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Metal Church

The Elektra Years 1984-1989

Review by Gary Hill

This new three-CD set gathers up the first three albums from Metal Church in one handy set. It comes with a cool booklet turned poster. I had the first two albums years ago, but haven't heard them in a long time, but I never owned the third one before. I have to say that this band really should have been much bigger than they were at the time. That said, they are still out there doing their thing (and I previously reviewed one of their more recent discs), so that puts them ahead of a lot of bands of the time. The thing is, they were more talented than a lot of other bands that became superstars. These three albums showcase that fact very well. Two of the albums include some edited versions as bonus tracks.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2020  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
                
"Metal Church" (1984)
                  
Beyond the Black

A rather mellow and atmospheric musical texture serves as the background for a spoken introduction with a science-fiction like processing on it. After that runs through some fierce metal takes over with some screaming guitar soloing. They settle into some killer real steel. The vocals bring a real NWOBHM sound. After the three-and-a-half-minute mark, the cut shifts to a frantic metal jam. It's fierce and on fire. It leans a bit toward thrash, even feeling a little like early Metallica. The sounds of wind are heard after the music ends.

Metal Church
I love the meaty, evil sounding riff that opens this thing. An evil laugh really fits the mood. This is another that has a bit of thrash element as drives forward. As the vocals enter it definitely makes me think of King Diamond a bit. This is dark, heavy and powerful.
Merciless Onslaught
This is furious and fierce. This is well-titled as it's a nearly three-minute fast paced metal instrumental that never lets up.
Gods of Wrath
This comes in as a balladic tune, and that holds it for the first vocal section. The cut fires out from there into some screaming hot metal stomping for a time. It returns to the ballad section, but with bit more oomph added to the arrangement. That gets punctuated by another fiery movement. The mellow section followed by harder rocking pattern continues throughout the song.        
Hitman
One of the highlights of this first disc, this has great energy and some killer hooks. It has one of the most memorable vocal performances of the set. It has some fiery guitar work, too. This is NWOBHM sound at its best.
In the Blood
Another that's among the best music here, the guitar riffs on this thing are fierce. The cut is a metal stomper with a mean energy to it. The vocal performance on this again makes me think of King Diamond.
(My Favorite) Nightmare
Thrashy and screaming hot, this is another powerhouse tune. It has some mean and meaty guitar riffs. The vocals on this one call to mind Megadeth a bit. It drops to the rhythm section as the backdrop for the vocals further down the road. That Megadeth reference is even more applicable there. They power it back out to a full arrangement before they end it.
Battalions

Screaming hot, this is another scorching metal tune. The vocals are more melodic at times on this cut. Again I'm reminded a bit of King's X. There is a real power metal vibe to this. I love the instrumental section on this thing.

Highway Star
Here they cover the old Deep Purple classic. The tune was sort of proto-metal for its time, so this makes a lot of sense. They put in a fierce rendition that really does a great job of raising the stakes of the original. They replace the organ solo with some screaming guitar soloing to great effect.
Disc 2
            
"The Dark" (1986)
                 
Ton of Bricks

Drums bring this in. The rest join and we're into a fierce metal screamer. It's a great way to start the set in style.

