Everyone loves a comeback story, don’t they? A tale of fortunes regained, odds defied and former glories revisited. Unfortunately, as is the way with recoveries and revivals, there always has to be darkness before the dawn. And among all the typical and often comparatively inconsequential trials and tribulations artists face during their careers, death seems to play its part far too many times. A fact with which San Francisco act Metal Church are all too familiar.
Having rejoined the band in 2015, the hugely talented immensely popular frontman Mike Howe passed away just a couple of years ago, the singer following his trailblazing predecessor David Wayne who himself died in 2005, with the sad news also recently breaking of the passing of former drummer Kirk Arrington. Stepping into the shoes of such big vocal personalities is no easy job but the Washington-based power/thrashers appear to have found the perfect replacement in Ross the Boss vocalist Marc Lopes who joins them on thirteenth studio album, Congregation of Annihilation (Rat Pak Records).
With his vocals sitting somewhere between both Wayne and Howe, the versatile Lopes gives punchy opener ‘Another Judgement Day’ that extra push over the edge, the song recalling Metal Church at their most insistent. The powerful title track follows with aggressive vocals, a killer middle section, and Led Zeppelin ‘Immigrant Song’ style riff. While some titles are designed to roll off the tongue and some exist purely to sound cool, this just happens to be both. The belligerent and ballsy ‘Pick a God and Prey’ is followed by ‘Children of the Lie’ with its multiple vocal layers and different effects, four-stringer Steve Unger leading the song to an epic conclusion with a moody, proggy bass-led outro.
The piano-assisted intro of ‘Me The Nothing’ turns into another sturdy melodic monster while ‘Making Monsters’ and ‘These Violent Thrills’ are two more rip-roarers featuring looming claustrophobic riffs and an aggressive groove respectively. ‘Say a Prayer with 7 Bullets’ is a good old-fashioned heads-down rocker while closer ‘All That We Destroy’ is sure to get pulses racing. Continuing with the laid-back but upbeat groove of ‘My Favorite Sin’ and the darkly melodic ‘Salvation’, the record concludes properly with two cuts that deserve better than being counted as mere bonus tracks.
Since the band’s self-titled debut back in 1984, guitarist and founding member Kurdt Vanderhoof has repeatedly shown over the decades he has more than an ear for a great riff, and along with long-standing axe partner Rick van Zandt this looks to be in no danger of coming to an end. A couple of songs might miss a truly standout chorus or that singular perfect hook but many of its standout moments are easily worthy of their better albums. Drummer Stet Howland is on point throughout, Lopes manages to sound like his predecessors while simultaneously bringing his own personality to the game and all these various components come together to make Congregation of Annihilation another invigorating blast of high-octane energy.
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8 / 10