It’s been a journey, a thrashing rollercoaster of a career, for this West Coast legacy, but theyhaven’t lost sight of where they’re going or what’s still to come.
Over the course of a 40+ year career, Metal Church founder/rhythm guitarist/chief songwriter Kurdt Vanderhoof has persevered through intense turbulence, including lineup changes, dissolutions, triumphant returns, and tragedies.
With Vanderhoof at the helm, Metal Church released Congregation of Annihilation, their 13th studio album, in late May. The set sees the band returning to a more visceral, aggressive, and thrash-oriented style that harkens to their early days. However, it’s also the first album to feature new singer Marc Lopes.
Congregation of Annihilation is an absolutely superb effort rooted in riffmaster Vanderhoof’s brawny, forceful, and memorable guitar parts, as well as Lopes’ commanding vocals, lead guitarist Rick Van Zandt’s piercing solos, and the intense rhythm team of bassist Steve Unger and drummer Stet Howland laying down a furious foundation.
(Fans like you can hear it for yourselves when Metal Church performs in just a few days at Asbury Lanes in Asbury Park; June 25!)
While Vanderhoof is the sole original member, this is a veteran Metal Church lineup. Unger has been with the band for 20 years, Van Zandt has 15 years of service under his belt, and Howland has been pounding away at the kit for six years.
Lopes came onboard in 2022following the death of singer Mike Howe one year earlier. In addition, original singer David Wayne passed in 2005, and original drummer Kirk Arrington died this past May.
Through it all, Vanderhoof has been a constant presence. Even during periods when he was not in the band, Vanderhoof contributed songs to the group. His perseverance and remarkable talent is evident from the riffs that drive “Beyond the Black,” the very first song on Metal Church’s 1984 debut album. The band has gained fans and retained a loyal following throughout the decades with classic tracks like that one, but also “Watch the Children Pray,” “Badlands,” “Fake Healer,” “Human Factor,” “Gods of Second Chance,” and “Needle and Suture,” just to name a few.
Congregation of Annihilation adds to that legacy on neck-snapping, riff-o-rama tracks with “Another Judgement Day,” “Children of the Lie,” and “Say a Prayer with 7 Bullets.” The modern day Metal Church is vital, relevant, required listening. We recently spoke with Kurdt Vanderhoof (and told him just that).
When did you decide that the time was right to start the search for a new singer?
There were a few months (following Mike Howe’s death) where I was like, “Should I shut it down?” I had already been writing an album and Mike and I had started collaborating a little. I eventually thought, “Let’s see if we can make something happen.” It just kept working… and there was kind of a new sound. We wanted to be aggressive and get back to our thrash-y roots. We did everything in baby steps.
Did you hold auditions for the new singer position or did you know you wanted Marc Lopes? What stood out about Marc?
We did a few auditions. We didn’t want to do a whole national kind of search in case the whole thing didn’t work out. One thing about Marc that stood out is that he could definitely do the David Wayne-type stuff and bring a more aggressive edge to the band. I thought that would be the smartest way to go about it. We wanted someone with their own voice. We didn’t want another Mike clone or anything like that, and it just developed step-by-step in baby steps. We didn’t think about it and just kept going. It was way better than we had ever expected and that was very encouraging. I knew we would be okay after rehearsals.
Many online comments and record reviews echo your determination to make a forceful, insistent, thrash album. Some say that the album harkens to the first two albums but is more intense. Others have said that Marc has David Wayne-like characteristics in his singing and attitude. Where do you feel Congregation of Annihilation sits in the Metal Church discography?
That’s really hard for me to say. You always love your new stuff and think it’s the best. I’m very proud of the record. I’m proud that we were able to legitimately continue. It’s my favorite Metal Church album – only now as far as it’s new and fresh. As far as the fans are concerned, we’ve gotten a great reaction. It seems definitely like a new chapter and getting back to our more aggressive sound. I think the fans sense a new chapter and that was the intent… more back to our roots and that kind of stuff. It’s back to our roots, but it’s also new. The kind of stuff we were doing with Mike was bordering on hard rock and it was time for a change. Right now I really like the song “Children of the Lie.” I like the arrangement of that one; it really is kind of an ode to a Black Sabbath ending. I’ve always wanted to do that.
What does the album’s title mean to you?
You’d have to ask Marc on that one. Marc wrote all of the lyrics on the album. It was nice to have a chance to sit back and just play guitar and not have to handle writing all the lyrics, as well.
Metal Church has had many topsy turvy periods in terms of lineup changes, breakups and returns, and tragedies. Where do you see the band as far as this incarnation and at this point in Metal Chruch’s career?
I have to tell you the most important thing for me is gratidute. The fact that after all these years – and at my age – that I still continue to do this, legitimately, it’s not lost on me. It is a pretty turbulent history and most recently losing Kirk Arrington. Obviously he hasn’t been in the band for a while. And then with Mike… but somehow it keeps moving forward. Certainly there are reasons that I would have to kill it, but I find a lot of reasons to keep it going; keeping Metal Church alive in a legitimate capacity, being legitimate is key. The journey has been quite amazing.
What are the band’s plans following this string of dates?
It looks like we’re going to do a couple of long weekends in Europe, and it looks like we’ll have more dates here in September and October, but that’s not definite yet. The touring itself I’ve never been a big fan of, but as I’ve gotten older the fact that so many people still show up make it fun. I love working in the studio and writing and the affirmation that comes with that, as well. It was really nice to start feeling like myself again.
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