Start the Fire
I love the main riff on this thing. It's meaty and also catchy. The tune has a cool old-school metal vibe to it and a raw edge.
Method to Your Madness
This has a bit more of a mainstream metal sound to it. The melodic dropped down movement really adds to that, lending it more of a rock versus metal edge.
Watch the Children Pray
A dramatic mellower movement opens this with some intricate guitar work. This is a powerful and dramatic cut that has a lot of variety built into it. The tune has a real epic feel. I love some of the guitar soloing a lot, but really everything about this song is great. It's without question one of the highlights of the set. It drops back to the mellower zones at the end of the cut to take it out.
Over My Dead Body
The riffing that starts this is purely on fire. The cut is fiery and fierce. It reminds me of something WASP might do in some ways. There is a powerhouse instrumental section with some particularly tasty guitar soloing later in this piece.
The Dark
This is one of the strongest cuts of the whole set. It has such a mean and fierce sound. There is a bit of a psychotic, dangerous edge to it. The guitar sound is angry and violent. The whole track is so cool.
Psycho
I'm definitely reminded of King Diamond on this cut. It's aggressive, dynamic and powerful. The screaming metal of this thing is a real powerhouse.
Line of Death
A thrashy stomper, this is raw and powerful. I love some of the meaner guitar riffs on the number. Around the half-way mark it shifts to a more melodic, but no less metal section for an instrumental break. Then the tempo drops way back and it shifts to a heavy, but slower grind. The number keeps evolving from there with some seriously dramatic jamming.
Burial at Sea
Here is another fierce metal stomper. This drives with energy and fire. It's a real screamer, but not particularly a standout.
Western Alliance
The instrumental section of this is one of the strongest musical passages of the whole disc. It has some powerhouse guitar dueling. Of course, the song that's built around it is suitably strong, too.
Bonus Track
          
Watch the Children Play (Edit)

As the title and parenthetical suggest, this is a shorter version of the earlier track. While I like this version a lot, the full one works better. This is about a minute shorter than that take. I suppose that it's probably better suited for air-play in the shorter length. Don't get me wrong. It still has a lot of magic. I just prefer the other version. 

Disc 3
                     
"Blessing in Disguise" (1989)
                 
Fake Healer

They waste no time, firing in with a heavy, rather staccato jam. They move out from there into another grinding metal stomper. The vocal comes in to complete the picture. It grinds through a cool instrumental break later. The cut keeps evolving as it makes its way through.

Rest in Pieces (April 15, 1912)
The riff driving this thing is just plain mean. Furious and fierce, this thing has some pretty cool twists and turns. There is a real epic feeling to the cut. This is really such a powerful and successful piece of power metal.
Badlands
This is another scorching metal screamer. It's also another particularly strong tune. King Diamond is a pretty valid reference point on this tune. I really love some of the guitar fills on this thing.      
Of Unsound Mind
Intricate acoustic guitar brings this into being. Vocals come over the top of that arrangement as it works forward. The guitar is intricate and the vocal performance is classy. The cut shifts to more metal zones before the two-and-a-half-minute mark. That more rocking instrumental section runs through. Then it drops back to the melodic zones. A peak hits with the vocals screaming over a metallic arrangement. The cut gets more pure rocking from there. I really love the guitar solo section later in the piece, too. This is really an epic piece both in scope and size, weighing in at over nine-and-a-half minutes of music.
Anthem to the Estranged
Another that starts a bit understated and mellower, this builds up slowly from there. Then around the half-minute mark it powers out into some fierce metal and really drives in style. It drops back to the mellower zones before the vocals join, though. There is a bit of a power-ballad, dreamy element at play as it continues. It doesn't stay there, though, getting more metallic as it develops. This is another number that calls to mind King Diamond a bit. I love the fast paced jam that emerges later, and particularly the section with the bass at the forefront of it.
The Spell Can't Be Broken
This track is a thrashy screamer. It's fast paced, raw and so tasty. This has a real NWOBHM sound to it. This has some smoking hot changes, and some particularly meaty sections. The riff driving the movement that comes in as it approaches the half-way mark is so mean.
It's a Secret
This is another meaty, screaming metal stomper as it sets out. It turns even more thrashy as it hits the next section. There is a real early Metallica vibe to the cut. It's a great instrumental.
Cannot Tell a Lie
Fast paced and mean, this is another that has some similarities to King Diamond. There is a screaming raw edge to it. I love the killer guitar fills. The whole track is exceptional, though.
The Powers That Be
There is a bit more of a mainstream sound to this cut. Don't get me wrong, it's still fierce and rather raw metal. It just happens to be a little less raw and extreme as the last couple tunes.
Bonus Tracks:

           

Badlands (Edit)

This edit works really well. It's a great alternate version of the tune. They preserve the spirit of the piece, but in a more concise track length. 

Fake Healer (Edit)
They cut this thing down to the "meat and potatoes" of the deal with this version. It works quite well like this.
 
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