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.

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“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.

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.

don’t you just HATE the institution of bonus tracks?!

Incentive, yeah yeah yeah. Wait enough, and a compilation will pop up containing everything you ever wanted. Umm no, not all the time.

No idea if there was an overseas digital release of this edition or not, but iTunes Russia doesn’t carry it, and it is frustrating. Because hell, just listen to this song and tell me it’s not awesome.

See, I buy digital music not only because I’m a cheapskate. Hell, there is stuff that I bought digitally but without the benefit of regional pricing. I prefer digital because it doesn’t wear out and doesn’t take up much physical space. If I had to have all my music as CDs, I would need an extra room just for those.

Physical media also has to be delivered physically, y’know. It’s one thing to walk into a store and walk out with something, but ordering anything… I don’t want to play this game anymore.

 

the unexpected happens

What would you really expect from a band named Metal Church? Basically the same as from Agent Steel, Virgin Steele or any other semi-underground English-speaking 80s metal band. They’re like those endless 19th century poets you’re expected to know for your literature class: you remember the names, maybe a few lines, but they fail to touch you because they all seem to write about the same landscape – autumn harvests, spring blossoms, and the like. Replace autumn harvests with vague SF/F images and spring blossoms with how awesome metal is, especially experienced in a live setting, and you get the drift. Basically Judas Priest all over again, with lyrics being in place to simply make it easier to remember melodies and not because they wanted to say something. And the singers will sound similar to Rob Halford.

But one day (long after you graduated from high school) you notice that one of those singers is back in one of those bands after a 20+ year hiatus, during which he wasn’t playing music at all. Remembering how Leather Leone did the same not that long ago, you get curious and tune in.

And then you realise that actually, their lyrics were not all that perfunctory. And the singer in question isn’t that much of a generic Halford clone. And hell, he still sounds as if it’s 1991.

Yes. Metal Church. Mike Howe is back, and I’m in the fandom, which still feels surprising, but hey I’m in and I’m in deep.

No idea if I manage to lure anyone else in, but here’s what I think to be a good introduction. This one’s a bit of a ballad, has meaningful lyrics with some powerful imagery, and showcases Metal Church’s characteristic harmonic interplay between those epic (I really mean it; “epic” is the only word that fits – you thought Priest’s The Sentinel was epic, and these guys are like that most of the time) guitar riffs and the vocals. Which are very clearly Halford-influenced, but the thing is – unlike many others, Mike Howe didn’t try to torture and rape his voice into emulating that of someone else’s. He just made note of Halford’s aggression and the way he distributes tonal qualities to match the lyrics’ message, but the rest is just plain out solid vocal technique – no false colour, no larynx squeezing or dropping, nothing. And if non-classical music had Fachs, Mike Howe would be definitely the same Fach as Geddy Lee. Not exactly a widespread voice type, and not that many of those sing metal.