Damned If You Do
(Rat Pak/Nuclear Blast Records)
When Thrash Metal icons Metal Church announced the departure of the once-inimitable David Wayne and the subsequent hiring of former Heretic vocalist Mike Howe, I found myself questioning the group's immediate future. Although I was entirely unfamiliar with Howe's arguably-limited résumé (Heretic issued Breaking Point, their full-length debut, via Metal Blade Records in 1988), my 'deeply personal' experiences with both The Dark (1986) and it's self-title predecessor (1984) had left a lasting impact upon my impressionable psyche, leaving me reluctant to explore uncharted territory. Regardless of why the change had needed to happen, I was young, stubborn and wasn't interested in such a dramatic volte-face. Fortunately, I was ultimately able to set aide my more-than-considerable misgivings and wholeheartedly embrace the newly-rejuvenated group as they released Blessing In Disguise in 1989 and The Human Factor in 1991, leading to what has become a life-long love affair.
On the brilliant Damned If You Do (2018), an expertly assembled eleven song collection of Thrash-infused Heavy Metal, each track, beginning with the maddeningly infectious lamentation “Damned If You Do” and the delightfully crunchy, insta-classic “The Black Things”, immediately commands the rapt and undivided attention of all parties involved, myself most definitely included. Attempting to capitalize on the surprisingly intense wave of momentum initiated with the release of universally well-received XI (2016), the group fires on all cylinders early and often without, believe it or not, sounding either forced or dated. Wasting little--if any--time deftly channeling their 'inner 1988' with a sense of what can only be described as a sense of glee that belies the relatively brief length of their re-constitution, the group reminds us all of their unabashed compositional prowesses. Flashing moments of brilliance amid a time-tested formulation, they compel listeners to forge ahead.
Continuing with the hook-laden call to arms “Revolution Underway” and the galloping, mosh-inducing gem “Guillotine”, the airtight combination of vocalist Mike Howe, guitarists Kurdt Vanderhoof (ex-Hall Aflame, The Lewd, Presto Ballet) and Rick Van Zandt, bassist Steve Unger (Temple Of Brutality) and ex-Lita Ford/Temple Of Brutality/W.A.S.P. drummer Stet Howland (replacing Trans-Siberian Orchestra alumni Jeff Plate) steamrolls ahead like the well-oiled machine they have once again become. Adding a sorely-missed element of legitimacy and stability to the group's ever-morphing ranks, the multi-octave Howe again 'delivers the goods' as they drive home each key focal point with veritable avalanche of razor-sharp riffs and solos and imaginatively punishing rhythms. Remaining reminiscent of their prototypical past while maintaining a modern edge that wisely avoids self-plagiarism, their initial efforts build upon the thunderous XI by remaining intensely focused on songwriting.
Easily the improbably long-running group's most effective post-Blessing In Disguise effort, other standouts, including the curiously-titled--yet highly-effective--societal examination “Monkey Finger” and the relentlessly pummeling tirade “The War Electric”, serve as a much-welcomed reminder of the group's unabashed lyrical and compositional prowess. A self-Produced affair throughout, Damned In You Do finds the group refusing to rely on the nostalgia, or perhaps the outright novelty, of the group quite literally 'roaring' back into life. With Howe and Vanderhoof undeniably operating amid a bona fide creative peak, the group now finds itself on the verge of re-attaining greatness, making it a genuine and sincere surprise for all dedicated members of the congregation. The end result(s) of their obviously conceited efforts are, without a doubt, quite easily worthy of the highest of critical and commercial accolades, showcasing their renewed stranglehold on the genre they'd once popularized.
In conclusion, what ultimately separates the fist-pumping, mosh-inducing 'instant classic' that is so often the mighty Damned If You Do from it's few legitimate contemporaries is the group's seemingly unparalleled ability to effectively re-capture the gargantuan tonalities of their not-so-recent past. Although it remains to be seen if they will be capable of equaling the chart success of XI (e.g. within the top sixty on the US Billboard 200 and within the top thirty in Germany, Switzerland and the UK), the ultimate testament of it's potential lies within the swarming legion of fans in attendance of their notoriously sweat-soaked performances. Love 'em or loathe 'em, this is quite possibly as good as Thrash gets. Needless to say, if you've once again found yourself in search of a refreshingly Old School alternative to the painfully mindless banalities that are so often force fed en mass, then this, my friends, might just be the high-octane cure-all for what ails you. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.
Damned In You Do (2018)
Classic Live (2017)
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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