Review by Rick Ossian
Metal Church of Aberdeen, Washington (circa 1980) are back with a vengeance with their first recording in three years. XI features the return of vocalist Mike Howe, taking over from Ronny Munroe, who has formed his own band, Munroe’s Thunder. He is accompanied by Kurdt Vanderhoof (Presto Ballet) on guitar, Rick van Zandt on guitar, Jeff Plate on drums and Steve Unger on bass. Fret not, gentle reader, they are still just as heavy as they were during the days of Blessing in Disguise.
The opening track, Reset, is an excellent heavy number with some considerable guitar work. The lyrics seem a bit morbid at times; “Turn the page/In my old age/Now I’m at the final stage“, but overall it’s a pretty upbeat number. Some heavy shifting going on (2:20) and a nice little lead at 2:35.
Killing Your Time features a nice build-up at the outset, and is a heavy-duty Thrash with simple heavy-as-hell riffs. Some seriously chugging uptempo stuff here, and some prophetic lyrics; “And when it’s time for you to pay/For all your evil ways/Your story no one will believe”. There are two guitar solos, and the second one almost sounds as if both axemen are at it simultaneously… did somebody say twin leads? I dared!
No Tomorrow has one of those weird strumming intros, then the slamming main riff. Marching Metal drums come to the fore next, and again I am struck by the lyrics; “Losing your mind is like losing your soul/Life your life and there will be no tomorrow“. The strumming comes into play again (3:10) later in the tune, and of course there is a lead guitar solo (3:30), and the riffing at the close is pretty cool.
Signal Path is a complete monster, squealing to a close at just past the seven-minute mark, and has one of those stony cool fingerpicking bits at the intro. This is almost arena-rock thrashy, if you will, à la Metallica or Megadeth even. Very cool stuff. The lyrics kicked me in the head again, incidentally; “Paying the price for what you do/ The signal is never getting through“. At three minutes in the tempo shifts to the mellow introspection of the intro. At 4:15 there is the obligatory guitar solo, followed by a shift at the five-minute mark for more eerie introspection. I don’t mind the mellow bits, but I really enjoy it when they all get together for the occasional banging of heads!
Sky Falls In is another seven-minute magnificent bastard of a tune. It features another of those eerie strumming/picking intros – though this one is pretty fucking cool, I have to say. The main riff kicks in about half a minute in, and we’re off again. Guess what struck me? A prize for you of five cool points if you guessed the lyrics; “With the devil on my back/ My angels planning my attack”. At the three-and-a-half minute point you get the first part of a solo, but it’s just a false start. The real goods kick in at 4:00 (a sweet descending-style solo) and the return of the eerie strum (5:30). At six minutes in, the proceedings turn almost transcendent, and the ‘along the way‘ lyrical refrain takes us to the close.
Needle and Suture, by contrast to its predecessors, is much shorter (4:38), but it is tighter, sharper, and more slamming than ever! The tempo is a heavy, charging, chugging, pumping version of modern-day thrash, and there is some serious riffing/shredding and headbanging going on here. Though the title may suggest a bit of a junkie’s lament, as it were, it’s still a very uptempo number, and the vocals are wickedly good throughout! A nice fadeout closes this one, as well as a lyrical refrain of sorts, “I feel the future close”.
Shadow is another short-but-sweet number, and the bright riffing and wicked bassline featured in the intro carries through the rest of the tune. At about 40 seconds in, Mike lures us in with sneaky, snaky vocal. Just close your eyes and enjoy on this one – it is a bit more power metal than thrash, and of course there are a couple of sweet solos (1:30 and 2:45).
Blow Your Mind is another big one, at just shy of six-and-a-half minutes, and this one I would call more of a heavy Metal/Psych mix, with the requisite creepy-cool guitar intro. The guitar tone alone is eerie and menacing, with some really cool bass licks thrown in for good measure. There is a nice guitar bit at 3:20, and a shift (4:50) back to the eerie-ness of the intro. Some excellent riffing at the close of the tune as well.
Soul Eating Machine is just as good as its title would have you imagine. It has another of those cool fingerpicking intros, and when the main riff kicks in, it IS a sweet one. Lyrically, we have the lovely couplet: “There’s just one place for you and it’s your own abyss/Now there’s nothing left inside“. There is an excellent guitar solo at the three-minute mark, again using the false start/second lead method like before. There is another cool fadeout here. Starting to think Metal Church are the new masters of doing a Metal fadeout at the end of their tunes…
It Waits features some serious bass playing, and a vocal FX (like a whisper/muffled). It is a psych-style intro, with the sneaky/snaky vocal delivery again. At 2:50 we get a shift into some heavy-as-fuck riffing, and of course we have to have a guitar solo (4:05), only this one morphs into a twin, which I think is pretty fucking cool. Another masterful fadeout only reinforces my idea from Soul Eating Machine.
Suffer Fools, the closer for the day, is more of the same – heavy riffing at the outset, plus some serious bass and drums to boot. There is another of the false-start lead movements here again, starting at two minutes in, then again at 2:25. This is another of the twin leads, with his brother kicking in shortly after Round Two. There is some serious shredding involved here as well, with the bass and drums kicking in on top shortly afterwards. Another cool fadeout brings this set to a close. VERY well done!