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Sunday, 15 May 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Metal Church (Review By Paul)

Metal Church: The Underworld, Camden

It's been over 20 years since Metal Church graced UK shores and on the back of one of the albums of the year in XI, this was a gig not to be missed. Fortunately I was in London for the week on business and a mere eight stops on the Northern Line meant that I was comfortably ensconced with beer in hand in time for the opening outfit.

Sometimes the support bands at gigs really increase your enjoyment and there have been many occasions where new discoveries or quality sets have made the event extra special. Tonight was not one of those nights. Opening off proceedings was Dutch three piece Distillator (6) whose honest but dated thrash approach did little to impress. Plenty of endeavour and the full range of heavy metal cliched poses alongside bullet belts galore but insufficient quality to light my fire in any way. A band whose lead guitarist and vocalist tags himself Desecrator whilst his band mates are Frankie and Marco added to the ludicrousness although the icing on the cake was the audacity of the band to throw in a cover of Slayer’s Black Magic. Ironically, Distillator’s best track was a slower atmospheric number, probably because it contrasted with the generic offerings either side.

Having perused a very disappointing merchandise offering from the headliners (no tour dates on the tees?) I grabbed another beer and settled down to watch Belgian five piece Bliksem (4) produce one of the most dire support slots I've ever seen. For a band with two full length albums and over eight years under their belt, their schizophrenic thrash with a random doom track thrown in was as bizarre as it was dull. However, the biggest problem by a country mile was the appalling vocals of front woman Peggy Meeussen. A screeched and strained approach meant that her voice, already suffering from a poor mix came across as pretty weak. A 45 minute set didn't do much to stimulate the interest, and despite the efforts of the other members of the band I was pretty glad when they got off the stage.

According to vocalist Mike Howe it was 22 years since Metal Church (9) had played in London. Unsurprising then that the Underworld had swollen to a healthy number when the West Coast outfit hit the stage to deliver a 90 minute set that demonstrated exactly why they remain a much loved outfit. One of the few bands I'd never seen live, the bonus of the evening was the opportunity to witness Kurt Vanderhoof, founder member of the band on Stage with a huge smile as he liberally churned out the riffs. The engine room powered by drummer Jeff Plate didn't let up whilst bassist Steve Unger’s energy was infectious. Most of the lead work was handled with aplomb by Rick Van Zandt who was even given the opportunity to indulge in a short solo spot during the set.
Kicking off with Fake Healer, which prompted a hilarious stage dive from a older gent dressed in suit, the band delivered a well constructed set which unsurprisingly centred on Howe's work. And what about Howe? Well, for a small man he has a huge presence on the stage and his voice is in top condition. Sensibly steering away from the higher parts during classics such as Start The Fire ensured that David Wayne’s legacy was respected (ironically 10 May is the anniversary of Wayne’s passing). Splicing three newbies across the set allowed the older fans to reminisce although Reset, No Tomorrow and a blistering Killing Your Time were greeted like old favourites. Inevitably the real old school stuff received enormous reactions and Watch The Children Pray produced goosebumps. As the band closed the main set with Beyond The Black, the sole track from the debut album, a glance around the venue noted beaming faces on young and old. 

This was a night which drew both the old school dressed in shirt and jeans and the youngsters with their battle jackets, high tops and significantly more hair. It didn't matter. It was an “I was there evening”. To conclude the evening we were treated to Badlands and The Human Factor, both still thunderous metal tunes before the band exited the stage and headed to an open meet and greet. An excellent evening, and at long last I can tick Metal Church off the list. Let's hope they don't leave it quite so long for a return.

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