Review Summary: XI isn't out to change the metal world but it does have a sense of purpose that makes it the best Metal Church album to come out since The Weight of The World
Metal Church was in a rather interesting place when their second major singer Mike Howe was with them the first time around. The videos for "Badlands" and "Date With Poverty" have secured a nostalgic outlook for the era but most of that time was spent vainly trying to match the commercial success of the Big 4, ultimately culminating with the awesome but obscure Hanging In The Balance in 1993. Now that Howe has returned to the band after a long musical retirement, there is a feeling of vindication that justifies the optimistic anticipation surrounding this album's release.
XI's first three song may start things off on a speedy note but you won't hear much of the hard hitting thrash of Blessing In Disguise. Instead, the occasional brooding and melodic flourishes suggest a hybrid of the Hanging In The Balance sound with the style that had been achieved when previous vocalist Ronny Munroe was in the band's ranks. This is especially apparent with the acoustic break on "Signal Path" being similar to that on "Down To The River," the "Hypnotized" echoing shuffle on "Sky Falls In," and a melodic run on "Soul Eating Machine" that recalls "Losers In The Game."
But regardless of the approach, Howe's vocals sound pretty damn incredible throughout. In a way similar to John Arch's recent performances, Howe's snarl sounds like it hasn't aged a day and brings a refreshing bite to the otherwise unchanged band dynamic. Fortunately, the other members still find ways to deliver with drummer Jeff Plate in particular putting in one of his most muscular performances.
Unfortunately, there are still some awkward moments. While the vocals are immaculate, the lines themselves are prone to occasionally awkward phrasing that keeps things from being as straightforward as they probably should be. A couple songs also don't hit the mark as "It Waits" broods for a little too long while "Blow Your Mind" spends more time talking about how it's going to blow your mind instead of actually doing so...
Overall, XI isn't out to change the metal world but it does have a sense of purpose that makes it the best Metal Church album to come out since The Weight of The World. It has plenty of good songs but the surprisingly strong vocals are what truly make it worth checking out for fans. One can hope that this is just a mere warm up compared to what the band has in store for the future.
"Sky Falls In"
"Needle and Suture"