious “Needle & Suture”, the newly-rejuvenated combination of vocalist Mike Howe (returning after a twenty-three year absence), guitarists Kurdt Vanderhoof (ex-Hall Aflame, The Lewd, Presto Ballet) and Rick Van Zandt (ex-Rottweiller), bassist Steve Unger and drummer Jeff Plate (Machines Of Grace, ex-Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra) steamrolls ahead like the well-oiled machine they have so obviously become. With the multi-octave Howe adding sorely-missed elements of legitimacy and stability to the group's ever-morphing ranks, the group drives home each key focal point with a previously unparalleled, blood-thirsty enthusiasm. The resulting initial efforts, while far from groundbreaking and certainly not revolutionary, are 'jam-packed' with enough razor-sharp riffs and solos to leave even the most pessimistic of would-be devotees thoroughly satisfied.
Co-Produced by Vanderhoof and the acclaimed Chris 'The Wizard' Collier (KXM, Lynch Mob, Prong), other standouts, including the relentlessly pummeling lamentation “Soul Eating Machine” and the equally impressive closer “Suffer Fools”, serve as a much-welcomed reminder of the group's unabashed lyrical and compositional prowess. Fortified throughout by a series of scalding Rat Pak Records exclusive bonus tracks, most notably a re-recording of “Badlands”, “Blister Fist” and “The Enemy Mind”, the end result(s) of the group's efforts are seeming guaranteed to appeal to both die-hard completists and clueless newcomers alike. While it's arguable if one can entirely discount the fruits of the group's oft-maligned Ronny Munroe era (most notably The Weight Of The World and the criminally-underrated A Light In The Dark), the once seemingly unlikely reunion of Howe and Vanderhoof has resulted in what can only be accurately described as some of their finest recorded moments.
But is it really that good? Absolutely! Easily the improbably long-running group's most effective post-The Human Factor (1991) effort, the majority--if not all--of the decidedly ear-pleasing wares contained herein are undoubtedly among the finest recorded moments in their truly storied history. Even if you find yourself less-than-enthralled with the undeniably-conspicuous absence of guitarists Craig Wells and John Marshall, bassist Duke Erickson and drummer Kirk Arrington (i.e. the near entirety of the group's 'classic line-up), one must, at the very least, sincerely admire their ability to effectively re-capture their past without sounding either forced or dated. As a result, if you've once again found yourself in search of a refreshingly 'Old School' alternative to the painfully mindless din and clatter that so often masquerades as the Heavy and Thrash Metal genres, then this, my friends, might just be the high-octane panacea for whatever ails you. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.
Generation Nothing (2013)
This Present Wasteland (2008)
A Light In The Dark (2006)
The Weight Of The World (2004)
Hanging In The Balance (1993)
The Human Factor (1991)
Blessing In Disguise (1989)
The Dark (1986)
Metal Church (1984)
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