Metal Church Live
Nuclear Blast Records, 2000
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/29/2001
Despite the fact that I have all their albums, I've never been into Metal Church that much. So why, you ask, do I have their albums? Some of them I got as promos when I was in college radio (usually from dipping into the drawers of the metal department's promo cabinet), some were sent to me in this job, still others I bought at used stores in the clearance bins. (One major find was landing the original Metal Church album autographed by some of the members - as well as a flyer in the record autographed by the whole band.)
So it may strike readers as odd when I admit that Metal Church Live has an air of familiarity to it. Maybe it's because this disc is made up of concerts from 1986, when David Wayne and crew were touring behind The Dark. Maybe it's because this features the original Metal Church lineup. Maybe it's because some of these songs I remember hearing on the brokered metal show in Chicago when I was in high school. Whatever the case, this ends up to be an entertaining disc.
If Metal Church Live does anything, it reaffirms for me why this band was growing in popularity around the same time that Metallica was becoming stars in their own right. Not that these bands are the same, or even are polar opposites of each other. But each group had their own unique markings. For Metal Church, it was the screeching vocals of Wayne (who, when the chips were down, could lay out a beautiful vocal) and the guitar work and songwriting skills of Kurdt Vanderhoof. If there was one name I'd put at the top of the list of underappreciated talents of the genre, Vanderhoof would be near the top.
Musically, Metal Church Live is not just a blast from the past, it's a reminder of how good '80s metal could be. Tracks like "Ton Of Bricks," "Gods Of Wrath" and "Watch The Children Pray" all speak volumes for what Metal Church was capable of, and why they should have been a bigger name in the field than they were. (Personnel shifts over their next two albums and musical tastes' constant changing didn't help matters.) Even some of the "lesser" tracks like "Start The Fire" and "Beyond The Black" are pretty damned enjoyable in this setting.
Metal Church is even able to take a stale standard like Deep Purple's "Highway Star" and turn it into a barn burner. Loads of fun!
Metal Church Live could be seen as a souvenir of days long past; it could be seen as a closet-cleaning release to satisfy the die-hard fans. Or, one could look at it as a snapshot of a band ready to break into prime-time, hungry and eager to make a name for themselves. Had this disc come out in 1987, it might just have been the key to unlock all the doors for Metal Church. Now, it's enjoyable... but it leaves me asking what could have been for this band.