Released: 2008, SPV/Steamhammer
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Anyone who knows me can testify that I hold Metal Church’s 1986 release THE DARK in exceptionally high regard, even classifying it as one of the finest metal albums of all time. My fondness for the band certainly goes beyond that release, though, and in all honesty, Metal Church can do wrong in these eyes. The Seattle-based veterans have yet to put out a dud despite 2009 being the 25th anniversary of their brilliant self-titled debut. Sure, they took a six-year break in the mid-nineties when metal was a dirty word and the unforgiveable cover art of HANGING IN THE BALANCE still makes me cringe but Metal Church is a workhorse band that never disappoints.
On their ninth album, THIS PRESENT WASTELAND, the trend continues as the band has crafted their best album overall since BLESSING IN DISGUISE. Evoking a maturity in songwriting that only a band in their position can pull off, the ten songs here are chock full of melodies with plenty of hooks, but still retain the classic U.S. power metal sound they helped trademark. Vocalist Ronny Munroe, now on his third Metal Church outing, really comes to the table here going above and beyond anything his two predecessors did on record, his soaring Bruce Dickinson-like power taking hold of each and every song. New guitarist Rick Van Zandt also adds some raw, technical flair that has been lost on recent releases but is more than a welcome return. Accessible, epic and timeless in style, THIS PRESENT WASTELAND is flawless from start to finish and embodies everything great about Metal Church.
True to their history, Metal Church gets the ball rolling with the crackling, neck-snapper “The Company of Sorrow.” A driving tempo punctuated by the blustery guitar tandem of Kurdt Vanderhoof and Rick Van Zandt keeps things moving briskly but the razor-sharp rhythm section of Steve Unger and Jeff Plate lock into a punchy section at the three-minute mark that is so simple yet so effective. Capturing everything that makes up a classic metal song, “The Perfect Crime” is about as close to what could be called the best metal song of the year. Its mid-tempo groove, unforgettable chorus and stellar vocal performance from Ronny Munroe—listen to that falsetto scream at the end—should set its place as an instant classic in the band’s catalogue. The epic “Deeds of a Dead Soul” crawls along in a sinister manner with a blistering solo from Van Zant but immediately following it, the speedy “Meet You Maker” is a face melting entry that may be the heaviest track the band has laid down since “Merciless Onslaught” or “Psycho.” Plate’s drum and double bass attack really shines but the brilliant acoustic middle section just makes the song sound ever more vicious as a result. On “Monster,” Munroe’s voice takes on an almost Paul Shortino-like bluesy rasp that works really, really well and the entire band just locks into a striking musical unit. “Crawling To Extinction” grabs the listener with a head-bobbing groove that allows Unger’s bass to get into the spotlight and really shine. The vocal dynamics and mix of electric and acoustic guitar on “A War Never Won” will have many long-time fans drawing comparisons to “Watch The Children Pray” and Plate’s galloping beats just past the four-minute mark sizzle with a “Run To The Hills”-like urgency. The mighty riff of “Breathe Again” explodes out of the speakers with a pummeling NWOBHM-influenced gallop that echoes through the solo, as well.
From front to back, there really is not a bad track on THIS PRESENT WASTELAND, each one bursting with the indomitable spirit of what Metal Church fans have come to expect—and get—album after album. While they may not draw the same star power or instant recognition of other bands of the genre, Metal Church is truly one of the greatest American metal bands of all time. Their timeless style and devotion to classic metal ideals for nearly a quarter century have retained a fanbase and respect within the fickle metal community that seems to be unwavering. The lineup changes haven’t even slowed down the band despite three different lead vocalists, but all of these things prove what a treasure Metal Church truly is. THIS PRESENT WASTELAND is another notch in the band’s bullet belt and one that fans can once again rejoice over as they kneel at the altar of the mighty Metal Church.
KILLER KUTS: ALL!!!!