Head to the ‘Wasteland’ with Metal Church

By  Peter Lindblad

The current Metal Church lineup, from left: Rick Van Zandt (guitars), Jeff Plate (drums), Ronny Munroe (vocals), Steve Unger (bass) and Kurdt Vanderhoof (guitars). Photo: Kat

The current Metal Church lineup, from left: Rick Van Zandt (guitars), Jeff Plate (drums), Ronny Munroe (vocals), Steve Unger (bass) and Kurdt Vanderhoof (guitars). Photo: Kat
Hearing demos of “Breathe Again” and “A War Never Won” for the first time made Ronny Munroe’s ears perk up.

They were the first tracks Metal Church’s  imaginative sonic architect, and lone remaining founding member, Kurdt Vanderhoof, sent to Munroe in preparation for work on the band’s latest LP, This Present Wasteland.

“I was on the phone immediately going, ‘OK, this is the right direction,’” laughs Munroe. “I was like, this sounds like old Metal Church a little bit, with elements of Light In The Dark, that progressive stuff, but it’s back to basics a bit.”

A rampaging blend of thrash-metal fury and explosive socio/political commentary, Metal Church — originally featuring Vanderhoof and fellow guitarist Craig Wells, bassist Duke Erickson, drummer Kirk Arrington and lead vocalist David Wayne, a screamer whose voice could pierce Kevlar —  formed in Seattle, Wash., in the mid-’80s.

Wowing listeners with its technical prowess and thick, brutal riffage, the band released its classic self-titled debut in 1984. Two years later, Metal Church upped the ante, introducing The Dark, an even more aggressive assault considered by some to be one of best metal records of that decade.

Then came the exodus of original members, starting with powerhouse frontman David Wayne. Finding his replacement in ex-Heretic howler Mike Howe, Metal Church also hired guitarist John Marshall.

As personnel changed, so did Metal Church. A heavier beast emerged, and the lyrics began addressing, head on, topical issues of the day on 1989’s Blessing In Disguise and 1991’s Human Factor, a pair of highly regarded releases that set the stage for the ultimately disappointing 1993 effort Hanging In The Balance. Metal Church then splintered, its members drifting to other projects. And Vanderhoof began recording under his own name.

1999, however, saw the return of the original lineup. Together again, the group recorded Masterpeace and played various festivals across Europe, but that album didn’t quite capture the original magic and Metal Church, again, went into hibernation after 2000’s Live.

Vanderhoof was ready to give up on Metal Church. Little did he know that fate, and Munroe, wouldn’t let him.

Starting off as a drummer, Munroe playing them for seven or eight years, he says, before discovering his voice.

“Basically, what happened was, I was listening to my local radio station one day on my headphones, playing along with the songs, and ‘Man On A Silver Mountain’ came on by Rainbow,” reminisces Munroe. “And I was like, ‘Holy shit. Who is that singing?’”
Hearing Dio, Munroe charted a different course for his future, but membership in Metal Church seemed unlikely.

“A quick story: I used to drive around in my car screaming ‘Gods Of Wrath’ [Of Metal Church’s first album] at the top of my lungs, because that is my favorite song from Metal Church, as well as the stuff we do,” says Munroe. “But that’s my favorite song, and it’s also my favorite song to perform live of the old stuff.”

Munroe witnessed the carnage Metal Church could wreak live at the Northwest Metal Fest and was, in his words, “blown away,” and though he didn’t know it then, he would join his heroes 20 years later.

Initially, Munroe’s audition for Vanderhoof had nothing to do with Metal Church. 
“Metal Church was dead, because they did the ’99 reunion tour with David Wayne and things didn’t pan out,” says Munroe. “I don’t think the record did very well and whatnot, and they broke up again. And Kurt had kind of put it in the bag and didn’t want to do it again.”

After going to his house and hearing Vanderhoof’s newer material, Munroe had a question for Vanderhoof: “What about Metal Church?” Persistent phone calls to Vanderhoof got him to consider bringing the old girl back to life, and following one rehearsal with Munroe, Vanderhoof “… took me outside and says, ‘OK. Do you want to do Metal Church?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, of course.’”

Munroe’s introduction to Metal Church fans came with 2004’s The Weight Of The World. Growling like Dio and soaring where notes fear to fly like Judas Priest’s Rob Halford, Munroe was welcomed like a long-lost friend.

And Metal Church was back but sounding more progressive than ever on Weight… and its follow-up, A Light In The Dark. Munroe had assumed a bigger role, as Vanderhoof entrusted him to write all of the lyrics on A Light In The Dark, with one exception — “Temples Of The Sea.”

But Munroe stayed on message for Metal Church, following the mandate of positivity set forth by Vanderhoof. Still, Munroe does address modern issues of evil, morality and fear on This Present Wasteland.

“Kurt’s vision for Metal Church from the very start was to always have a positive message, because there’s enough negativity in the world without us adding to it, and who’s the one that made the rule that there’s no smiling in metal,” laughs Munroe.
Still, the epic, Black Sabbath-like 8:27 centerpiece of the album, “Deeds Of A Dead Soul,” is dark and disturbing.

“What that is about generally is people or a person that even in death seem to still wreak evil on this planet, and that’s the premise behind it.” explains Munroe.

A dizzying array of riffs are present in This Present Wasteland, and nowhere is that more apparent than on the punishing “Meet Your Maker,” a meditation on repentence that interrupts the brutality with a lovely acoustic interlude courtesy of Vanderhoof.
Meanwhile, in “A War On War,” Munroe displays his versatility, wailing with appropriate muscle against a torrent of heavy guitars and then turning soft in the acoustic parts. The mix of progressive elements and straightforward rock make This Present Wasteland a killer.

“There’s no filler songs,” says Munroe. “And in the past, on the last couple, there’s been one or two that I didn’t particularly… I liked them, of course, but they didn’t grab me the way they should have.”

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