Metal Church has not had the easiest go of things in the past couple of years or so. In 2021, the band’s then front man Mike Howe – who had fronted the band for a total of 13 years from 1988-’95 and then again from 2015-2021 – died after losing his battle with his mental health struggles. His death came as the band was working on its latest album, Congregation of Annihilation. Work on that album was slowed even more in 2022 was slowed even more, due to the impacts – at the time – of the COVID-19 pandemic. Late last year though, things started to turn around when it was announced that the band had found a replacement for the beloved front man in the form of new vocalist Marc Lopes and work resumed on the album. Early this summer, the wait for Congregation of Annihilation ended when the band released said record through Rat Pak Records. The band’s 13th album, it dropped May 26, more than four years after the release of the band’s then latest collection of new content, Damned If You Do. Spanning 11 songs, the 49-minute record proves a relatively solid new offering from the veteran thrash outfit, as its featured musical arrangements prove. They will be discussed shortly. The sequencing of that content actually plays a surprisingly interesting part in the presentation too and will be examined a little later. The record’s lyrical themes round out its most important elements and will also be discussed later. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the album’s presentation. All things considered they make Congregation of Annihilation a work that holds its own with this year’s current crop of new hard rock and metal albums.
Congregation of Annihilation, the latest album from Metal Church, is a positive new offering from the veteran metal outfit that is sure to appeal to the band’s established audiences and metal purists alike. That is proven in part through its featured musical arrangements. From beginning to end, the 11 arrangements that make up the album’s nearly 50-minute run time are pure vintage thrash at its finest. The dual guitar attack of Kurdt Vanderhoof and Rick Van Zandt forms each arrangement’s foundation absolutely pulling listeners into every work and ensuring listeners’ engagement. Meanwhile drummer Steve Howland adds his own flare with specific fills and accents with his performance throughout the record alongside bassist Steve Unger. Lopes puts the proverbial cherry on top with his powerhouse vocal performances. His semi-growling /singing conjures thoughts (at least in this critic’s ears) of Overkill front man Bobby Blitz’s own vocal prowess. At the same time, those moments when Lopes hits those high notes and with so much control makes his talent just as comparable to the talents of Tim “Ripper” Owens (Judas Priest, Iced Earth, KK’s Priest), Joey Belladonna (Anthrax) and of Howe. The whole of the group’s performance in each song so engaging and entertaining.
Of course for all of the power and fury that the band exhibits throughout most of the record, not every song is a thrash work. The group actually turns things in a more blues-based direction late in the record in the form of the bonus track, ‘My Favorite Sin.’ This song is a steady, mid-tempo work that exhibit influences of Motley Crue just as much as more modern, blues-based rock and metal acts. It makes for an interesting change as the record progresses. When the change of style and sound in that song is considered alongside the subtle variances in each of the record’s heavier, vintage thrash-style compositions, the whole of the record’s musical content forms a solid foundation for Congregation of Annihilation, giving listeners reason enough to take in the album.
The arrangements themselves are just part of what makes Metal Church’s latest album worth hearing. The sequencing thereof builds on the appeal ensured by the content. As noted, most of the album’s songs are heavy, vintage thrash-style works. There are subtle variances presented in each arrangement that give each work its identity, helping to keep things interesting from one song to the next. Obviously, those behind the boards understood that and took it into full consideration in sequencing the record. Audiences who listen closely will catch how each song changes from its predecessor just enough in those minute details. The result is an aspect of the sequencing that creates a welcome aesthetic impact in its own right.
On another level, listeners will also note that there are two points in the record’s progress that even more clearly change things up. The first comes roughly midway through the album in the form of ‘Making Monsters.’ The other comes in the aforementioned bonus song, ‘My Favorite Sin.’ ‘Making Monsters’ is of note because it was clearly deliberately placed in a spot to break things up in the record’s bigger picture. The subtle guitar line here is meant to serve as a bridge from its predecessor, ‘Me The Nothing’ while also being a little pulled back (for lack of better wording) before Unger and Lopes take over through the rest of the song in a more energetic but still slightly pulled back performance. Again, this is an illustration of the subtle variances that the songs show throughout the album. The tempo is there, but in the bigger scheme of the arrangement there is something there in terms of the general effect that is lacking from the other songs here, and it is clearly intentional. It leaves the record being that much more engaging and entertaining.
‘My Favorite Sin’ is, as noted, is the starkest departure for the band here. Instead of the vintage thrash leanings that make up so much of the record, the song offers listeners a clear blues-based hard rock approach and sound. Considering the heavier approach and sound to the song before and after, it is yet another interesting change that breaks up the record one last time before its intense finale, ‘Salvation.’ Looking at these two song and how they are placed amidst the rest of the album’s entries, the whole – complete with consideration of the other arrangements’ subtle stylistic variations – make clear just how much time and consideration went into the album’s sequencing. The creative heads here obviously took all of that into consideration, with the result being that the sequencing proves just as important and successful as the album’s content in whole.
