Metal Church - Thekla, Bristol
The triumphant return of legend Mike Howe to the Metal Church ranks in 2015 saw the release of one of the best albums for many years in XI. Since then the band have toured the album hard and I finally achieved my goal of seeing them last year at The Underworld in London. A year on and the band are still pushing forward, hitting a four week run of club and festival dates across Europe. This included somewhat unbelievably a night at the ship turned venue The Thekla in Bristol. Metal Church almost on your doorstep? Too good to be true and as a result the Musipedia team were there in force.
Opening the evening's proceedings were Swiss outfit Comaniac (7) whose retro brand of thrash was enjoyable with tracks from their two releases played, well, at high speed! The band have been opening for Metal Church throughout the tour and Bristol was their final gig. They played it like they were opening at Wembley Stadium rather than a small venue and provided one of the evening's endearing moments when guitarist Valentin Mossinger broke a string. He rushed off stage leaving front man Jonas Schmid to take full lead duties which he did with great aplomb. The band soldiered on magnificently, not breaking stride in any way before Mossinger returned, accompanied by Mike Howe who stoked up the crowd before running back off. Comaniac received a decent reception and earnt much applause for their heroism under fire.
The lights dimmed once more and Brad Fiedel's spine tingling theme from Terminator 2 blasted out. I can't think of better intro music. Metal Church (10) began to lay waste to the packed audience with an hour and a half of some of the finest thrash and heavy metal ever written. Opening with Fake Healer the Church were in imperious form. Mike Howe owning the centre ground, the mighty Kurdt Vanderhoof distributing riffs at will whilst crammed to the right the excellent lead work of Rick Van Zandt pierced the air courtesy of a superb quality sound. The ever reliable Steve Unger combined his rampaging bass lines with main backing vocals whilst new drummer Stet Howland didn't miss a beat all night.
What I love about Metal Church is the quality of their songs. Whilst the band are heavy as hell the songs are beautifully composed, simple yet intricate with some razor sharp political and social commentary. the likes of Fake Healer, Date With Poverty and Beyond The Black remain relevant, clever and totally on point.
Metal Church's set comprised a set of classics interspersed with four killer tracks from XI. Howe' voice is stunning, hitting the notes perfectly on the new stuff, such as No Tomorrow and Killing Your Time whilst adapting it slightly to accommodate the older tunes, which included a magnificent Gods Of A Second Chance from 1993's Hanging In The Balance, the skull crushing Start The Fire and epic Watch The Children Pray from 1985's The Dark, complete with excellent participation from the mixed ages in the crowd. Metal Church pulled in a lot of old school fans who had been fortunate enough to have seen the band before and a number of younger metal heads who were revelling in the opportunity to see one of the the original members of the thrash movement at such close quarters.
As the evening moved towards its climax the band continued to grin and smile, clearly enjoying themselves despite their gruelling schedule (which extends through the summer across several countries), Howe genuine in his appreciation of the strong reception the band fully deserved. Then it was time, and Beyond The Black arrived. If you asked me to name one definitive Metal Church track it would be this beast. Powerful, sinister and magically constructed. Just brilliant. A double encore of the blistering Badlands and The Human Factor rounded off a superb evening from one of the often criminally overlooked icons of the heavy metal scene. With new music promised for 2018, there may yet be more opportunities to worship. I'm a believer. Bring it on.