They may not be mentioned quite as often as some of the bigger names, but Metal Church are still a key piece of the early days of thrash and power metal, straddling the lines between all the heavy metal variants as they became more defined throughout the 80s. Like many other long running bands, they’ve had a slew of lineup changes and depending on who you’ll talk to you’ll find different preferences when it comes to material with David Wayne, Mike Howe, or Ronny Munroe behind the mic. In recent years Metal Church has been riding high on a slew of strong albums with Howe once again fronting, but his tragic passing in 2021 made it unclear what was in store for the group. But they’ve kept the fire burning and brought Marc Lopes (Ross the Boss, Let Us Prey) onboard for what may be one of the group’s heaviest offerings in years, Congregation of Annihilation. It’s the type of effort that makes an immediate impression with its scorching riffs and weightier sound, but also has some additional depth to its writing that becomes clear with additional listens.
Metal Church has always blurred the lines between thrash, heavy metal, and US power metal, but the first half of Congregation of Annihilation leans a bit more into the thrash side of the aisle with an emphasis on speed and more aggressive tonality. The title track and “Pick a God and Prey” have that classic thrash crunchiness and there’s a lot of weight to the instrumentals that makes this effort one of the noticeably heavier ones in the band’s discography, and there are some strong riffs behind this tonality shift that make a difference. But in typical Metal Church fashion, after a couple of songs that go for scorching riffs and speed the darker melodies and diverse instrumentation starts to seep back in. This is especially evident on “Children of the Lie”, which starts off with heavier riffs but transitions around the three-quarter mark into a more subdued and brooding melody. It’s a perfect transition into what may be one of the album’s best offerings, the mid-tempo groove laden “Me the Nothing”. This song perfectly blends the weightiness of the rest of the album with melodies that get stuck in your head and showcase some additional nuances. From this point on there’s a regular shift between darker melodies and heavier riffs, with “Making Monsters” and “All That We Destroy” providing similar depth underneath to discover. Admittedly while Congregation of Annihilation is consistent from beginning to end and reaches high points on the aforementioned tracks, a few do come and go without fully sinking in. “Say a Prayer With 7 Bullets” and “These Violent Thrills” are a bit more straightforward and aren’t bad, but don’t reach the same level as the rest of the album. The production also hurts things slightly, as Metal Church has once again let the drums pop out just a bit too much and blended the guitar and bass together in ways that make some of the heaviest moments run together. It’s not a huge misstep and one that’s not unexpected as quite a bit of the group’s later discography has gone for the same approach, but it does lessen the impact of some of this material.
I’ve been a fan of Marc Lopes’ work with Ross the Boss, as he’s got a great range that moves seamlessly from falsettos to much grittier singing/yelling. He’s a natural fit for Metal Church, falling somewhere between David Wayne and Mike Howe on the vocal spectrum and delivers a performance that’s consistently in your face. The title track is a great example of what to expect, as things start off on the grittier and more abrasive end of the spectrum but head into some wails and other falsettos as things progress. On the aforementioned “Me the Nothing” the back and forth between wails and grittier singing gives off a King Diamond vibe, and this type of diversity works to Congregation of Annihilation’sadvantage. Admittedly sometimes things feel just a bit too over the top as Lopes’ intensity is at maximum the whole way through, but whether that’s a positive or negative will likely depend on your personal tastes.
For a band that’s now been around for over forty years, it’s impressive that Metal Church continues to crank out strong material that doesn’t feel as stagnant as some of their peers. Some of the production and more straightforward moments hold this album back slightly, but overall the emphasis on heavier riffs alongside the more dynamic offerings fans have come to expect give this material some real mileage. Marc Lopes is also a natural fit for the band, and I can’t wait to see how they continue to use him from this point on. Congregation of Annihilation is available from Rat Pak Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg