by Brian LeTendre
Who would have thought that in mid-December we’d get a late entry into the “Album of the Year” conversation? Metal Church, that's who.
Damned if You Do, the twelfth full-length studio album from Metal Church, is an absolute revelation. It’s sonically and emotionally powerful from start to finish, and it might actually be my favorite album from the group.
For me, one of the things I’ve always liked about Metal Church is how their songs can go from old school hard rock to brutally heavy metal to genuine thrash territory. And yet, there is a consistency to their sound that ties everything together, so they always sound like Metal Church.
That diversity is well-represented on this album. The opening title track begins with yoga-like humming and then kicks into an uptempo, double bass-driven, crusher. The second song “The Black Things” features a classic Metal Church slow build intro that explodes into another uptempo assault. And third song “Living by the Numbers” has such an earworm of a main riff that I guarantee will be a staple of live sets for years to come.
After that hat trick of an opening, the album is in full stride and never lets up. Kurdt Vanderhoof takes advantage of singer Mike Howe’s vocal abilities, giving him plenty of opportunities to mix both melody and raw power. My favorite song on the album is number five, “Revolution Underway” which is the perfect blend of metal, melody and emotion. It brings everything together in the best way, and it lets you know this album is not just a straight shot, but a winding road of different experiences.
Speaking of Mike Howe, he just absolutely kills it on this album. He sits in that special category for me of vocalists like Dee Snider and Blackie Lawless. He can bring the gravel, the heft and the melody. And he does it all on this record.
Kurdt Vanderhoof brings killer riffs and great solos as usual, and I really like the sense of momentum he builds in a lot of these songs. There is a motion to them that makes each one memorable. He and Rick Van Zandt provide a great dual attack and some wonderful flair, giving songs like “Guillotine” an almost Queen-esque epicness. Former W.A.S.P. drummer Stet Howland and bass player Steve Unger bring the thunder and create the foundation for Howe, Vanderhoof and Van Zandt to spring off of.
As I’ve talked about on the podcast many times, there is nothing I love more than veteran bands putting out some of their best music at this stage of their careers. Bands who know what they’re doing, and doing it the best they ever have. That is what we have here in Metal Church’s Damned If You Do. I feel like their legacy in metal history was already secure, but if there was ever a doubt, this album cements it.
You can hear me raving about this album on the next episode (31) of the Power Chords podcast, which will be up this weekend.
The Power Chords Podcast is a twice-monthly podcast celebrating rock and metal music of the '70s, '80s, '90s and beyond. The show is co-hosted by Matt Herring and Brian LeTendre.