SKIP METALLICA, PROCEED DIRECTLY TO METAL CHURCH
There has been a veritable smorgasbord of Old Fart-approved albums over the last twelve months. New full-lengthers from the likes of such metal greats as Exodus, Death Angel, Overkill, and the mighty Testament (review here) have made this one of the most memorable and satisfying years to be an Old Fart metal fan (Metallica’s newest excluded purposefully).
Joining the aforementioned second-tier thrash titans from the 80’s with a new release is none other than Aberdeen, Washington’s Metal Church. The always under-appreciated progenitors of melodic thrash have returned with a brilliant work of art worthy of repeated headbanging sessions in the form of their newest release, This Present Wasteland.
Metal Church’s new album is everything that Metallica wanted Death Magnetic to be. It has powerful grooves, tight thrashiness, excellent vocals, stellar songwriting, memorable choruses, plus, achieving the almost impossible task of maintaining an aura of what made them great in the first place combined with the ability to be relevant in these drastically different times in heavy metal music.
One of my all-time favorite metal albums is Metal Church’s The Dark. Led by the late David Wayne’s soaring, yet gritty vocals, the band wrote catchy tunes, epic tunes, and heavy ass tunes that would make Kim Kardashian envious. Twenty-two years later, led by vocalist Ronny Munroe, the band has resurrected itself above and beyond my wildest imagination.
There is something to be said about an album that can evoke strong memories of what many Old Farts consider two of the brightest eras of our beloved musical genre. I’m talking, of course, about the New Wave of British Heavy Metal era encapsulated by such classic heroes such as Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and Iron Maiden. The other would be the Bay Area Thrash scene of the early- to mid-80’s of many of the bands mentioned in the first paragraph. Throw in an additional dash of ’00 “extremeness” and you have yourself one of the top three albums of 2008.
The only remaining member of the classic Metal Church line-up is guitarist and main songwriter Kurdt Vanderhoof. I always held an affinity for Vanderhoof as he always looked out of place, even within his own band, as the clean-cut frat-boy (pre-mook) looking nice guy. Despite his then-outsider appearance, he always wrote some of the catchiest and heaviest hooks ever heard in metal (listen to “Ton of Bricks,” “Gods of Wrath,” or “Watch the Children Pray” for further evidence). His work on This Present Wasteland is no exception. From the opener “The Company of Sorrow,” to the thrashy “Meet Your Maker,” to his epic “Monster,” Vanderhoof’s songwriting is taut, vicious, and incredibly memorable.
The main reason why so many of the songs on this album will stick in your head after one spin is because of the incomparable singing of Ronny Munroe. This man, who is nearly as old as James Hetfield, can sing his ass off. If you miss the days of great metal vocalists who actually sing, like Rob Halford, Ronnie James Dio, Bruce Dickinson, or Geoff Tate, you will devour this like Goat the Head at a Bavarian feast. Munroe takes elements from all of the aforementioned great singers (plus Triumph’s Rik Emmett and even some blues belters), makes it heavy enough for the younger set raised on Cookie Monster vokillz, and comes up with a truly unique, ball-busting sound that propels him to the top of the current heap of metal vocalists. Plus, he brings the added bonus of enunciating his words so you can actually understand what the hell he is singing about!
The myriad musical styles present within this disc run the gamut of heavy metal history from rock to thrash to power metal to death metal and more. It never sounds contrived, and it is always heavy as fuck, without trying to string together 18-gajillion riffs within one song to prove that they “still got it.” The bluesy-stomper opening riff of “Crawling to Extinction,” combined with its bluesy-crooner style vocals, says more about Metal Church’s skills and confidence than most bands can achieve spread out over 70+ minutes.
I was really looking forward to September 2008 as the month of the Old Fart, what with the release of a new Metallica album and a new Metal Church album. Sadly, Metallica let me down miserably with a poorly produced pandering piece of putridness. Metal Church, on the other hand, has resurrected my faith in Old Fart bands yet again.
This Present Wasteland soars past Death Magnetic in every discernible category and immediately jumps into my top three albums of 2008 alongside Jucifer and Testament. Of course, I’m sure you know which album we will hear about ad nauseum for the next 12 months, while this true gem will be sadly overlooked by the masses.
Don’t make the same mistake as everyone else this year. Instead of burning your hard-earned cash on Metallica’s Death Magnetic, do yourself a favor and aid the shoddy American economy by picking up Metal Church’s This Present Wasteland. You will feel better about yourself and your taste in music.