Heads old and young were bobbing blissfully on a wet, unseasonably chilly Monday evening in Baldwin, a quiet Pittsburgh suburb, to the tunes of progressive, power, and thrash, Metal Church leading the brigade with their fusion of all.
Ellwood City’s spray paint vandals Whitethrash cast the first rock with a sardonic and fun set of Nuclear Assault/S.O.D. cherrybomb worship that sufficiently stoked appetites.
Locals Storm Dragon were hampered a bit by a bad mix, but their musicianship and star-powered vocalist couldn’t be denied. I had seen frontman Joey Storm milling about before the show began and pegged him as a lead singer before the show began. His Jeff Scott Soto/DC Cooper/Todd La Torre pipes shot out from the fog like beams of light, his Savatage-meets-Symphony X backing band hacking and shredding away as if they were glorybound angels of war defending the faith. Lovers of prog/power metal need to keep their ears tilted in Storm Dragon’s direction. I hope to hear and see them more.
New York act Lost Legacy have a secret weapon in singer (don’t they all have “secret weapon” throats?) David Franco, who commandeered a battle van full of fabulous virtuoso warriors to cut a swath for the mighty headliners. Imagine Messiah Marcolin fronting Anubis Gate or Voyager and you might be halfway there. Progressive without being flowery, Lost Legacy packed tremendous wallop to compliment their mastery of melody and intellectual musicianship.
Metal Church have not faltered in their march to middle age. Pipist Mike Howe, who has always been one of my favorite metal singers, still possesses that uncanny eagle shriek despite dropping out of the scene for too long. His stage presence was strangely playful as he spat out hard-luck, inspirational, street-wise lyrics that rode atop turbulent, junkyard, Euro Metal-ish power-thrash.
Fierce and whipsmart prime mover Kurdt Vanderhoof and Rick Van Zandt managed to create a sort of Wolf Hoffmann/Criss Oliva magic as bassist Steve Unger invoked both Peter Baltes and Geddy Lee.
I could’ve done without the long drum solo, as impressive as it was, in the middle of classic anti-racist anthem “No Friend of Mine,” skinsman Stet Howland demonstrating his chops like a true clinician. When songs were at the fore, however, the man banged away like Vinny Appice when it counted and even when it didn’t.
Fresh tracks such as “Damned If You Do” and “By The Numbers” brushed alongside brooding and massively inspirational signature tunes like “Gods of Second Chance” and calling card “Badlands,” which left a deep impression on me as a teenager late one Saturday night on MTV. The set was disappointingly short, with David Wayne-era songs rounding it out and “Fake Healer” finishing it off.
Metal Church never scaled the same heights of fame as many of their contemporaries did, but they seem rather content with that, getting people through rough thickets and teaching a small cult of headbangers to persevere proving to be a reward more valuable than gold or platinum. This type of metal, whatever it is, ages nicely.