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A little bit of justice - 82%

gasmask_colostomy, January 24th, 2019

It took Metal Church slightly longer than other ‘80s heavy/thrash bands to put out records at the beginning of their career, averaging a little over two years for each, while the Metallicas and Iron Maidens pushed the pace below one and a half. Arguably, these San Franciscans were more careful yet not quite as innovative as those other names, although just try asking all the US power metal bands whose debut they prefer out of Metal Church’s and Metallica’s. The reason they were more careful is because they made albums like this, their third, released at a time when bigger stars were busy messing up with odd choices like …and Justice for All. A comparison between Blessing in Disguise and the “progressive” Metallica album offer interesting insights into production, songwriting, and the topics chosen, which I find come out strongly in favour of this release.

Changing vocalists was a challenge to get over, Mike Howe clearly having less of an immediate sonic impact than David Wayne, yet adding another dimension to the band, as can be seen by comparing the lyrics to ‘Ton of Bricks’ and ‘Fake Healer’, the respective openers of Wayne’s last album and Howe’s first. For those who haven’t heard his voice, he has power and charisma, just doesn’t go for high notes nearly as much as his predecessor, preferring to craft vocal melodies in a manner mildly comparable to Chuck Billy of Testament. He also knows how to be dramatic in a more theatrical, less visceral way to Wayne, something that could be said to reflect the manner in which the rest of the band slowed down below their early thrash ebb. One gets the feeling, nevertheless, that a song like the long, gradually building, ‘Anthem of the Estranged’ simply wouldn’t work without Howe’s pathos and social consciousness.

Although ‘Anthem of the Estranged’ is clearly the extreme example at nearly 10 minutes, the songs generally took on more complexity with the release of Blessing in Disguise, broadening to an average of six minutes and allowing all members to contribute ideas in each cut. Conversely, simple ideas drive ‘Cannot Tell a Lie’, ‘Fake Healer’, and ‘The Powers That Be’, using catchy riffing ideas to forge ahead at a comfortable upper mid-pace while Duke Erickson’s bass throbs constantly to set the pulse and Kirk Arrington gets a little busier scattering various beats around the groove. The effect is positively raunchy on ‘Fake Healer’, thumping along like Motley Crue had broken out of jail after being brainwashed by do-gooders inside. ‘The Powers That Be’ sets a positively breezy mood as closer, swanning in with light speed metal melodies and hitting just the right pace for the listener not to contemplate their strange happiness until the end.

Earlier fans of the band’s intensity would surely have felt that this element had been neglected on Blessing in Disguise. The only tracks that live up to the gauntlet thrown down by ‘Hitman’ and ‘Line of Death’ (don’t even mention ‘Merciless Onslaught’ or ‘Ton of Bricks’) are ‘Of Unsound Mind’ and ‘Cannot Tell a Lie’, while ‘It’s a Secret’ is perhaps more cheekily named than the original Metal Church instrumental (mentioned in my last bracket) but certainly not more energetic or anywhere near as incendiary. If one considers that description a problem, the carefully positioned riffs of ‘Rest in Pieces (April 15, 1912)’ and the ballad-like qualities of ‘Anthem to the Estranged’ won’t improve matters. The first of those two “careful” cuts also shows the dirty bluntness of the production, which doesn’t inhibit the band from sounding heavy and mean, though certainly sabotages any notion of sharp or attacking guitars.

What the judgement on this album probably comes down to is whether or not you’re happy with the way in which Metal Church tried to be creative. The band works well together in crafting diverting movements in most of the songs, extending the length either through fully-formed musical passages that do not merely include solo after solo, or an expansion of Howe’s lyrics into full-blown stories, as we see on the songs about the Titanic disaster, the character in ‘Badlands’, and the monograph on homelessness that is ‘Anthem to the Estranged’. Some might say that Metal Church put in more thought and created a fuller experience as a result, improving on the excitement of their Wayne/Vanderhoof-era material with deeper content. Others might say that the songs are too long and don’t feature enough standout riffing, soloing, or exceptional lead vocals. Both parties are right and therefore it isn’t hard to imagine that I feel differently about Blessing in Disguise when in different moods.

