METAL CHURCH are an odd beast. Not quite aggressive enough to fit in with the thrashier American metal scene of their heyday, too slow for the speed metal crowd but yet too fast and angry to be considered part of the initial generation and style of heavy metal. Despite not fitting any of the moulds that would have guaranteed them significant support from those scenes the band have gone on to have a successful, if somewhat intermittent, career. Now onto record 11, or XI in numerals, have the band still got what set them apart from their peers?
Opening off the record is Reset. A strong drum beat ushers in the track and the return of original vocalist Mike Howe. The track blasts along at a fair pace with a solo that shows skill without overstaying its welcome. From the off you can already hear the maturity in the band’s sound. Killing Your Time continues this trend with a slightly different take on the formula but the same ingredients are there. The vocals really shine through on here in part due to the excellent production the albums has received.
Beginning with an acoustic guitar before an almost militaristic drumbeat ushers it out and a catchy riff in, No Tomorrow also features the most memorable chorus on the album which will no doubt make its way into the live sets in the future. A blasting guitar solo after a short quieter sleep in the middle of the track is also welcome. Signal Path features another acoustic intro, something of a METAL CHURCH standard throughout their career, starting slowly before building up and allowing the chorus to soar. Sky Falls In is a slower placed song, showing the bands versatility and their ability to play different styles without losing their signature sound.
Needle & Suture kicks the pace back up a level with a track that wouldn’t sound out of place on a modern thrash album in places. The fade out on the track is something of a surprise as its rarely used in metal. Shadow is similar to the earlier tracks on the album with a mixture of slower and faster segments, interspersed with chorus and solo. The pace is dropped off once again with Blow Your Mind which takes a full two minutes to get going properly and never really builds to anything, something of a filler and a long one at that.
The final three tracks on the album redeem the average middle of the album somewhat. Soul Eating Nightmare is a modern METAL CHURCH classic, seamlessly melding traditional, thrash and speed metal together with elements from all three working together. It Waits begins as a building ballad before transforming into a mid-paced pounder of a track complete with the most technically proficient and perfectly placed solo on the entire album as it closes. The final track on the album is Suffer Fools which closes the album on a high note as it cheerfully blasts along with great riffs and a catchy chorus.
In conclusion, METAL CHURCH have probably achieved what they wanted too with this album. By no means a classic, it’s a solid album for a band in its twilight years and one that fans of the band won’t be disappointed with. They’ve stuck to their style of metal without compromising its integrity. If nothing else you have to give them credit for refusing to do it any way but their way.
XI is set for release on March 25th via Nuclear Blast Records.