this interview…

…basically answers the “why” that concerns me falling in love with Metal Church damn fast. There is another “why” that you have already heard, but it has no real answer.

Kurdt Vanderhoof’s interview for the Vintage Guitar magazine explains why to me, Metal Church sounds like a punked-up Rush jamming to NWOBHM on steroids: because these are exactly the ingredients that went into concocting the primary songwriter’s idea of what good music is, y’know.

The funniest thing is that I grew up on basically the same stuff, myself, just that the punk component was mainly local, Russian.

Thankfully I’m young enough to have an extra layer of idols, haha. Keeps things different.

I can’t say that Kurdt Vanderhoof is my favourite bandmember as a person, though, – he’s whined a bit too much over the years about how “computer-generated” music is oh so bad and how the metal scene is in a sorry state. Well, he will often clarify he means the US scene, but good grief… I mean, the Russian metal scene isn’t exactly a stellar one. So I know what it’s like, to have virtually nothing “homegrown” to be proud of, in the field you care for.

But here we seem to have this English-speaking superiority mentality at play. That is, many European metal bands will say they love their US/UK peers. I mean, Hansi Kürsch is a Metal Church fan as it turns out (best-kept secret of the millennium, yup).

On the other hand, I have never seen a US/UK metal musician say they are familiar with the European scene and love it. Definitely not to the point of giving examples.

I’ll be glad to be proven wrong. But damn, I really wish Mr Vanderhoof would stop whining and get some youtube surfing done or whatever.

And when it comes to electronic music… tell you what, not every composer of yore was a brilliant instrumentalist. Certainly not to the point of being able to play each and every orchestral part themselves. Again, a computer is what it is, a yet another instrument. It can be abused (cf. autotune), but it can also be the only way for certain people to express themselves. Not everyone can _physically_ play the guitar well, y’know (yes that is personal).

Kinda like digital painting: if you trace a digital photo and sample colours directly from it, I can’t say I’m impressed. But if you just paint the “oldschool” way but with a tablet and a stylus… it’s great.

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so while we’re waiting…

..for Stet Howland to recover, let’s look at the history of the band again.

I haven’t managed to figure out the exact date when the video for In Harm’s Way was released, so I can’t tell for sure whether Mike’s “It’s about a serious subject” remark on the Dynamo’91 live recording is related to the video or not.

The point is, the video is… I hesitate to say “glamorous”, but, well, it’s as close as it gets with Metal Church, right?

David Wayne once said that Queensryche were “a good looking bunch of guys” while the MC guys apparently “always knew [they] were the ugly band”. Which is kinda perplexing to me because the concepts of “Queensryche” and “good-looking” never mixed in my world. Quite the opposite.

But, well, there is a grain of truth to this statement, in the sense that the Wayne era looked a bit lacking as compared to the Howe era.

If anything, there are very few frontmen of Mike’s caliber. Dickinson maybe. Younger Snider. And that’s kinda it.

So we get all this rock star splendour coming from Mike, moves, bare chest and all; Duke Erickson being a worthy competitor in everything but the hair department (he’s taller, though – can’t have it all =P ); and let’s not forget John Marshall’s almost Goth-like impression (well someone did write those lyrics based on a Poe’s story… yeah right, you get a new guitarist in, and it’s, like, the first thing he does).

But the song is indeed about a serious subject. It’s about child abuse.

Kurdt Vanderhoof wrote the lyrics for it, and there’s that line:

It’s not that mommy hits that hurts me, it’s when she goes away

Kinda ties in with what I was saying about psychological violence being way worse.

“age-appropriate”?

I’m not buying into the popular adage that goes along the lines of “exposing a kid to –something– depicted in media will hurt their psychological development”.

Why?

Well, simple: I’m not the world’s most psychologically stable person, and yet I sort of grew up fine.

Even though my classmates smuggled porn mags and extremely explicit punk rock to school way before we were of age (and I checked all that stuff out and giggled at it).

Even though my classmates smoked and drank way before we were of age (and I didn’t, and giggled at them).

Even though in our Russian lit classes, every May, since we were ten, we’d had to read and analyse WWII fiction chock full of very graphic written depictions of actual Nazi violence (and I felt sickened, but had to write the essays because good marks looked nice next to my name).

Even though I’ve been playing FPS, RTS and CRPG since I was around 13, with all the then-8-bit blood and gore you could only imagine.

It’s all fine.

It won’t hurt. It’s all very innocent. And in the case of games, therapeutic even.

It’s damn easy to blame someone’s mental disorder on the media they consume. It’s the Judas Priest 1990 case all over again. I know firsthand that whether you want to kill yourself or not comes from other sources, not media. Ah heck, there’s a song about just that.

// disregard that album cover, plz; it’s not their worst, but it really… doesn’t fit, period //

Let’s be frank: we – most of us – have short memories. We forget what we were like. Or maybe some remember too well and they’re ashamed. And they want to pretend their children are different. Pure. Whatever. And they should be protected.

yeah right

Dudes and dudettes, you’d better learn to be open and honest with your kids. Don’t shrug off any “difficult” or “inappropriate” questions they may have. Yes it will make _you_ vulnerable. But it will make you better people. And your kids will thank you.

all right; here we go! (c)

Yes there are times when I’m lost for words. Today’s Mike Howe’s birthday, and while not an anniversary, it’s probably the best date to finally write this down.

Metal Church is the church of love.

There, I said it.

They’re awesome. Artistic integrity? Check. Dedication? Check. And that unique way of making everyone welcome? Check.

It’s fairly amazing how a band that writes serious, scary and sarcastic songs manages to turn their live shows into a veritable celebration.