Objectively speaking, it’s a really solid album with depth and creativity shown throughout, as well as great band unity; on the other hand, I don’t enjoy it quite as much as the debut nor the catchier Hanging in the Balance, mostly because it doesn’t reach out and grab me, partly due to the extra content and partly due to the production. That might also be the reason that Metallica’s generally inferior 1988 release is much better known, though not universally loved – here, Metal Church made the neither/nor equivalent of …and Justice for All.

My values have been changed - 93%

Empyreal, August 31st, 2016

Metal Church was one of the greatest 80s metal bands, especially the work they did with second singer Mike Howe in the tail-end of the decade and early 90s. These albums basically had everything – powerful, heavy riffs and grooves, aggressive but melodic vocal work and even a slightly graceful, more socially intelligent lyrical bent that set them apart from most of their peers. They weren't quite a thrash band, but they did infuse more intensity than most traditional metal bands did, and they also had more of a penchant for the epic and the mournful, which was more in line with the darker climes of old 80s power metal, than most of their contemporaries. So their sound was sort of a crossway intersection between trad, power and thrash. And I love it.

Blessing In Disguise was everyone's introduction to Howe, and it's a great album full of kick ass tunes. This was a major upgrade from their first two albums so far as songwriting – while the band was always very talented, this album saw them expanding their epic style and varying things up way more than they had in the past, splicing quick thrashers with midtempo epics as well as huge, sorrowful ballads. They tried a bit of this on past songs like “Watch The Children Pray,” but never anything to the level we got here, and they were all the better for the wider scope.

This album is full of big, crisp, chugging riffwork and inventive, tasteful leads and Howe's forceful, aggressive, tuneful melodic sensibilities, wailing out great lyrics. “Fake Healer” opens up with a Savatage-esque groove and a big, memorable chorus hook, and further songs like the adventurous “Rest In Pieces,” about the Titanic disaster, and the killer, garroting thrash of “The Spell Can't Be Broken” have riffs and attitude to spare. Despite their longer lengths the band keeps the songwriting snappy and entertaining with cool riffing and energized performances from everyone, and I never get bored. “Can't Tell A Lie” features Howe's most aggressive and spiteful vocal performance, too – and I fucking love that kick ass idiosyncratic, groovy riff that opens the song and the way it pops up again later on to give you a break from the full-speed thrashing. That's how you write a super-entertaining metal song. Change it up.

But the real meat of the album is the two epics in the middle. “Anthem To The Estranged” is a 10-minute dirge with gentle acoustics that occasionally give way to crashing riffs and Howe's high shrieks piercing the music in a haunting manner. That's what's so great about older 80s power metal right there – the way the vocals just fucking soared and the music was unabashedly emotional without being kitsch. It's a very specific kind of naked, honest mournfulness that I don't hear as often in bands that came after, even in the revival movements of the 2000s. Lyrically the track is about the plight of the homeless, and it's a somber message delivered quite well, with a lot of drama to it. A classic, brilliant power ballad.

“Badlands” has to be my favorite, though – this sort of Maidenish epic, over seven minutes long, with that classic soft verse to louder chorus trick going on, but not done in a stale way as later bands eventually ran into the ground. Here it just fucking works through the band's rogueish charisma and badass, lone-wolf, me-against-the-world attitude. When Howe sings that “Arctic cold in heaven / the earth, it tells me lies...” line, I get chills. Then it kicks into the heavy part – god, what a classic this one is. The chorus is an instant, anthemic winner, and the main melody is dually dark and foreboding and also kind of uplifting in that “light at the end of the tunnel” way. Killer stuff.

This is meat and potatoes heavy metal, but done with a greater sense of songwriting and a leaning toward the epic and poetic that made it more than just another thrashy heavy metal album – it was crafted with heart and passion and integrity and intelligence, and it's held up extremely well for me over the years.

