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METAL CHURCH Congregation of Annihilation

By Jay Roberts, Massachusetts Contributor
Wednesday, June 21, 2023 @ 8:09 AM


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METAL CHURCH
Congregation of Annihilation

Rat Pak Records - 2023

On July 26th, 2021, the world came crashing down around the collective heads of METAL CHURCH and their fans. The announcement of the death of singer Mike Howe hit like, if you'll excuse the shameless cliche, a ton of bricks. Or more succinctly, this SUCKED!

But as the weeks and months rolled by, the decision to keep the band going meant guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof had to find a new singer. But to fill those metaphorical shoes, he had to find a singer that could not only hold his own with new material but hold his own against the vocalist legacy of METAL CHURCH.

Enter Marc Lopes from ROSS THE BOSS and LET US PREY. Now I'll be honest, I don't think I'd ever heard any of Marc's work before he was announced as the new METAL CHURCH singer. And ahead of the May 26th, 2023 release of Congregation of Annihilation came the release of the first track off the album. Entitled "Pick A God And Prey", my first reaction was "WTF?"

I was excited for the new album but despite that I guess I wasn't quite ready for the markedly different take the direction of the new material was going to take. And with my unfamiliarity with the vocal work of Marc Lopes, that first reaction was one of disappointment.

No...this is not a bad review of the album...so keep reading dammit!

I knew I would be doing the review of this album so I had to shake off my preconceptions of how the band "should" sound based off of their past. And you know what? The second time I listened to the song, I was suddenly really digging it. Bold and brassy, the song definitely leans more towards the thrashier side of METAL CHURCH's sound. And Lopes is a powerhouse to say the least. Now I was really amped up for the rest of the disc.

Congregation of Annihilation opens up with the song "Another Judgement Day" and it clearly illustrates just how powerfully fast and aggressive the songwriting direction is going to be this time around. There's just a pounding relentlessness to how the music sounds and the vocal take is just viciously ripping. The song's title is apt, not just for the lyrics on the track but if you think about it, the band putting out this new album opens them up to a new round of "judgement" from the fan base too.

On "Children of The Lie", you can really grasp just how pissed off the band seems on the material as a whole. Like a number of the other songs on the album, the lyrics are just full of rage towards the subject matter it seems. And man does it really work here. If there is one slight nitpick that I had with any song on the album, it would be here. But that's just because I thought the instrumental outro on the song meandered on a bit too long for my own personal tastes.

Not that Stet Howland isn't a full on presence throughout each song on the Congregation of Annihilation, but the way his drumming keyed the musical attack on the album's title cut was really noteworthy. He provides a heavy thump bottom end to an over-the-top fast paced song. And the ungodly evil-sounding growl and scream from Lopes on the word "decay" just before the guitar solo AND on the final lyrical line "harbinger of hate" was just pure enjoyment for my ears.

The song "Me The Nothing" is a might slower in terms of tempo, but no less heavy. I enjoyed the guitar work on this song a lot because despite the power of the chords, there were times a bit of subtlety was needed and man, between Vanderhoof and Rick Van Zandt, METAL CHURCH is sure not lacking for great guitar playing. And that totally understated ending left me feeling there was a bit of chill in the air and somehow more to come with this song. Oh, and I love the line "Within the riddle of endless time".

The second song that was released from the album (at least as a YouTube video, if not an official "single") was "Making Monsters". Now for all my initial reluctance with "Pick A God And Prey", I loved this one right from the first listen. Like any number of songs on the album, it's got the requisite doses of heavy and fast, but what really sold this one for me was how the chorus had a cool kind of rhythmic vibe to it. So as to make it almost easy to sing along to it. The funny thing is if you read the lyrics, you'd swear the lyrics would be right at home in some kind of death metal track or something. It's just merciless yet somehow inventively inviting at the same time.

The next two songs on the album show that METAL CHURCH isn't lacking for potentially confrontational song titles. "Say A Prayer With 7 Bullets" isn't lacking for subtlety but I gotta say, this is one of my favorite tracks on Congregation of Annihilation. It's one of the shorter songs on the album but it's got everything going for it. A killer musical score (and fantastic guitar playing) and a set of lyrics that just gut-punch you from start to finish. This is a MONSTER track!

The other song that struck me as having a confrontational title is "These Violent Thrills". I should be clear that when I say "confrontational", I'm talking about the more candyass portion of the population, I personally have no issue with the titles. Anyway, this song is an explosion of sonic fury. My first reaction to hearing this song was that it sounded as if it would be right at home on the soundtrack for one of those movies from The Purge franchise. But gawd this a such a great song. Furiously performed, I love hearing this one each time I've played the album.

The "main" portion of the album closes out with the cut "All That We Destroy" and it is yet another killer track that just grabs you by the ears and shakes you until you beg for mercy.

After the initial nine tracks on the album, the final two Congregation of Annihilation songs are listed as bonus tracks. But these are far more than just run-of-the-mill extras. Hell, the first of the two tracks, "My Favorite Sin", is actually another of my favorite songs on the entire damn album! While not focused entirely on an explosively fast sound, the song actually has an extremely enticing rhythmic groove to it. And while the growl is still evident in how Marc Lopes performs the vocal track, this is a bit more geared towards a straight up traditional heavy metal sound versus that thrashier full throttle style for the rest of the album.

As for the 2nd bonus track, "Salvation" is PHENOMENAL. The music has a slightly upticked speed to it but it still is a bit slower than the rest of the album. And on the song's chorus, there seems to be a real concerted effort to thread in just that little extra dose of melody amongst the more aggressive metallic tones. It's a killer way to bring the album to a full stop, and yet I found I was kind of still wanting more all the same.

So how do you sum up an album like this? There's so many thoughts that come to mind because of the story behind the creation of the album. There's a need to honor what had come before. And the band does that in spades. But there's also a need to say, "but we have to start a new chapter now too." And in that, METAL CHURCH succeeds beyond what I could've ever hoped for. Yes, the band has taken a turn towards a heavier, more aggressive style. But they have done it without sacrificing what has made them one of the best bands in metal. Great songwriting, crushing music and vocals that make you sit up and take notice. Honestly, who can ask for anything more than that?

I can't say it any more direct than this: METAL CHURCH is not only alive and well, but THRIVING too. And Congregation of Annihilation is one of the singularly best metal albums of the year!

4.9 Out Of 5.0

http://www.metalchurchofficial.com


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