In George Orwell’s 1984, the totalitarian government kept a torture room that was stocked with your worst nightmare, whatever that happened to be. For many of us, the unbearable ordeal would be getting strapped in and having to listen to an extended dose of a full-bore metal singer along the lines of Mike Howe of this quintet. Howe has one of those cauterizing deliveries that is so prized in metal. It’s unbelievably hectoring, insistent and harsh. (Try listening to him on “The Spell Can’t Be Broken” or “Cannot Tell a Lie” or both, if you’re really a glutton for punishment.) Not helping matters at all is the fact that Howe is so leather-lunged he probably eschews microphones.
Howe is a recent addition to Metal Church, which emerged from Washington State four years ago. He joined from an L.A. band called Heretic after original singer David Wayne left last year. Metal Church auditioned a number of other singers before they ended up picking this guy, so one must assume they sound this way on purpose. They probably also meant to turn up the tempo on this, their third album. “Of Unsound Mind” and “Rest in Pieces” (a song about the Titanic) are played at a ridiculously febrile pace with drummer Kirk Arrington trying gamely to keep up, like a man being dragged along behind a speeding car. Guitarists Craig Wells—the group’s principal song writer along with former member Kurdt Vanderhoof—and John Marshall do some nice collaborative fuse-blowing, but it’s all pretty ponderous. Blessing in Disguise is really sludge metal, and a disappointment after Metal Church’s promising previous effort, The Dark. In no small part that’s because Howe’s howling makes the ears bleed and the spirit cringe. (Elektra)