Damned If You Do is the twelfth album from Washington stalwarts Metal Church, a band that has had more than its fair share of trial and tribulation across the years guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof has steered its course (and that decade or so he wasn’t even in the band).
This is the second hit out since being reunited with vocalist Mike Howe, whose raspy snarl gives the band’s music the distinctive personality it had when the late David Wayne led them through classics like their self-titled debut (1984) and The Dark (1986). Like last year’s XI (2017), Damned If You Do is another shot at those past glories, and is probably a more solid album overall. The songs benefit from the more concise approach Metal Church has taken this time, cutting away the fat that made some of the tracks on XI seem interminable.
As a result, the tracks are more immediate and the catchiness factor carries them through with some strong pure metal moments along the way. “By the Numbers” contains an almost perfect riff, driving and savage for Howe to lay down his angry snarl upon. “Rot Away” takes an almost hard rock direction, underpinned by the dependable stickswork of Stet Howland who’s driven the engine room for everyone from W.A.S.P. to Lita Ford and Chris Impellitteri. “Monkey Finger” is a hugely catchy track with a big 80s vibe that oddly echoes the Sunset Strip scene and is weirdly out of place between the traditional metal of “Into the Fold” and the vibrant Accept-like “Out of Balance” that comes after. If anything though, it shows that Metal Church is willing to take some songwriting risks, something that the previous album was loathe to do.
Damned If You Do doesn’t go anywhere you wouldn’t expect from the group that created it and it isn’t going to win any prizes for Metal Album of the Year – it’s probably not even the best album that will be released this month – but it certainly shows that with Mike Howe back in the fold, Metal Church are still very much in the game.