Metal Church – Metal Church
1984, Ground Zero Records
For someone that wasn’t actually around at the time, I have mad love for 1984. This was the year of big hair, parachute pants and Like a Virgin. Bell bottoms were out, acid wash jeans were in, and Hollywood had given us Ghostbusters, Gremlins and The Terminator– oh what a time to have been alive! It also, to me, stands out as a particularly important year for heavy metal
I find myself trying to perceive the global sea-change in heavy music during the early 80’s, as metal evolved into a more sophisticated entity. Against the backdrop of Thatcherite Britain, a burgeoning underground metal scene was exploding into prominence – Iron Maiden had crafted a masterpiece in Powerslave, and Judas Priest unleashed Defenders of the Faith upon the world. Slightly further from home, on the continent, Sortilège had released their blistering full length, Métamorphose, and we were introduced to Teutonic metal masters Stormwitch, and their debut, Walpurgis Night. And further still, across the pond, USPM was reaching its zenith.
The information age has seen a paradigm shift in how we approach music, mainly due to the rapidity with which it can now be accessed. But I increasingly recognise a sense of loss. It can’t have been that long ago that I would pore over stacks of records at local fairs, trying to find something interesting – that old dog-eared album by a band that I’d never heard of – and the only way to find out if they were any good was to buy the damn thing. I miss that feeling, that rush of discovery.
Thirty-two years ago, almost to the day, Metallica released their monster second album, Ride the Lightning. I can only imagine what it must have been like to have been a kid then, heading to the local record shop to pick up my very own copy of this now multi-platinum selling release. I’d like to think that this other very special record might also have caught my eye.
For it is almost impossible to walk past this so-bad-it’s-badass artwork – the now iconic cruciform guitar, overrun with moss, shrouded in fog and shadow, whilst cheesy, is undoubtedly part of the charm of this record.
What elevates it from being just another above-average metal album (and let’s face it, these were dime-a-dozen in 1984) is largely vocalist David Wayne. His raw, almost animal style, flitting from crystal clear, to gritty screams, to full blown air-raid siren brings something raw to this otherwise fairly tight recording.
You don’t get much better openers to an album than Beyond the Black into Metal Church, the auditory equivalent of being slapped in the face, and then punched in the guts. And somewhere from these thrash-infused heavy numbers we are lead through the more NWOBHM influenced Gods of Wrath (my stars, that bass!), a touch of speed in Hitman, and the pure power of Nightmare and Batallions.
It is awkward to pigeonhole this incredibly diverse piece of work, and I seem to encounter many arguments that it is essentially thrash. Personally, I think it stands more appropriately next to other releases that year from their USPM contemporaries like Omen, Jag Panzer and Armored Saint. And although it might no longer be the Metal Church record that I reach for most often, it remains an important flagstone in my path through music.
And this makes me think that I really ought to find some time to treat myself. Get my hair done, indulge in a mani-pedi (because I’m girlie like that), and then head out to a record shop (sans smart phone!), explore the unknown, and experience once more, the euphoria in unearthing a diamond from the rough.