As the world awakens me so hard, my values have been changed
I make a promise to myself: Never again
A dusty godforsaken path, endless to my dismay
I know these are the badlands, somehow I'll find my way

With the new personnel comes the sterilization - 70%

autothrall, June 8th, 2012

Guilty confession: once I heard, much to my dismay, that Mike Howe was leaving Heretic to unite with Metal Church, I was privately crossing my fingers that this album would possess a lot more of the former than the latter. It seemed like a perfect fit stylistically, since his prior band was playing in a similar power/thrash mold, but Breaking Point was an album I enjoyed (and still enjoy) more than either the Metal Church s/t or its successor The Dark, and I had been clamoring for more. Also, it was a bit stressful that Wayne would break away from the group so early on, with just two albums and no real breakthrough smash. Despite a decent label push for this album, amidst the promotion of other Elektra successes like ...and Justice for All and (to a lesser extent) No Place for Disgrace, it didn't seem to break out of the qualifying rounds to pursue a playoff spot.

Amusingly, the album does sound more like Heretic 2.0 than a natural followup to The Dark, primarily because of Howe's distinct tone but also because the riffs have that same, forceful impact and character. Mike was not the only new member this time out, the band had recruited Metallica roadie and guitar tech John Marshall to replace Vanderhoof; though Kurt still contributed to the recording and behind the scenes for the next several years, he just wasn't a part of their touring roster. Blessing in Disguise was obviously honing in on a more accessible appear for a broader market, as they were teetering on tangible success with the first two and wanted to keep the bills paid and dinner on the table forevermore, but to its credit, this is still a pretty hard hitting disc, just not 'ton of bricks' hard.

Nope, no "Start the Fire" anywhere to be found on this album. It seems that with the ushering in of Howe, the band lost a lot of that dark and cruel undercurrent which made the first two memorable. Not because the guy is a technically inferior singer to Wayne, because on Breaking Point he proved he was had this serrated edge to his timbre that transformed each melody into a carving knife. His higher pitched wolf shrieks on tunes like "Rest in Peace (April 12, 1912)" are excellent, and like Wayne, he's got this instantly distinguished character that can place him apart from just about any other singer in the entire medium. I don't know if it's just the delivery of these particular lyrics, or the lack of compelling riffs to support him, but I was really looking forward to what he did next, and slightly let down here; especially in a year so rife with excellence in thrash, speed and power metal.

The guitars are still rather full-bodied, even more so than the first two efforts, but I felt like there was a more processed tone to them which added punch but detracted charisma. A lot of stock power/thrash notation which, while functional, is never inherently catchy of its own accord. There are a handful of stronger songs on the album, like the opener "Fake Healer" which sets a monolithic mood in its mid-paced momentum, big chords laced with winding melodies and solid dynamics, anchored by muscular drumming. "Unsound Mind" is also pretty sweet, with nice counterpoint vocals panning off in each ear during the chorus and an almost tech thrash bent to it that would appeal to fans of groups like Heathen and Mordred. Yet, others feels pretty dry, like the power ballad "Anthem" or the single/video "Badlands", both of which make a great use of Howe's range, but fail to come up with any hooks to die for, and for some reason the lyrics are very bland and personal, lots of 'self help' style shit that wasn't nearly as cool as those on the earlier records.

Ultimately, Blessing in Disguise is a solid continuation of the sound Heretic was seeking on its full-length, and probably my favorite Church album with Howe present. It's decent, varied and competent enough to offer some entertainment, but there's not a single song which beseeches me down through the years to show it off to folks not in the know. The whole thing seems too heavily produced, too 'safe' lyrically and even the picture of the band members on the cover is mundane and indistinct. This was their last for Elektra, but though they were successful enough to play the major label game for one more outing, it's no wonder to me why the band didn't explode like their fellow acts Metallica, Megadeth, Testament, and Slayer: they did not have the chops, and despite its relative strength, Blessing was just the opening shot in an ensuing bullet storm of banality.

-autothrall
http://www.fromthedustreturned.com

A More Apt Title Could Not Be Found - 100%

DawnoftheShred, September 11th, 2010

There is nothing more irrevocably damaging to a successful band’s creative momentum than a lineup change. A band…scratch that, a good band is so-called because their collective accomplishments surpass any of its members’ individual achievements; when a musician departs, they take a little slice of the band’s soul with them. Certainly there are artists who are the sole creative force in their ‘band,’ where a revolving door lineup is not necessarily a handicap. But when everybody’s a part of the process, a change in the formula is going to have the loyal fans biting their nails, and for good reason. The most devastating changes occur when it’s the vocalist that has to be replaced, generally forming a schism in the fanbase that is second only to when it’s the group’s primary songwriter (often, but not necessarily one of the lead guitarists) that calls it quits.

