Metal Church is one of my all-time favorite bands. Record label neglect and internal strife has kept this pioneering act from reaching its full potential but the metal gods have a fortuitous nature which, in this case, has compelled two great musicians to join forces once again! Mike Howe and Kurdt Vanderhoof have reunited! The end result is, XI – the best Metal Church album in over twenty years!
Now that the band has achieved success in the studio, a series of live dates will follow. The XI tour affectionately dubbed ‘The Return of Mike Howe’ was rolling through Reggie’s Rock Club (2105 South State Street) and there was no way in hell I was going to miss this mass!
We arrived at Reggie’s a couple of hours before the doors opened to meet up with Julz Ramos of the band Hatchet, with me was longtime friend and MetalRecusants cameraman Roger Schultz. For those of you who do not know Hatchet, get off your ass and check them out! These guys are some ‘Bay Area Thrashers’ reborn.
I’ve been to Reggie’s numerous times and I honestly feel like I’ve invaded every nook and cranny but nothing can really prepare you for rolling through an empty venue while Metal Church is on stage jamming “Fake Healer” during sound check. Those memories are the payoff of a journalist and I wouldn’t trade them for the world!
When we reached the street we ran into a few friends who asked to see the Hatchet video we just shot. That’s when I realized I didn’t have my cell phone! I left it in the “Green Room”, down in the bowels of Reggie’s! It was a brand new Galaxy S7 and my wife was going to kill me!
I had to get that fucker! I made my way back inside and downstairs like a man on a mission. Luckily Julz was just leaving and I was able to get back inside the “Green Room” and retrieve my lost lifeline. Thank you metal gods!
Once the cell phone scare was over it was definitely time to drink a couple beers and watch the Monday night crowd build. This scene was definitely a slow burner. With both Chicago baseball teams beginning their seasons (road) and the NCAA men’s basketball championship happening, people arrived in spurts. There was eventually a nice crowd on hand but the venue didn’t reach a full capacity until much later in the evening.
The first band up was a local act called Satan’s Hallow. They are a female fronted heavy metal act with a bit of power metal thrown in. The vocals were fist-pumping and the music had a great head-banging quality but the band just didn’t have the stage presence to match it. Satan’s Hollow was followed by a thrash act from Indiana called Testimony. This band also showed some real promise but aside from their vocalist, held little stage presence.
Although I realize how difficult it is to move around and play an instrument on stage, you still have to consider the crowd watching. All they see is a bunch of dudes cemented to a platform, looking like a glorified band practice. Nobody wants to pay to see that and they likely won’t remember it either. Visuals are a key ingredient to any metal performance.
The ‘California metal scene’ is booming and I wouldn’t be surprised if America’s ‘metal resurrection’ came from this locale. One of the groups leading this charge is Hatchet, a thrash metal act from San Francisco. Hatchet hit the stage and had the crowd’s attention from first note. Mosh pits exploded as younger fans embraced a vicious onslaught. Hatchet blew through an aggressive set list that touched on all their releases with a heavy emphasis on their current effort, Fear Beyond Lunacy. This is a group with stage presence. Hair was flying as the band stirred us all into lunacy. It was a satisfying experience and I’d like to see what Hatchet can do with a headliner’s time slot.
The final act of the evening was Metal Church, a group I have treasured since I first found the genre. After reviewing the new album, I was dying to hear Mike Howe sing in the flesh!
Metal Church is a band which is conscious of its past. As a longtime follower of the late David Wayne, there was a time when I couldn’t imagine anyone else singing the songs “Watch the Children Pray”, “Start the Fire” or “Beyond the Black” but Mike Howe converted me during The Blessing in Disguise tour and he did it again. Metal Church is back! The classic tracks are alive! The group concluded a tightly woven set of old and new, then amazingly announced they wanted to meet everyone, sign autographs and take pictures!
I left awestruck hoping this wasn’t some ‘good vibe’ farewell tour of a long-standing moniker but more of a re-introduction of a once mighty band to a growing scene ready to embrace them. I hope the excitement of this tour convinces Metal Church now is not the time to say goodbye. I saw plenty of young metalheads in the crowd, a new wave of followers ready to devote themselves to the Metal Church. \m/