Metal Church, one of the longest running bands in metal to never release a dud. Yes, you heard it right; this is one of the most consistent bands you’ll find in metal. Over the span of a 22 year recording career (well, minus 5 years for the break-up between HANGING IN THE BALANCE and MASTERPEACE) Metal Church have yet to let their fans down. Sure, the sound has changed over the years injecting more melody during the late 80’s and early 90’s and sure, the line-up hasn’t been the most consistent at times (there’s only one original member left now) but this hasn’t stopped each and every Metal Church release from being top quality metal that deserves to be heard.
Coming off the quite successful, WEIGHT OF THE WORLD, which saw the band come back after losing vocalist David Wayne (R.I.P.) and in some people’s eyes, a “not up to snuff” release (though that’s hogwash to say the least), the band has released A LIGHT IN THE DARK. With this new album, there’s yet another changing of the guard, this time at the drum stool. Prior to recording, long time drummer, Kirk Arrington left the band and was replaced by Jeff Plate (Savatage, TSO, Chris Caffery). Admittedly, this worried me somewhat as Kirk Arrington’s style is very recognizable and somewhat flashy in a very 70’s way, while Plate is a very bare bones player and would more than likely lend a different feel to the band’s music.
Thankfully, Metal Church has retained much of its sound and has created a much more “instant” album than they had with WEIGHT OF THE WORLD. A lot of the tracks on this release don’t take as long to sink in, as I found WEIGHT OF THE WORLD to take months before I had completely digested all of the songs (some songs felt almost too laid back on initial listens). This time the songs are more immediate, even slower tracks like “The Believer” come off with a sense of urgency that draw you in right away. Vocally Ronny Munroe has done another excellent job of walking the line between previous vocalists, David Wayne and Mike Howe, while still being able to add his own stamp to the songs. While the riffing and melody lines are very much stamped with long time songwriter and guitarist, Kurdt Vanderhoof’s signature style with Jeff Plate not taking a thing away from the recording, like I had feared.
Opening with its title track, A LIGHT IN THE DARK goes in for the kill right away. The song treads the line of past influences being a traditional metal romp that includes touches of the bands old thrash leanings here and there. Ronny’s vocals sore overtop though one initial complaint comes up right away, mostly a production issue, as Ronny’s vocals seem to be far too upfront, sometimes hiding the blunt force riffs sitting underneath. “A Light in the Dark” pounds away at the listener for its verses with a nice drum transition by Jeff Plate leading into the initial chorus. A song such as “Beyond All Reason” opens up in a rather typical sense for Metal Church, with soft guitar melody which moves into a drum and guitar interplay for a build up into a bouncing thrash riff for the verse. It almost reminds me of “Sleeps With Thunder” off of MASTERPEACE, just the way the drums and guitars interact. The chorus does take a touch to get used to, with the guitar riff ending on a slightly odd sounding note, which initially makes things sound awkward, especially with Ronny hold his note through it but with a few listens, it’s noticeable how it works on a different level. The dual lead guitars near the end of the song are amazingly catchy, especially with the thumping bass line working underneath.
In tracks 4, 5, and 6 (“Disappear”, “The Believer”, and “Temples of the Sea”) the pace and attitude changes, becoming slower and more subdued. The overall feeling for these three songs is a bit more like what was going on near the end of THE WEIGHT OF THE WORLD or in some parts of HANGING IN THE BALANCE. More of a slow burn for the most part, though “Disappear” does pick itself up a bit after a while. “Pill for the Kill” moves the album back to the more rocking side of the Metal Church spectrum. “More Than Your Master” is a mid-paced crusher, the main riff being undeniably heavy set between some very melodic and soft sections. The album is capped off with a rerecorded version of “Watch the Children Play” done in honour of David Wayne who passed away last year. To say this version is competent would be a great disservice to the band as the band play the song as well as they ever have and Ronny does his best to give tribute to Dave’s mammoth vocals. This is certainly a great way to end the album, to give tribute to David Wayne, as well as bridge the gap between the old Metal Church and the new.
One complaint I’ve seen over and over about the new album is a lack of speed, certainly this isn’t the first couple Metal Church albums that had a very heavy reliance on the speed/thrash influence at the time but this is a pounding Metal Church release that isn’t afraid to move you and it will, if you give it the chance. Metal Church have done it again and I’d expect no less of a band that’s been creating high quality metal for the last 20 years.
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