20+ years ago I was studying in a technical school now considered to be a university. I was living in a new city near my parents’ hometown and started a new life by myself. I rent and abandoned in short time many houses actually small apartments and in one of those I also had a roommate. We were two really different personalities, even though we had several common activities. There was always a thing to argue about, as we had a different point of view on almost everything. I said yes he said no, he said red I went black etc. The only thing we agreed upon was Metal Church and how big name should this band had become based on their catalogue if the world was a fair one and everything was based on justice. We both agreed also that their best moment was “Hanging In Balance”.
“Hanging in the Balance” is the fifth album by Metal Church, released in a very difficult year for classic Heavy Metal, 1993 (yet this year gave birth to several classic records in extreme’s sound entire spectrum). This was Metal Church’s last album before their three-year break up, 1995 to 1998, and the last to feature vocalist Mike Howe until his return to the band in 21 years from then, thus in 2015. It is also their last studio album with longtime guitarist Craig Wells and drummer Kirk Arrington (until his return on 2004’s “The Weight of the World”). I have seen many reviews that claim Hanging’s artwork as awful and ugly, using a sweet way every time like don’t judge a book by its cover and blah-blah. Ok , then we must decide that all albums must have the same concept that fits to your style that is always inside the box… ”Hanging…” has a perfect artwork cover that has a unique style that humorously describes its title with a smart pun and sticks to your mind both the kinky dressed fat bottom lady holding the tiny pink umbrella that balances in the not so tight -now she will walks upon it- rope and its purple color background. And it is a cool one even if it was a decision that the record label made and not the band.
Please notice that (on the other hand) even band members didn’t like the artwork cover, as Mike howe claimmed in a more recent interview in 2017 in myRockworld when he answered on why he left METAL CHURCH in 1995: Mike: “I left METAL CHURCH because of managerial and record company and outside pressures that were putting METAL CHURCH in a position that was not to my liking. They were ruining the band for me business-wise. Small examples like the record cover of [1993’s] ‘Hanging In The Balance’, which was something that I did not approve of and something I did not like at all. And so… [Laughs] It’s okay if you like it, but for me, it was not something that I liked. Things like that, the way it was recorded and mixed and the pressures put on me and to push me in ways that I didn’t want to be pushed, so things like that. It came to a head to where this is not the band I envisioned and Kurdt [Vanderhoof, guitar] envisions and we’re basically being bullied around by a management company that doesn’t understand us. They think they know better than us. I was like, ‘This is it. I’m getting off the ship before it goes down.’ That’s why I left, but I came back for that exact reason. “
Back to the music, still sounds so fresh and full of quality, we have to mention that 1993’s Metal Church was a rather different group than it was back in 1985. They were still melodic, still heavy enough, but thrash elements were slowly abandoned and leaned to (US) power metal more than ever. In this specific release, founding member and guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof may credit all the compositions, except the acoustic “Lovers and Madmen” but he wasn’t in the band’s lineup no more. So you could foresee what was to follow, thus a brief hiatus for the band, as Vanderhoof started his personal side project under his name. But his signature sound that characterized Metal Church’s sound was still there. Thankfully the guitarists’ duo of Craig Wells and John Marshall achieved on keeping the same spirit and feeling with band’s previous releases as if Vanderhoof was still among them. The guitar leads were melodic and given that the production was clean, the combination of the thrashy and traditional metal riffs, along with the distant strains, created the perfect circumstances for the album to thrive. The rhythm section was rock and solid, as Duke Erickson’s bass lines were thick but also had the space to breathe, and Kirk Arrington’s drumming followed the spirit of the guitars without exaggerating by simple performance that doesn’t lack technically when needed. On the other hand, Howe’s vocals are more than awesome. Mike’s secret was always keeping the perfect balance of melody and powerful deliverance of his lines. No need for comparison with the equal glorious voice of Wayne. Wayne and Howe had different hints, different way to sing, different but yet strong personas both, actually both did sky rocketing every album’s composition, and definitely here Howe’s performance was top-notch, creating another masterpiece for the San Francisco finest.
As every single song has its value, it would be rather naïve to go on a track-by-track in detail. Metal Church sound mature and brought all of their weapons so you can hear heavy guitars, acoustic parts, melodic fragments, while they play wisely the tempo changing game, featuring thrash/fast songs like “Conductor” or like “End of the Age” that develop during its duration, mid-tempo hymns like “Down To The River,” “No Friend Of Mine,” or “Losers In The Game” or even slow ones like “Hypnotized,“ or “A Subtle War”. On the top of that they don’t fear to deal with politics or anti-war lyrics like they do in “Little Boy,” (“Little Boy” was the codename for the type of atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 during World War II, later also German thrashers Sodom recorded a song with the same issue and title for their studio album entitled M-16 in 2001), or even to compose intense songs like “Gods Of Second Chance” where you get the whole picture on what “Hanging In Balance” is all about. A 100% classic.