Metal Church - Worth The Weight

By Joe Who?

The Eighties is a decade I look back on with a lot of fond memories. These were my young formative years as metalhead / banger, and I soaked it all up like a sponge! One of my favorite genres of this time was thrash. Back then the "Big 4" seemed to dominate the scene, leaving some bands out of the spotlight. A band I always thought was very under-rated was Metal Church. Their self-titled '85 debut, and '86 follow up "The Dark" remain two of my favorites from their back catalog. The later being a straight up metal album with some thrash moments, and the debut being a classic thrash album, that I still place in high regard.

After these two albums, there was some line-up changes, (exit Kurdt Vanderhoof and David Wayne, enter John Marshall and Mike Howe) and the band continued to go strong into the early nineties. After about a five year absence from the scene, Metal Church returned in the late nineties with the original line-up, (except for Craig Wells) and a new album called "Masterpeace". However things didn't really seem to go as planed for that album, and as a result it got a luke warm response.

That takes us to the present. These days the only original members are: Kurdt Vanderhoof, (guitar) and Kirk Arrington. (drums) The band is rounded out by new members; Ronny Munroe, (vocals, formely of Rottweiller) Jay Reynolds, (guitar, formely of Malice) and Steve Unger. (bass) Metal Church has just released their latest album entitled "The Weight Of The World". The result is a fine return to form, a "classic" sounding metal album, that long time fans will really enjoy.

When I heard they were going to tour for their new album, I made sure I wasn't going to miss them. There were a few reasons why I wanted to go; I've always been a fan of their work, I never got to see them live before, and the fact that they played a part in my metal schooling as a youngster!

I recently had a chance to speak with original founding member Kurdt Vanderhoof after their most recent tour stop in Milwaukee on November 6th 2004. Kurdt is a very down to earth person, who took the time to talk to me, and was kind enough to shed some light, and give his insight to the questions I had...

Wormwood Chronicles: Good to see you guys touring again. How have the shows been going?

Kurdt Vanderhoof: The shows have been great. We're about a week and a half into it. So everything so far is great. It's getting better the farther north and east we go. (laughs)

WC: Who's been the best city on the tour so far?

KV: (Thinks for a moment...) It might actually be here in Milwaukee, as far as the crowd response and everything...

WC: Yeah it was a good turn out...

KV: Yeah, the turn out was great. Most of the shows, even when it's a small crowd their real die hard fans. You'll get people that know our stuff really well. So even when it's small it's still really cool. Des Moines was just rippin' last night. The crowd tonight was probably three times more here, then it was last night. It's just really really flattering for us, especially after all this time.

WC: Do you have any good road stories from the tour so far?

KV: Not yet, we're a lot older now. So there's none of that crazy stuff like there was back in the day, but I'm sure we'll come up with a few...

WC: Any problems with the van breaking down or anything?

KV: Oh Yeah. Well, we had some trouble with the trailer. An axle got bent, so one of the tires was wearing on the side. We had to replace that like three times, but it's to be expected.

WC: You have a new album out called - "The Weight Of The World". To me it has the classic Metal Church sound. Did it turn out the way you envisioned it?

KV: Yeah, actually it did. We wanted to keep it "Old School" and very traditional heavy metal, very early eighties. I drew from a lot of the early influences we had at the time. So I kind of wanted to really take it in that direction. I didn't want to modernize it, or make it something it wasn't, or try to be a different band. We're going to be different enough, especially with a new line-up. So we wanted to be more traditional.

WC: You produced the new Metal Church album, do you work with other bands as well?

KV: Yes. I do a lot of production. I run my own recording studio...

WC: Is that in Seattle?

KV: Yeah, at my house.

WC: You also write lyrics and music. Do you ever get stressed out with all this work?

KV: No, actually I love it. I mean it's what I do for a living. I would do it, even if I didn't do this...

WC: Like a labor of love type thing...

KV: Absolutely, or an obsession. (laughs)

WC: You left Metal Church there for a while, and put together your Vanderhoof band. What was your reason for leaving Metal Church?

KV: Um, basically because at that point after our second record I really learned what can go on in the studio, and I became massively intrigued with that, and I really just wanted to do the song writing and production thing. That encompassed with the fact that there was a lot of fighting going on internally. So there was some changes made. Right after that point David Wayne was let go. Mainly for me, I didn't want to be on the road all the time, because I wanted to be making records, writing and recording. That's where my interests were, and I was like - Wow I get it now. After working with a real producer, a real budget, and real studios. I was just fascinated with it. So that's what I wanted to do.

WC: That was another question I wanted to ask, Do you still keep in contact with some of the old members?