Naturally, either one of these situations can be a nightmare for the fans and artists alike, so try if you can to imagine the chasm of uncertainty surrounding the future of the almighty Metal Church at the end of the 80’s when both charismatic howler David Wayne and lead guitarist and principal contributor Kurdt Vanderhoof, one of the true underappreciated geniuses that heavy metal has cultivated in its forty year existence, appeared to no longer be a part of the band. This was a band that was responsible for one of the most powerful heavy metal albums of all time (their eponymous ’85 debut) and their two most important members are MIA. The likelihood of failure from replacing both and continuing on was absolutely colossal. But, as fate would have it, this decision would truly be a blessing in disguise after all and would result in a trio of excellent heavy metal albums, this first of which makes such a potent (if not immediately staggering) impression that it deserves to be ranked among the immortals. Truly, the effort is positively Olympian.

Despite these current reflections, I must admit that I was not enthralled at the first listen. The sound of Blessing in Disguise, though clearly recognizable as Metal Church, is different enough that those intimate with their earlier work might be hesitant to receive it. Those unfamiliar with the fine institution that is the Metal Church are usually told that they started out as a thrash band and slowly relinquished those darker elements in favor of more traditional/power metal equivalents before finally abandoning them altogether, or some similar tale. Truth be told, the band’s sound was never so boldly black or white that a single genre could be assigned to them: they always had a thrashy side, always had a traditional side, and always had a power metal side (they also briefly had a traditional folk side, but that’s topical for another review). Their first two albums, fronted by madman David Wayne, were of a thrashier nature and shared a similar plateau of heaviness as bands like Cities or even Metallica, but there was always a melodic element, a direct link to the classic heavy metal from which all other styles are descended. Blessing in Disguise was the first to tip the scales and attempt to balance the emphasis of genres, resulting in an album that is at once recognizable as thrash, power, and traditional without ever compromising one element for the sake of another. Many bands attempt some sort of genre fusion, but usually winding up birthing mutant offspring of their influences rather than creating a natural evolution through careful breeding. Take bands like Maudlin of the Well or Opeth, who one minute play death metal and the next minute are a progressive rock band. Or Sorrow, who sometimes are doom and other times death. Or Mordred, who play funk and thrash, but never at once. They’ve successfully stitched together two unlike things, but not without leaving rather garish seams. Metal Church’s third album is seamless. Imagine two children: one born with extraordinarily dexterous motor skills and the other with twelve fingers. Both are uncommon human beings, exceptions to the norm, but one is declared ‘gifted’ while the other is a side-show attraction. This is the distinction I make.

In regards to the band's curious lineup predicament being a blessing in disguise, the earlier, thrashier incarnation of the band was a perfect complement to the over-the-top vocal ornamentation that David Wayne provided. This kept in mind, his vocals would likely have been a detriment to the band’s evolved sound. Enter Mike Howe (previously employed in the excellent fourth-tier thrash band Heretic), the unlikely successor that would play a key part in making the new album an unsung classic. While his range is not as outrageous as Wayne’s, his voice resounds with the same strength and confidence and a remarkable versatility, at once delicately expressive and explosively aggressive. James Labrie shares some of his melodic affects; however, his performance on heavier albums like Train of Thought make it clear that despite his higher range, he clearly wishes he was Howe. Howe also has a delightful little habit of altering his melodies from verse to verse to keep the listener on their toes, just as the instruments often do, and evaporate that cut-and-paste aura that seems to surround the work of a lot of otherwise competent metal bands.

So back to that first, not-so-enthralling listen I keep hinting at. The aesthetic just seemed so radically different to me; the warmer, clearer production removing the dramatic edge I so enjoyed from their debut. But as I listened on, something seemed so familiar about what I was listening to…the note formations….the intelligence in the riff cycles….until it struck me: this material could not logically have been constructed without Kurdt Vanderhoof. The beautiful interpolation of bright melodic riffs and dramatic heavy ones, the sparkling harmonies, the abstruse melodies, the complex simplicity of the arrangements; they all bear his seal. But if he wasn’t in the band anymore, how could this be? The strange truth of the matter is, just like Jon Oliva in later-period Savatage, Kurdt just didn’t want to tour anymore but apparently (and thankfully) he still wanted to write. John Marshall officially replaced him in Metal Church’s lineup for this album (he’s in the photo on the cover) and he proves himself a competent shredder, but Vanderhoof is the brains behind the operation here: one quick glance at the liner notes reveals that Kurdt has writing credits on seven of the nine songs and lyrical credits for seven of the eight vocal tracks, not to mention “Additional Guitars” credit for the recording! Zounds, a blessing in disguise indeed!

But the aptness of the album’s title is not merely relatable to the band’s curious lineup situation. Lyrically, the band has aimed for new heights of humanistic awareness, often observing the ‘disguises’ we sometimes encounter in everyday life. Politicians, doctors, and the organized religious, generally distinguished, respected members of society (though not uncommon fodder for criticism by the metal community), are revealed as the selfish, demoralizing predators that they often turn out to be. Conversely, the madman, the beggar, and the vagabond, our downcast, misunderstood brethren, are presented in a sympathetic light; calling for thoughtfulness and compassion in an attempt to reinstate their very humanity in a society that dismisses them as less than such. From a band whose previous lyrical accomplishments were content to stick with metal’s tried and true themes (battle, madness, fear, death, etc.), the poignancy of their achievement is staggering.

Highlighting individual songs is somewhat redundant here, as each is an equally important piece in the whole exquisite puzzle. From the unusual march of opening anthem and live favorite “Fake Healer,’ to the battering melodic thrash of “The Spell Can’t Be Broken” and “Of Unsound Mind,” to the succinct Maiden-worshipping instrumental “It’s a Secret,” Blessing In Disguise resounds with classic heavy metal that has musical and emotional depth of oceanic proportions without ever compromising those essential, almost indescribable elements of “heaviness” and “metalness.” And if you thought (as did I) that they could never overshadow the majesty of “Gods of Wrath,” one listen to the grand, empathetic odyssey that is “Anthem to the Estranged” will have you convinced that this band is capable of just about anything

In closing, if we one day find ourselves in some global totalitarian society, where all our arts, pastimes, hobbies, possessions, and general non-necessities are regulated by some grand ruling council, and one day this council decides that heavy metal is a crude, dehumanizing art form that deserves to be permanently banned and have all existing records of it obliterated from the face of the earth unless they are presented with some dramatic exception that might prove otherwise, I would not hesitate on voting this album as the one to spare the entire genre. Because while it is neither the greatest heavy metal album of all time nor my personal favorite, it has the most ‘soul,’ all the while representing all of the styles best eccentricities and none of its worst.

To be listened to at maximum volume, but more importantly, to be listened to.

On the Verge of Greatness - 84%

pinpals, December 15th, 2008

Metal Church, along with Exodus, were one of those heavy metal bands from the 80's that most people agree should have been more popular and successful than they really were. It seemed like each time one was about to explode, bad business decisions and lineup changes set them back. This is Metal Church's highest charting and selling album to date, and deservedly so, because this is just a mammoth album full of great ideas.

I'm a little confused as to the lineup of this album. According to the official Metal Church website, Craig Wells and new guitarist (and former Metallica guitar tech) John Marshall played guitars for the album, but founder Kurdt Vanderhoof is given writing credits for nearly all of the songs, and to my knowledge he was still in the band until the early nineties. I've heard that Vanderhoof was tired of touring, but remained in the band as chief songwriter, but I do not have a reliable resource to confirm that. Some debate whether Metal Church was a thrash band or just a heavy metal band that had some thrash and speed metal sections in their songs. Regardless, there are definitely some thrash riffs present, although the speed metal is largely absent in favor of somewhat slower, more epic songs. This slightly more mature and ambitious approach works well, for while they are really good at writing fast heavy metal songs like on their first two albums, they are outstanding at writing epics.

Opening song "Fake Healer" bludgeons the listener with a slew of mid-paced but extremely heavy riffs and new singer Mike Howe displays his menacing snarl, which perfectly matches the lyrics about doctors who care more about money than saving lives (trust me, the lyrics are far more "metal" than my description). "Rest in Piece (April 15, 1912)" has an unforgettable main riff and the song as a whole is just a relentless onslaught of heavy metal, and a great solo section in the middle. There are more quality riffs on these two songs than most bands have on entire albums. The zenith of this album has to be "Anthem to the Estranged," which may be the best metal semi-ballad ever written. Despite his snarl, Mike Howe has the ability to convey so much emotion through his vocals, whether it be anger, sarcasm or sadness; to be able to do all three is quite rare among metal singers at this time period. The solo in this song has to be heard to be believed, and the song itself is a must-hear for anyone who considers themselves a metal-head. "The Spell Can't Be Broken" is a fantastic thrasher from start to finish, with some great riffs; it shows that Metal Church can still play for speed if they want to.

One problem with "Blessing in Disguise" is that a lot of these songs are really good, but have something that keeps them from reaching their full potential. "Badlands" is great in the second half, but the first half is only mediocre. "Of Unsound Mind" has a main riff that doesn't quite work, but the rest of the song is great, especially the leads. Even the closing two songs are a better main riff and vocal hook away from being as good as anything else on the album. "It's a Secret" is an above average instrumental; it's too bad they did not add some vocals because it would turn a good instrumental into a good song. I realize that I've mentioned every song on the album, almost making this a track-by-track review, but I feel it is necessary to mention every song because there is something to say about each one. There are no fillers and no skip-able songs, the songs are either great or have the potential to be great.

The main flaw of this album is the production. Terry Date is supposedly a prestigious producer, but he does a poor job with this album. It sounds very dated and thin. A remastering of this album would be great, with better production you can add five points onto the score, because some of the songs could be so much more powerful with better sound.

Mike Howe proves to be a more-than-capable replacement than David Wayne, and in some ways surpasses his predecessor. There is some great guitar-work throughout the album and Kirk Arrington does a fine job on drums. While Metal Church's first two albums are quite good, this is the album that cemented their place in metal history. I did mention a few flaws, but they are minor in comparison to the magnificent achievements heard throughout the album. Need I say that "Blessing in Disguise" is essential?

A Legacy Of The Estranged - 98%

elmet, September 14th, 2008

Few bands have captured the spirit of 80s heavy metal as well as Metal Church. With the most accomplished artists in the metal community they developed its own distinctive style even after their first self-titled debut in 1985. And with the subsequent album “The Dark” they went for better things, which many consider to be their finest record and a classic offering among 80s speed-thrash. But for me things were not yet perfect till Vandehoof, the driving force behind most of the band’s work, brought vocalist Mike Howe into the band along with ex-Metallica roadie John Marshall on the guitar. Having released an album with his former band Heretic, the vocalist Mike Howe eventually found a new band that could do justice to his voice.

While there isn’t a tremendous musical shift on this album, there is something highly conspicuous that is not typical of Church’s previous two records. As soon as you hear the first track “Fake Healer” it is obvious that melody rather than speed is the keynote which resulted in a more precise delivery. The monumental opening riffs of the track together with the spellbinding voice is a moment where Metal Church is becoming a real blessing in the skies with a heavier riffing and deeper subject matter (with prime importance given to the lyrics), yet not completely deviating from what they do best which is extremely unique 80s metal music.

“Anthem to the Estranged”, “Badlands”, “Fake Healer”, “The Powers That Be” are the best tracks on the album respectively. How can I even try to describe the brilliance of these tracks played with instruments fit for the gods. “Anthem to the Estranged” starts with a moment of blessed calm and a voice gifted with unmarred grace, as if depicting last moments of a farewell scene frozen in time. The wailing anthem suddenly turns into a raging storm and the same formula repeats itself several times. It’s a superbly executed semi-ballad of fantastic beauty. And after having heard this one we are no longer totally unaware of the suffering there is outside our own comfortable little worlds. To fully appreciate this song one has to be in the mood, for sometimes how we perceive an album is the product of a vital interaction between time and place. “Badlands” is the second best track although it might just as well be the best. This one is one of those in which music speaks for itself. There aren’t many songs around that can leave a lasting impact as this one, encapsulating a moment of astral journey written in music. The rest also has their moments tinged with excellence that make this album a pure musical heritage. It’s an album I enjoy every minute of it.

You know few pleasures can equal that of a cold drink on a hot summer day. For me this album is definitely one of them. Listening to it is like eating a favourite food of mine. Smells good, tastes good and sounds even better. Enjoy it…

Another improvement! - 93%

cyberscreen, July 1st, 2007

Metal Church are on a streak! This is their third album, and it's of at least as much quality as their first two, if not even more! On this one they introduced a new vocalist, Mike Howe. He does a very good job, just as good as David Wayne on the first two albums. Howe has quite an astounding vocal range, he provides some high shrieks at several points in the album, and can also sing a few octaves lower (see Anthem to the Estranged, mostly) and do your average semi-high pitched thrash scream without sounding off at all. Also, the riffs are a bit more complex than on the first two albums. Here they’ve got riffs carrying like ten different notes, while on, say, the debut album, five is pretty much the maximum. This makes the songs sound more progressive, however the quality doesn’t suffer from that since the songs are well written and the riffs are quite damn vicious enough. The atmosphere on this album is also great (most notable the fourth and fifth track, but the other songs also got the atmosphere right!), which is because Metal Church know how to write good songs. A lot of bands couldn't, and lost it when they got too technical, melodic, even before the groove came and ate thrash in the 90's (Coroner's Mental Vortex and Metallica, for example, come to mind, not to mention Forbidden). This isn’t the case with Metal Church – they have got to be one of the most consistent thrash metal bands out there, who still put out some decent material nowadays. And of course their earlier albums are completely godly. This will prove it for you if you weren’t convinced after ‘Metal Church’ and ‘The Dark’.
One last thing worthy of mention is the amount of variety. ‘Metal Church’ and ‘The Dark’ had their share of variety, and this one does too. It varies between epic songs and total thrashers very well, while still keeping a sense of consistency. With such an album you just can’t go wrong.

Note that all the songs on here are absolutely great at least, though for the highlight I’d go with ‘The Spell Can’t Be Broken’. Holy shit, the middle section plus solo is one ownage combination in this song!
Other favourites of mine include Fake Healer, with the nice chorus and solo, also the ballad ‘Anthem To The Estranged’ and ‘Cannot Tell A Lie’ with the nice lyrics and once again great riffs.
Also, ‘Rest In Pieces’ has quite a monster middle section (Sinking - faster!!!), and ‘Cannot Tell A Lie’ has a great one as well (Raise those banners - raise those flags!!!). Wow.
‘Of Unsound Mind’ is more like a standard thrasher; it doesn’t kick you in the face as much as the highlight, the sixth track, and it doesn’t really have the atmosphere of the duo ‘Anthem to the Estranged’ and ‘Badlands’. Oh well, we’re not all perfect anyway. The song is still very nice!

Right, so the debut was great, the follow-up threw in some more variety and things got better, and they succeeded in making this one even better with some extremely original riffs and overall very well-written songs. As I said for the previous two albums as well, get this one way or another!

The Start of Something Divine - 95%

BotD, April 30th, 2007

After a musical detour with The Dark, Metal Church returns with a fabulous new singer and some of the best material they will ever write. Blessing in Disguise ignores the album preceding it and hearkens back to the more ambitious material of the debut with its epic tones and melodic passages. Unfortunately, a couple things mar an otherwise perfect album; a sub-par and inconsistent production and a couple weaker tracks.

Let’s start with the production, because it contributes the most to any flaws this album might have. The main problem lies in the wildly varying quality and sound between the various songs. Just play “Cannot Tell a Lie” and “Fake Healer” back-to-back and you can plainly hear the non-uniform production. In the former song’s case, it sounds like the production job of countless bonus tracks of negligible worth appended to albums compared to the album’s official content. It ruins what could be an above average song and consigns it to the depths of mediocrity. I don’t know how a band that displays a penchant for excellent and unique production on every other album allowed Blessing in Disguise’s release without similar perfection.

