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Review: Metal Church - Hanging in the Balance
Metal Church
Hanging in the Balance

Label: Blackheart Records
Year released: 1993
Duration: 56:38
Tracks: 11
Genre: Heavy Metal

Rating: 4.25/5

Review online: April 9, 2004
Reviewed by: Michel Renaud
Readers Rating
Hanging in the Balance

Rated 4.26/5 (85.14%) (35 Votes)

This is the forgotten album of the Metal Church discography. It came out in 1993 on Joan Jett's label "Black Heart Records" since their major label dropped them after the third album. I can only assume that promotion was not exactly the label's strong point (especially compared to Elektra, which released the band's previous albums.) Couple that with the period of its release being the height of the grunge bullshit, and all odds were against "Hanging in the Balance" getting any kind of success, or at the very least the recognition it deserved. To make matters worse, Metal Church chose this moment to experiment a bit more with their sound and as a result this got almost universally hailed as... well... crap. I must say I myself never gave this album much of a chance until recently when I picked up the band's discography from the shelf and started playing them one after the other.

Other than the grunge movement, the indie label and the horrible cover art, I think what really hurt this album was that it was quite a departure of sound for Metal Church, and also maybe it was a bit ahead of its time. Nowadays many bands are hailed for creating such diverse and somewhat complex albums.

"Hanging in the Balance" is more of a grower than the band's first three albums were - they were relatively straightforward, in-your-face heavy metal just the way things were done in the 80s. Here the band came up with much more complex material, with more varied influences - I hear some 70s classic rock, a bit of 70s Judas Priest, also a bit of a prog-ish feel in some songs. One of the songs, "End Of The Age" includes predominant folk influences - a bit common in metal today, but not nearly as much back in '93. "Little Boy" is a solemn epic about nuclear war (Little Boy was the name of one of the A-bombs dropped on Japan in 1945.) Compared to previous albums, this has more tempo changes, better use of the vocalist's abilities (Mike Howe's handling of the vocals no matter what's the mood of the song is great - and there's great variation in said "mood" here), and very interesting guitar work (not that it wasn't good before - here it's just different.) Despite quite a departure in sound, one can still say this is Metal Church - the guitar signature is there, and Mike Howe's vocals are simply unmistakable. One complaint I have is that a few songs are very good on the spot, but not really memorable, unlike on their previous albums where you could practically hum the entire album after a few listens.

Dismissing this album was and is still a big mistake. It just requires more of the listener's attention to really take in all that's going on here (and there's a lot going on musically on this album.) Ignore the crappy cover art and give this album a second (or first) chance ASAP.

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