Check out a report full of impossibly glamorous photos taken on July 2nd in the Volta club here in Moscow.

This is the spirit.

The truth is – you can’t see in those photos just how much perseverance there is behind that show.

The Volta club, well, it was my first time there. It’s a tiny cozy place, laid out just about perfect. But one thing is sorely missing.

Air conditioning that actually works.

See, when you enter a club and you feel it’s already fairly stuffy, even though there’s not that many people in there, no moshing, no whatever – it does make you worry.

Old Tochka used to feel rather problematic right away as well, but during a show they made sure to crank their AC up to the max at certain intervals. You could feel the cold wave hitting you with quite some force.

Not the case here.

A lack of oxygen and too much heat obviously takes a toll on everyone. It’s worst for drummers and singers, those who use their whole system to perform. Add in some extra stress for a singer who is actually a dynamic frontperson.

And yet, they delivered. And Mike dialled down his antics only slightly. No shortcuts regarding actual vocals at all. I swear the dude is physically non-human.

When a singer is well over six feet and approaches two hundred pounds, you sort of expect them to conquer everything. Like, rib cage size and all. Naive, yup, but those huge guys do not surprise you when they never run out of breath. Especially if they stand fairly still.

When the singer is built like a DnD elf (or a particularly compact witcher) and yet holds an aggressive note for several bars without visible effort, now that’s when you really start questioning yourself. Because it’s just surreal.

Well, it is very much real; it’s plain proper technique. Which is all in all rare outside the classical world. Yes, one of the reasons Metal Church converted me so fast and so efficiently =)

Somehow Russians didn’t post that many videos on youtube, so here’s a relatively “tame” rendition of the pre-Howe classic Start the Fire:

Yes, that was rather tame. As compared to other songs on the set, like the newer Killing Your Time. Or another pre-Howe classic Watch the Children Pray.

Here’s a page where you can find a very nice bootleg of the full show.

What the video shows well is how small the stage (and the whole club) actually is.

I only hope the band gets bigger. They deserve it. After all these years.

You have no idea how much they mean to me now.

yes we can go back to breathing now

I kept all the possible fingers crossed for this, and then some. Not just because Stet has been one of my alltime favourite drummers since forever. But because he’s really the best drummer for Metal Church today.

Jeff Plate is a good drummer, but rather… straightforward. At least, with the Church. You could probably think of him as following the style Dave Holland mostly kept to while with Judas effing Priest. Economical, to the point, you know the drill.

Stet is Stet is Stet. His playing is… lush. Yeah, this is the best word I can find. He is different enough from Kirk Arrington, the original drummer, but they share the same intensity and freedom. They create a foundation that breathes. Which is the perfect complement to those little rhythmic shifts and accents you find in Mike’s melodic phrasing.

Celebrate.

PS I still owe y’all that concert review! I remember!

everything’s under control (c)

Okay, the topic of suicide in metal lyrics, you say, Kettu, you criticise the way Orden Ogan did that, now who did that right?

Hah.

Dontcha know.

Cantcha guess.

Funny how both these songs ended up as “official promo videos”. Funny how both are sorta kinda edited out of live footage. Because how the hell are you going to stage a story to that?

In chronological order. 1993, the USA. 1995, Germany.

Nothing is framed as certain in the character/narrator’s fate. And yet..

Whether this narrator is more optimistic or not, is up to you to decide.

oh, those least-favourites of mine

There’s always someone who likes them enough to shoot an official video =)

To be honest, it’s one of those songs that appear to be primarily designed for live performance. Energetic and all.

I’m not exactly keen on the way they end the chorus – let’s call it “an aggressive hook”. Okay this sort of approach is in line with older (pre-Howe) material, but those songs were generally straightforward stompers on the whole. Here’s an example (yeah that’s Mike again because my throat starts to hurt when I listen to more than one David Wayne track per week).

an academic exercise

I don’t know about you, but I find the institution of cover songs and the situations where a new vocalist in a band sings some older songs quite a useful educational tool.

So, let’s see what we’ve got here: that old Metal Church ballad, originally recorded with David Wayne. Whom I never liked when he was alive (to the degree that had solidly kept me out of the fandom for all those years, hehe), but in hindsight, he was great at what he did. It’s just that the only singer who does those “screams” (aka switching into head voice for a single kinda optional high note above the high tenor C) and doesn’t annoy the literal hell outta me is Lizzy Borden – who often managed to actually integrate those notes into the melody so that they wouldn’t feel completely arbitrarily slapped on just for the sake of showing off.

And then, we have another studio version recorded about twenty years later with Ronny Munroe, who must have been the most misplaced vocalist in history. I mean, a lot of the bands I grew up on, be it classic rock or Euro metal, switched singers like it’s nothing. This obviously creates rifts in the fandom and fuels holy wars. But often, objectively speaking, it’s all fine musically, just different.

Now, I don’t know what Mr Munroe did before Metal Church, and I don’t even want to. Because he painted himself into a corner with them: let’s just say it’s bad enough that his vocal cords barely close, and even if he is capable of shining doing a totally different type of material, I don’t care. That’s how off-putting the impression is.

Those were studio versions. Recently the band put out a live recording with Mike Howe, and let’s just say that while it’s a good one performance-wise, the sound quality of it isn’t exactly the same as, say, that of Blind Guardian’s live recordings. There’s a chillingly powerful version of this song on there, but it doesn’t seem to be on youtube. So let’s try their Rockpalast-2016 appearance – where Mike does lure the audience into singing most of the chorus, but delivers the rest with so much focus it’s scary.