As much as the content does for Congregation of Annihilation and the sequencing thereof, there is still one more item to address here. That item is the album’s lyrical content. Throughout the course of the album’s run, its lyrical content seems to line up with its title, as so much of it seems to be commentary on the state of the world. Case in point is the late entry, ‘Say A Prayer With 7 Bullets.’ This song is clearly a commentary about the never-ending debate on gun control. As a matter of fact, the song’s very title comes across as a statement not only about that but its ties to religious fundamentalists, since they seem to be the most gun crazy. Lopes sings in the song’s chorus, “Death’s Dance with liberty/Shall hold no rights over me/A human truth to simple exist/Taste blood by way of fist/Say a prayer with 7 bullets/Fire away/Say a prayer with 7 bullets/Smile on Judgement Day.” This certainly sounds like something those religious fundamentalists like to crow, especially the note of “no rights over me.” Further, in the song’s second verse, Lopes sings, “To survive or eaten alive/It’s a predator game/Will you be a victim/Or become the prey?” Again, this certainly sounds like the musings of a gun nut. It is one of that type of person’s constant arguments, promoting fear over common sense. Keeping all of this in mind, this commentary is delivered creatively and accessibly while also touching on a very familiar, hot button topic. It is sure to engage audiences and get people talking in its own right.
Another commentary seemingly made in the album’s lyrical content comes much earlier in its run in the form of the album’s title track. Serving as the album’s second song, the track immediately comes across as a scathing indictment of the powers that be around the world, with Lopes singing in the opening verse and chorus, “Divine intoxication/By those who rule all nations/Blood drunk/Powers embraced in war/Veils of deception/Foul mouths spew corruption/They are blind, numb, delusional days/Conspire, lair, belief/Technocracy is the way/Death is absolution/War designed conclusion/Questions, answer, deceit/Hypocrisy in hate/Mortality in the hands of gods/Congregation of annihilation.” This makes pretty clear that this is a statement of what those in power are doing to the world and how the world’s people are being left at their mercy. It is another familiar theme that has been common among rock songs for a long time and hits just as hard as in any case from any other act. It is yet another example of the role that the album’s lyrical content plays in its overall presentation.
One more commentary that shows the importance of the album’s lyrical theme comes late in the album’s run in the form of ‘All That We Destroy.’ The very title hints at the song being a commentary about how humans are doing themselves in. The song’s lyrical content seems to hint at that even more, as the chorus points out, “Is all we see/Or what it seems/A dream within a dream/A paradise becomes the vice/Voiceless echoes free/Desire/Pleasure entice/Fantasy by twilight/Caressed this dead flesh/With eternal flame.” This is a lot of metaphorical language, but the questioning of what is reality and what is fake, and the power of our vices in it all is pretty strong language. Lopes continues from there, noting, “All that we destroy/By ignorance and pride/All that we destroy/In voracity, denial” is just as strong. That is because it comes across as a statement that we as humans do ourselves in because of our pride, because of ourselves. This is something of a nihilistic commentary, but it is still true (if in fact this is what Lopes and company are trying to get across to audiences). When this seeming commentary is considered along with those noted in the other examined songs and with those in the rest of the album’s entries, the whole therein shows that much more clearly, the important role that the album’s lyrical content plays in its presentation. When the overall lyrical presentation is considered along with the album’s musical arrangements and the impact of their sequencing, the whole therein makes the whole of the album a solid new offering from Metal Church that any metal purist will appreciate.
Congregation of Annihilation, the latest album from Metal Church, is a strong new offering from the veteran thrash metal outfit. Its success is shown in part through its featured musical arrangements. The arrangements offer audiences plenty of familiar sounds and styles from the band while also ensuring those sounds and styles are right alongside those of today’s up-and-coming thrash metal acts. The sequencing of that content adds to the record’s appeal. That is because it takes into full account the subtle variances in each of the thrash arrangements and even a more notable change in approach at least twice in the record. The result is a positive aesthetic impact for the album that audiences will appreciate, too. The lyrical themes featured throughout the album are also of note. That is because of how much they seem to play into the overarching theme delivered by the album’s title. In some cases the album’s lyrical content is delivered in more metaphorical language while in others it is more direct. In each case, the language is never so vague as to make it inaccessible. Keeping that in mind, the accessibility of the content and the relatability of the lyrical themes overall puts the finishing touch to Metal Church’s new album. Each item examined here is important in its own way to the whole of Congregation of Annihilation. All things considered they make the album a presentation that holds its own well alongside the year’s current crop of new hard rock and metal albums.
Congregation of Annihilation is available now through Rat Pak Records. More information on the album is available along with all of Metal Church’s latest news at: