Almost a year and a half has passed since hard rock outfit Metal Church released its most recent album Damned If You Do. This Friday, the band will release a follow-up of sorts to that record with its new compilation recording From The Vault. The recording is a collection of b-sides recorded during the sessions for Damned if You Do, new material, live recordings and covers. Considering that front man Mike Howe said prior to the release of Damned if You Do that the band works on a two-year cycle, that would mean that it should not be too long before Metal Church releases its next album. Keeping that in mind, this compilation is certain to appease audiences while they wait for said album. That is proven right from the album’s outset in the record’s opener, ‘Dead on the Vine,’ which is one of the record’s newly recorded tracks. ‘Mind Thief,’ which is one of the collection’s previously unreleased b-sides is another stand out addition to the record. It will be addressed a little later. The band’s take on Ram Jam’s take on ‘Black Betty’ is yet another key addition to this compilation and will also be addressed later. When it is considered along with the other songs noted here and the rest of the collection’s songs, the end result becomes a presentation that despite being a compilation, is a work that will tide Metal Church’s fans over until the band releases its next album. At the same time, it will appeal to the band’s more casual fans as well as those more devoted fans.
Metal Church’s new compilation record From The Vault is a work that will appease the band’s most devoted fans as they await the band’s next full-length album. It will appeal just as much to hard rock and metal fans in general just as much as those more devoted fans for that matter. That is due to the fact that it features something new and something old yet previously unused as well as something live. Among the best of the new material is the compilation’s opener, ‘Dead on the Vine.’ This song’s musical arrangement is a full-throttle, guitar-driven arrangement shoes time keeping is spot on from start to end. Howe’s vocal delivery is instantly comparable to that of Overkill front man Bobby Blitz in its sound and style. The only difference between the two is that in the case of Metal Church, there are actually melodic moments in the song’s chorus and verses alike. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either. The whole of this fist-pumper wastes no time in making grabbing people’s attention. What’s more, once it grabs listeners’ ears with its old school thrash/hard rock presentation, it keeps listeners engaged and entertained right to the end of the nearly four-minute opus.
For all that the musical arrangement does for ‘Dead on the Vine,’ it is just one part of what makes the song stand out. Its lyrical content adds even more engagement and interest to its whole. Howe sings in the song’s lead verse, “When you take license/Go in for the kill/You open your throat/And choke down a sweet pill/But as you will find/The effects soon wear off/And find that there is no more room at the trough/Push back the thoughts/Try to keep them at bay/Saving them up for a much darker day/Taking my steps/With a push from behind/No longer a slave to the grind/You can’t read the signs/Because you are blind/You just fell behind/You’re dead on the vine.” He continues in the song’s second verse, “Is time on your side/And are you running free/To get to the place that you wanted to be/Are you the man you were hoping to find/Not long till you’re losing your mind/You can’t read the signs/Because you are blind/You just fell behind/You’re dead on the vine.” He adds in the song’s chorus near the song’s end, “You’re blurring the lines/You’re feeling fine/You’re dead on the vine.” Looking back through all of this, the song seems to present a very positive message in its lyrics. It seems to make a statement about making the most of our lives and being willing to take risks in life. As Howe sings in the song’s lead verse, “When you take license/Go in for the kill.” In other words, perhaps he is saying here for listeners to go all in no matter what they do in life. The mention of choking down the “sweet pill” and realizing the effects wear off hints at him saying that if we accept something false to make us happy, that happiness will wear off if we just try to lie to ourselves. The note of taking those steps “with a push from behind” seems to hint at taking advantage of that help and inspiration that others might offer for us to take those chances in life. The mention of being dead on the vine comes across as a reference to us just sitting there and not making anything of ourselves if we don’t take those risks in life. This is, of course, just this critic’s own interpretation and could be wrong. Hopefully it isn’t wrong, though, especially considering what happens when this seeming message is coupled with the fiery energy in the song’s musical arrangement. The two work quite well together. Keeping that in mind, if in fact this critic’s interpretation is correct, then the lyrics and music together make this song a strong start for this compilation and an equally powerful, applause-worthy work in general from Metal Church. It is just one of the works featured in From The Vault that makes the compilation in whole stand out. ‘Mind Thief,’ which is one of the compilation’s featured b-sides is noteworthy in its own right.
‘Mind Thief’ is another work that takes listeners back in time with its musical arrangement. The presentation of the guitar and bass immediately throws back to the hard rock and metal sounds that bridged the late 80s and early 90s. More specifically, one might make a comparison to the likes of early Anthrax offerings with this arrangement. That is especially the case when the song’s instrumental elements are examined alongside Howe’s vocal delivery. The time keeping in this song is just as solid as any of Metal Church’s other works past and present, too, rounding out the arrangement’s overall musical picture. The whole of the arrangement is a composition that will certainly appeal to any hard rock and metal purist. When that engaging and entertaining arrangement is considered along with the song’s lyrical content, the whole of the song proves even stronger.
Howe sings in the song’s lead verse, “You heard the message/Too many times/I pulled the trigger/To bring you back in line/’Cause I am stealing your mind/You feel my anger/Most every day/I still control you/Let you walk away/’Cause I am stealing your mind/Now if you think it’s innuendo/And that the sky’s about to fall/And can you hear your master calling/Calling to our song.” He continues in the song’s second verse, “I am the airways/Of modern times/I am convenience that makes you toe the line/’Cause I am stealing your mind/Don’t even bother/To run away/I spread my wings/A mighty bird of prey/’Cause I am stealing your mind.” This comes across as a song about people allowing themselves to be controlled by certain forces, whether they be political or religious and how corrupt those individuals are in controlling the masses. This is not a new concept in the mainstream music world, but at the same time, it is a message that never gets old because of how pertinent it is even to this day. It is that warning to people that they should not and cannot allow those powers that be to control them in any facet of life. The song’s musical arrangement adds to that message to strengthen it even more. Considering all of this along with the overall presentation of ‘Dead on the Vine,’ the two songs together show even more clearly why Metal Church’s new compilation may essentially be a contractually obligated space filler record, but is still a worthwhile space filler nonetheless. It is not the last of the record’s most notable works. The band’s cover of Ram Jam’s timeless hit ‘Black Betty’ is yet another key addition to the record.
Metal Church’s cover of ‘Black Betty’ is important to discuss here because lyrically, it stays wholly true to the source material. Musically speaking though, the band steps things up slightly from Ram Jam’s take on the song. The band does stay true to the source material, but at the same time, also adds its own unique touch to the work. Ram Jam’s composition is a work whose musical arrangement has kept it limited for decades to the southern/classic rock realm what with its guitar arrangements and vocal delivery style from front man Bill Bartlett. Metal Church’s take on the song, however, gives the song a whole new life and identity with its amped up take on the work. The steady pump of the bass drum and the squeals from the guitars make this take an instant arena hit for Metal Church. Howe’s gritty vocal delivery joins with the song’s instrumental elements to fire up this arrangement even more.
For those who might be unfamiliar with the song’s lyrical content, Ram Jam’s version of the song is obviously about a woman. Bartlett sings about her being from Birgmingham, Alabama and “shakin’ that thing” as well as her getting the song’s subject “high.” The rest of the song’s lyrical content, which finds Bartlett singing, “Bam-ba-lam” comes across as a rock version of scatting. And no, that is not a bad term. Scatting is a style of jazz singing. Obviously the “Bam-ba-lam” note is a reference to Black Betty being from Alabama. It’s really quite droll, to be honest, but thankfully, the infectious groove established in the song’s arrangement makes up for that rather run-of-the-mill lyrical content to make the song in whole so important. Having it here also serves to hint at least at one of the bands that has influenced the members of Metal Church over the life of their careers. The fact that they have amped up this classic tune with their own touch while also keeping the core elements of the song along with the original lyrics from Ram Jam’s work adds even more interest to the whole. Keeping in mind the engagement and entertainment that this cover is certain to generate for audiences, as well as that of the other noted songs and the rest of the compilation’s works, the whole of Metal Church’s new compilation will certainly appeal to a wide range of listeners.
Metal Church’s new forthcoming compilation record From The Vault is a work that will certainly appeal just as much to the band’s most devoted fans as it will to rock and hard rock purists. That is due to the fact that it presents works that represents the band’s immediate past and its present (I.E. something kind of old and something new). It clearly is little more than a contractually obligated space filler that the band has released to tide over fans until the release of the band’s next album, it is still a space filler that the noted audiences will be glad to hear. That is proven just as much through all three of the songs discussed here and the rest of the compilation’s offerings. Each item noted and not is important in its own way to the whole of this record. All things considered, they make From The Vault a rare compilation record from any band that rock purists and Metal Church fans alike will welcome in their music libraries. It will be available Friday through Rat Pack Records. More information on the record is available online along with all of Metal Church’s latest news at:
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