Throughout Metal Church’s extensive, on-again/off-again career, they have remained standard bearers for pure, uncompromising heavy metal, a trend which happily continues on their latest release, Congregation Of Annihilation.
Despite some of their earliest records dabbling in a “thrash-adjacent” sound, Metal Church always seemed to skew towards a style more rooted in a classic Judas Priest-meets-Accept speed metal vein, a style which they lean into here with crushing enthusiasm.
New singer Marc Lopes, taking over after the untimely death of Mike Howe, stylistically skews closer to original Metal Church vocalist David Wayne’s piercing yelp, occasionally employing a screamy, metalcore edge and King Diamond-esque falsetto wailing. But founding guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof is the real hero, perhaps the most overlooked riff machine of his generation. Congregation… overflows with his unique style of syncopations and shifting dynamics that keeps the listener’s ear engaged.
The first first four tracks are amongst the thrashiest in the band’s catalog. Rather than continuing in this vein, which honestly would get a bit tiring, they slow things down during the instrumental outro of “Children of the Lie,” which segues nicely into “Me The Nothing,” a dramatic, mid-tempo rocker that recalls early classic, “Watch The Children Pray.”
A herky-jerky riff kicks off “These Violent Thrills” before settling into a killer groove with a shout-along chorus. And speaking of groove, bonus track “”My Favorite Sin” brings additional variety with its stomping swing feel and darkly tongue-in-cheek lyrics.
Though an impressive singer in his own right, Lopes lacks the singular heft and gravitas of Mike Howe, whose presence elevated Metal Church on career peak releases Blessing In Disguise and the criminally overlooked The Human Factor. But longtime fans more curious about the direction the band’s sound may have taken if David Wayne never left will have plenty to bang their heads to with this energetic and modern-sounding release. An Achilles’ heel of those early recordings, reverb-washed and thin bottom-end sound quality, are replaced with an in-your-face, crisp production style that reveals every nuance without sacrificing sonic impact.
Despite Vanderhoof being the sole remaining member from the band’s late-’80s heyday, Congregation Of Annihilation leaves little doubt as to who represents the true heart and soul of Metal Church. His monster riffs combined with the skillful playing of the current lineup results in a crushing heavy metal record, filled with a vim and vigor that far surpasses that of their contemporaries, especially when compared to a certain mega-selling machine who share the first five letters of their name.
(released May 26, 2023 on Rat Pak Records)
Heavy Music HQ Rating:
Listen To Metal Church – “Pick A God And Prey”