Metal Church - The Dark (1986)Release ID: 1544
I hadn't revisited Metal Church's sophomore album in many years & have found that my passion for it has "Wayne"ed a little bit since back in the day (see what I did there?). Much like their self-titled debut, you can expect a mix of classic heavy metal, speed metal & thrash metal tracks with a chunkier & more aggressive tone than the NWOBHM was generally known for which pretty much makes "The Dark" the very definition of what the US power metal scene was all about. The best comparison I can come up with is a combination of the heavy metal of early Savatage & the more classic metal inspired thrash bands like Flotsam & Jetsam & Overkill. Also like the debut, "The Dark" is a little inconsistent in it's execution with a couple of obvious fillers included in simple heavy number "Start The Fire" & unintelligent speed metal tune "Psycho". Admittedly, I don't think these dips are as bad as what we saw in the middle of the tracklisting on "Metal Church" but "The Dark" is lacking the clear highlights that it's older sibling built its reputation on which sees me positioning it slightly behind "Metal Church" overall but not by much. Both are a bit overrated in all honesty & I don't regard either as being essential. David Wayne's vocals are a big improvement on his previous effort here though. I really enjoy his blend of soaring Rob Halford classic metal & Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth snarl. The guitar solos of Kurdt Vanderhoof & Craig Wells are the highlight of the record for me though as they absolutely slay. Overall, I'd suggest that "The Dark" is worth a listen if you enjoy the chunkier end of heavy metal but don't expect it to rock your world as much as some would have you believe.
The great thing about this Guardians: Heavy Metal - The 2nd Era challenge is that I am getting to revisit so many albums from my youth and if nothing more, this has been a great nostalgia trip. I can remember when Metal Church adorned a rare status in my vinyl collection of being one of the few bands with more than one LP in there as at one point I had this record and A Blessing In Disguise in my collection. At the time I think The Dark had the edge over the latter release. It looked like the front cover to a horror movie for a start whereas A Blessing in Disguise looked like a family photo shoot in comparison.
Given my dislike of the debut album (or at least my acknowledgment that it is highly overrated) it was refreshing to hear David Wayne again during my research for this review. Given my general dislike of the self-titled some two years prior to this I had kind of dismissed Wayne as only being around for one decent release and in doing so had been doing his performance on the sophomore release a little injustice. As I say, this is the only release I have time for with Wayne on vocals but his presence really came across today on the final run through I did coming into this review. His gruff and nasal style is consistent but the delivery of it is varied, sometimes coming across as tuneful and accessible, others more aggressive and thrashy whilst at times it is almost spoken word. Wayne's vocals are tempered perfectly against the pace and tempo of the music and with the step up in the quality of the album in comparison to the debut his performance is more accessible and the excellence of him is much more obvious.
There's a real high-point early on in the record with the thrashing energy of the anthemic Start the Fire, a track that often reminds me of Overkill whenever I hear it. It is an infectious track, placed really well after the promising Ton of Bricks and makes for a great start to the record. Whilst I can't deny that Method to Your Madness and the superb Watch The Children Pray showcase superbly the quality of the song writing, coupled with Date's crisp yet not too polished production letting all the individual parts shine they are great tracks early on in the record. Vanderhoof and Wells' guitar work is sublime more or less throughout the album but again the lead work in particular is really prominent and memorable on these tracks.
I think the album arrangement is great, the balance of a few higher tempo tracks running before a more measured and sultry track comes in makes for a very palatable experience. Kicking off side two with the menacing title-track is a great move, that threatening build sets the mood perfectly to introduce the second part of the album and as it runs its course the track manages to maintain this atmosphere well without sacrificing any power along the way. After the blistering yet not all that memorable Over My Dead Body this is a marked step back up in quality and puts the album firmly back on the tracks.
Things do tail off markedly though during the rest of the album after Psycho bashes its way clumsily through three and a half minutes of weapons grade filler we get the more promising Line of Death that follows a similar tempo and poorly structured format also. There's a section in the latter song that I swear is the same bridge as used on the title-track as well. However, there is some aspect of a measured approach around the halfway mark that helps avoid the skip button being deployed for two songs in a row. With Burial at Sea ensuring there's at least one more quality track before the album gets done it's hard to not see The Dark as a success overall. It is consistent in terms of quality (in the main) and is probably the most entertaining Metal Church album in the discography. Whilst it is far from flawless, it is easily their most promising offering with Wayne in the band and there's a sense of sadness that this was probably the album that would have lined up their next offering as potentially their finest hour given the strength on display here. Obviously that wasn't to be and the band more or less started again when it came to their third release.
I have to say this album is a bit of a disappointment to me. After loving the debut, I figured this would be more thrashing metal goodness to bang my head to. But it turns out that Metal Church decided to tone their metal down towards stadium rock with The Dark. There are still some thrashing moments like Ton of Bricks, Psycho, Line of Death etc., but there are also a multitude a hard rock speed tracks and balladry on show. The band has taken away the riff-based metal emphasis that they had and replaced it with well...something less.
That's not to say that there are no decent moments here, as it's all mildly enjoyable, easily digested music. I still may give it a spin here and there, but I was expecting more!