KV: Oh absolutely. All of them have joined us on stage. Mike (Howe) jamed with us in Reno, John (Marshall) played with us in Santa Rosa, and Duke (Erickson) played with us in Tacoma. So Yeah it's all cool.

WC: You returned to the band in '99 for the "Masterpeace" album, (Kurdt interupts and says - "Disasterpeace"!) what made you want to return to the band at that time?

KV: Well, it was kind of a thing that on paper it sounded like a good idea, because when it initialy started it was going to be the original line-up getting back together. On paper it was a great idea, but it really didn't turn out that way. When I got in the studio it really fell apart, and then the tour following, because Kirk (Arrington) couldn't go. It just did not work from top to bottom, and the album's ok, but it wasn't nearly what it was supposed to be. So I wanted if nothing else from this record and this line-up, I wanted to at least not have "Masterpeace" be the last Metal Church record. Since this thing started it's getting a lot bigger, and the response has been way more then we ever expected.

WC: Did you guys even tour for "Masterpeace" at all?

KV: Just Europe.

WC: Are you going to juggle the two bands; Metal Church and Vanderhoof, or are you committed to just one band now?

KV: Well, I'm going to do the Vanderhoof thing when I have time. That's definately something that I need to keep doing, because I like writing all kinds of music, and I need to get my seventies rock yeah, yeah's out - you know. (laughs) So I'm definitely going to keep that going around Metal Church. I also have a vintage style progressive rock project called Presto Ballet that I'm doing, that should be out this year...

WC: What label is that going to be on?

KV: It might be on Inside Out. I'm mixing the record right now, so not sure yet. I like doing all kinds of different stuff.

WC: This year marks the twenty year anniversary of your first album, it's such a classic album. I was just wondering your thoughts on that particular album, and looking back, would you change anything on it?

KV: On The first album?

WC: Yeah.

KV: No, because even though their are things I know now about production - when I listen to it, there's a lot of things sonically that I don't like about it, but I still wouldn't change a thing, because it captured a moment in time. We were real young, real excited, we didn't know what we were doing - which sometimes can work towards your advantage, and the vibe on the record is just real lively. No, I wouldn't change a thing, I wouldn't touch it.

WC: There seems to be an "Old School" metal revival going on lately. (Kurdt interupts and says - God, let's hope!) Do you see it as a novelty type thing or a major return to form?

KV: Um, I think it's going to be a little bit of both, with the current state of music the way it is now - especially with hard rock and metal. The "old school" metal has actual singing in it, guitar solos, and a little more skill involved then a lot of the new metal stuff. I think that people still want to buy records and still want to rock, with new stuff, but are not able to. The influence of rap and hip hop, I think has really done a lot of damage to the industry and the art form. It drops standards down so low to where kids don't really have to know how to play guitar well, singers don't have to learn to sing, and the song writing is mediocre at best. Not all, but a majority of it. It may not get huge, it's not the eighties anymore, we don't expect it to be. I think if we can keep it alive enough, then there's the option for people. Those who like new metal they can do that, but for people who don't want to hear that, they still have records to buy and bands to go see.

WC: What would you say is Metal Church's signature song?

KV: "Metal Church" (laughs)

WC: Really, I thought you were going to pick a song like "Watch The Children Pray", because it was a hit song...

KV: Well, yeah I guess it really depends on who you talk to, which is kind of nice, because a lot of people have different favorite songs, which is real flattering.

WC: "Gods Of Wrath" is my favorite...

KV: Oh, really. Well there you go, there's your signature song! (both laughing)

WC: Looking at Metal Church's long history, what moments are you most proud of?

KV: Um, I think the fact that it worked, the fact that we got a major label deal, and what I'm most proud of actually is the fact that we can even be doing this right now, like tonight having people show up. After twenty years, that's pretty fuckin' cool, that's like - Wow! A lot of people can't do that, they get their moment in the sun and that's about it. So I feel very blessed, we all do. Especially having a turn out like this with a new line-up. That's very meaningful.

WC: What are your plans for the months ahead?

KV: We're on the road til christmas, and then we get a break, and then we go to europe or japan. We're going to be busy this year...

WC: Any touring in 2005 at all?

KV: Well, we're going to try. Basically our approach with this record was to build the whole thing back up again, and that takes a lot of road work. So that's what we're doing.

WC: Thanks for your time Kurdt, any last words for your fans out there?

KV: Hey, we can't thank you enough for showing up for the shows, and buying the new record. That means so much to us. The fact that we're still able to do this, and everyone's showing up and having a good time, that's huge. So thank you.

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Metal Church's Official Website