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Armed with new vocalist Marc Lopes, a reborn, revitalized, and re-invigorated Metal Church are setting out this summer to write the first chapter of a new era for the band. Following the tragic suicide of beloved singer Mike Howe in 2021, many wondered if the metal legends would call it quits.  The band’s creative force and only remaining original member, Kurdt Vanderhoof had been working with Howe on new material together prior to Howe’s untimely death.  Vanderhoof ultimately decided he wanted to complete the album in honor of his friend and bandmate.

Enter Marc Lopes – a long-time friend of Metal Church bassist Steve Unger and drummer Stet Howland.  After working with the band casually to test the waters, it soon became clear Lopes was the “guy” and the band moved forward recording their latest release, Congregation of Annihilation.  As Marc’s aggressive vocal style was more similar to previous vocalist David Wayne, Vanderhoof felt it was time to move in an old school musical direction with a bit of modern twist.  The results have been outstanding – the album of edgy classic thrash metal tracks has been well-received, especially by fans of the band’s earlier years. 

With a new killer album out, how would the new singer pass the live performance test?  Would the band still possess the musical passion and drive after enduring pandemic delays, the death of Howe, and more recently the passing of former long-time drummer Kirk Arrington in May?  Metal Church rolled into Brick by Brick in San Diego and were greeted by enthusiast long-time fans, many adorned in Metal Church shirts (including myself!) including one dedicated fan dressed as a Metal Church pope.  While it was a Monday night, the energy and anticipating of the crowd was very evident.   

The fast tempo opener, “Ton of Bricks” quenched the crowd’s thirst for an immediate intense face melter.  Newcomer Lopes stormed the stage with bold reckless abandon, nailing the vocals impressively and enticing the crowd to get fired up.  It was obvious right away that Lopes vocals fit perfectly - edgy and gritty with powerful screams right in the Metal Church stylistic wheelhouse, while also adding his own touches, a modern metal vibe of his own. 

The set list was amazing, heavy on material from the first two albums Metal Church and The Dark.  Heavy hitters like “Gods of Wrath”, “Watch the Children Pray”, “Start the Fire” and two deep cut surprises “Burial at Sea” and “Hitman”!  Two Howe era songs were rightfully included, the epic classic “Badlands” and the headbanging metal anthem “Fake Healer”.  Two songs of the new album were incredible.  “Pick a God and Prey” is a thrash metal masterpiece, crunchy metal guitar hook and melodic aggressive catchy vocals. “Me the Nothing” is another new tune that just slaps your face and demands your attention – it includes a classic Metal Church non-distorted clean guitar only intro, then explodes with a mid-tempo kick ass hook and catchy aggressive vocal delivery that has you shouting, “Me the Nothing!”.  The final encores almost blew the roof off the place, threatening to turn Brick by Brick into a “ton of bricks”, with the timeless and haunting “Beyond the Black” and first album title track “Metal Church”.

The band lineup is both formidable musically and fun to watch.  Bassist Steve Unger has been with the band 20 years now and he and his rhythm section partner Stet Howland fire up a very powerful and loud metal engine.  Howland (formerly of WASP) has been with the band since 2017 and always seems to be having a blast back there on the drums.  Many drummers twirl their sticks, but Howland does it effortlessly right in the middle of monster fills furiously rolling left to right across the tom rack!  Guitarist Rick Van Zandt, band member since 2008, is the technical guitar wizard, both pounding the hooks and shredding many solos.  Finally, there’s Vanderhoof, the band quarterback, proudly ripping out riffs with his familiar Les Paul and Marshall amp setup.  Vanderhoof took a moment to give a heartfelt thank you to the crowd for their support, noting the losses the “Metal Church family” had endured recently.  It was great to see one of my metal heroes back in action.

I left the show energized and encouraged that Metal Church had risen from the depths of tragedy, found a great new singer, released an incredible new album, and was back playing live all for the joy of playing metal and giving back to the fans.  With touring planned around the world in ’23-’23, a new era of Metal Church is off to a great start.


Rock on and be well!

Greg Vitalich

Greg Vitalich

Photojournalist - San Diego

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