As for the weaker tracks, the aforementioned “Cannot Tell a Lie” and “It’s a Secret” provide a noticeable dip from the superlative character of the rest of the album. Still, this is Metal Church and they have not yet conceived a track deserving the status of filler.

Of course, Blessing in Disguise debuts the mighty vocal prowess of Mike Howe, a man that I consider among my favorite metal singers, up there with Rob Halford and Tony Martin. Foremost among his many excellent attributes is a proclivity for writing the catchiest choruses in all of metaldom. Yes, David Wayne shared this talent, but Mike Howe elevates it to the next level. In fact, all three of Metal Church’s vocalists express this vital ability, so maybe the credit for this remarkable catchiness rests in that impeccable sense of melody Metal Church possesses. This is not to say that Mike Howe’s merits as a singer begin and end there; he conveys emphatically a wide variety of emotions and in doing so supplies the required final piece for Metal Church to complete their majestic sound.

Destroying the listener with one of the greatest thrash riffs of all time is the opener “Fake Healer” that epitomizes all the transcendent qualities of Metal Church. You have that immortal and crushing main riff with a downright haunting atmosphere and constraining all that ferocity is Mike Howe’s sublime voice. “Rest in Pieces” and “Of Unsound Mind” continue the excellence only to be overshadowed by the next jewel in the Metal Church crown of ballads. “Anthem of the Estranged” carries the dubious distinction of being the only song where the cliché phrase “their reach was longer than their grasp” can rightfully apply to Metal Church. With a duration of nine and half minutes, I can’t help but ask for a little more musical variety and a little more of the inspired soloing of which I know Metal Church capable. Nevertheless, this song delivers in high doses with the most subdued and outstanding performance by Howe on the entire album.

Then we arrive at the best track here and maybe the best thing Metal Church ever did: “Badlands.” From the eminently headbangable riffage to the superb solos to the utterly original meshing of acoustic and electric guitar, oh and of course an amazing Mike Howe, “Badlands” achieves one of those rare instances when a metal song eclipses the genre that gave birth to it.

Ending the album is a catchy power metal number in the vein of the last two albums closers. It is probably the weakest of the three, but it’s up against some stiff competition with “Battalions” and “Western Alliance.”

Despite some major production problems, Blessing in Disguise initiates a trilogy of Metal Church albums that reign atop the metal world. Absolutely mandatory, if just for Badlands alone.

So far so good!! - 90%

UltraBoris, August 17th, 2002

This is where Metal Church starts experimenting with their sound, and their songwriting skills really start to shine. Longer, more progressive songs are the norm here, and while the songs aren't as much all-out thrashfests, the riffs are still definitely there.

We begin with "Fake Healer", which was written around 1987 or so, and played live several times as "Legion" (David Wayne and Reverend redid the "Legion" version of the song in 2001!), which is a midpaced thrasher with the most menacing lyrics ever, about doctors gone wrong. "A villain at your bedside, take this and you'll be fine!!" I like freaking out my friends by spontaneously singing that for no reason.

Next, "Rest in Pieces", which starts off midpaced and then gets really fucking cool halfway through the middle ("Sinking! Faster!" etc etc), and then "Of Unsound MInd", before we get to the nine minute epic "Anthem to the Estranged". This is the type of song Metallica had tried to do on "And Justice For All" with the title track, but this is just far too interesting compared to Lar$ and company. Fucking awesome ballad.

Next is "Badlands", which has some really great use of acoustic guitar, even though it's not really a ballad.

Then, "The Spell Can't Be Broken", and about halfway through this song, the album goes from "very good" to "absolutely fucking awesome". "Unreasonable power, I mock at your suffering and grow strong by the hour." Then, "hatred grows among the ones destined to be misled..." - the song gets twice as fast and threatens to tear your fucking balls off, and then the album just NEVER slows down at that point. Fucking thrash, with some awesome riffs to close off that song, and then "It's a Secret", and "Cannot Tell a Lie" (no Star Wars shit for me!!) Then, the closer, a really great power-thrash number in "The Powers that Be" that closes with some really amazing guitar work.

This album just fucking rules!!! There is variety, and then there is all out rockage like one has never seen before. Fuck yeah!