METAL CHURCH – Hanging In The Balance

METAL CHURCH - Hanging In The Balance
  • 9.5/10
    METAL CHURCH - Hanging In The Balance - 9.5/10


SPV Records
Release date: October 7, 1993

User Review
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Out of the league of great bands that never really made it, Metal Church still is something special. With their self-titled debut in 1984, and a strong follow-up album The Dark, Metal Church should have been in the right place at the right time, yet can be considered one of the most underrated Metal bands in history, even though they started in San Francisco, almost had Lars Ulrich on drums, supported Metallica on their Master of Puppets Tour, and, of course, released five excellent albums that all can be considered classic Metal masterpieces.

After The Dark in 1986, some line-up changes occurred, most importantly the exchanges of ex-Metallica guitar tech John Marshall for Kurdt Vanderhoof, and of Heretic’s Mike Howe on vocals for David Wayne. Metal Church released three more albums with that line-up. Though there is hardly a bad song on the first five albums, Hanging In The Balance captivates through the most mature songwriting the band (in which all members always participated) has ever shown (Kurdt Vanderhoof gave up playing guitar for Metal Church, but stayed as a songwriter).

The addition of Mike Howe, whose performance on Heretic’s superb album Breaking Point already gave a glimpse of what would become of Metal Church, changed the lyrics into a more political and social direction, and the music into a more melodic style. At the same time, the two guitarists, John Marshall and Craig Wells, cracked out their best riffs ever. Hanging In The Balance represents the highlight of their abilities: The album opens with the most intense song the band has ever recorded, “Gods Of Second Chance.” The music and lyrics fit like pieces of a puzzle. When Mike sings of desperation, and cries out “God don’t you hear me,” it sends shivers down your spine. This song also contains a solo by Jerry Cantrell.

You will find a lot of undistorted guitar chords and acoustic parts throughout the album, very noticeably on “Waiting For A Savior,” “End Of The Age“ (which starts acoustic, only to develop into a storm of guitar, and then switches back to a brilliant acoustic end) and “Little Boy,“ (with background vocals by Joan Jett). The band has increasingly used this playing style in their songwriting since the Blessing In Disguise album, reducing the general heaviness of their output, but adding a lot of depths to their unique Power Metal style, which changes the mood often within the same song. Even after listening to the album many times it never gets boring … and there is still enough music to make you bang your head.

Going into detail song-by-song would be too much, since every track is worth listening to … from the slow “Hypnotized,“ or “A Subtle War,” mid-tempo “Down To The River,” “No Friend Of Mine,” or “Losers In The Game,” to the only fast track, “Conductor.” Two songs still have to be mentioned specifically: “Little Boy,” (a song about the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and „End Of The Age,“ which are the longest tracks on the album. You can expect pace changes, acoustic parts, heavy guitar, incredible drumming by Kirk Arrington, and a vocal performance that shows Mike Howe at his very peak.

In 1993, the album was released at the wrong time. Metal was not en vogue at all, and so unfortunately this masterpiece, in spite of entering the German album charts, went almost unnoticed, especially since the band was dropped by Sony Records after their prior album, The Human Factor, did not meet business expectations.

There is one negative thing to be said about this album: the artwork is disastrous. While the earlier two albums had a group photo on the front cover, which constitutes an incredible lack of imagination, Hanging In The Balance had a drawing of a fat comic-style balancing act that made you long for just another band picture. Metal Church made sure nobody would pick the album off the shelf because they got interested in the artwork …

There were different releases of this album. One contained three live-tracks (SPV Records #084-62170) “Start The Fire,” “Fake Healer,” and “Losers In The Game,” which are nice, but not essential, especially because of the bootleg-like sound. Other releases contained a bonus track, “Low To Overdrive.” This song was on the Japanese release (VICP 5264), and the European version (spv records #084-62172) also included it. It’s available as a free download on the official Metal Church Web site, so if you are still not convinced, go there and enjoy! Although the album is out of print, it may be available yet since the print run of the European version seems to have been quite substantial.


  • Frank Jaeger

    Frank was a reviewer here at Metal Express Radio, based out of Bavaria, Germany. He has worked in the games industry for more than 20 years, now on the manufacturing side, before on the publishing end. Before this, he edited and handled the layout for a city mag in northern Germany ... maybe that is why he love being part of anything published. Frank got hooked on Metal at the age of 14 when a friend introduced him to AC/DC. They were listening to The Beatles, Madness, and The Police, and he decided they should move on. Well, they did, Back in Black became Frank's first Metal album, and since Germany is reasonably close to England, they had some small New Waves Of British Heavy Metal washing up on their shores: Tygers Of Pan Tang, Samson, Gillan, Iron Maiden, Saxon, Sweet Savage, Diamond Head, etc. If he had to pick his favorite styles, Prog and Power Metal would be at the top of the list.

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