METAL CHURCH‘s influence on heavy metal as we know it could never be efficiently analysed in such a tiny space, yet it is common knowledge to any metalhead who respects themselves -and their record collection- that METAL CHURCH’s 80’s and early 90’s body of work should be worshipped like a sacred chalice. Far from the spotlight that they truly deserved but with magnificent songwriter Kurdt Vanderhoof as their driving force, METAL CHURCH in their uniquely powerful style managed to pave the sonic way for most of our speed and thrash heroes. Their current state is marked by the return of superb vocalist Mike Howe, who shone in “powerhouses” of the past such as “Blessing In Disguise” (1989), “The Human Factor” (1991) and -my personal favorite of that era- “Hanging In The Balance” (1993). In view of their upcoming live shows in Athens and Thessaloniki, we caught up with Mike Howe about how he’s adapting after 20 years of absence from the music scene, rumors of a new drummer and how things have changed for heavy metal today. “Dive” in for a piece of past recollections and future plans!
Let’s begin with the latest news concerning METAL CHURCH, which is of course the departure of Jeff Plate from the band. His statement on the matter was filled with nothing but praises for everyone in Metal Church, so it seems you had a great working relationship and a team spirit. How do you feel his departure is going to affect things in the band and, are there any news regarding his replacement?
We will surely miss our friend Jeff Plate and cherish our years together but METAL CHURCH will carry on with a new drummer that we soon will announce.
Staying on the matter of fresh news, one year after the release of “XI”, you have a new live album called “Classic Live” coming out in late April. Tell us a bit about the recordings and the choice of releasing a live album almost two decades since the last attempt (Live in Japan)! Also, how was working with Todd La Torre on the track “Fake Healer” ?
The fans have been asking for a live recording so we decided to give it to them. We recorded it over several shows on our 2016 European tours. Working with Todd La Torre was awesome. Not only is he a great singer but an incredibly great person. I think our collaboration came out better than we could have ever imagined.
Last year’s “XI” marked your return to the band and it was indeed an album praised by both fans and critics alike. How did your return influence the writing and recording processess?
I feel that the writing picked up where Kurdt and I left off in 1993. We have a great chemistry together and we really enjoy the process. As far as recording, it was different but better. Kurdt has his own studio. So we had full control of how we wanted the end product to come out. We can’t blame any outside factors if there is anything we don’t like about it. And we are very happy with the way it came out.
On a sidenote, it is really rare to see a vocalist maintain his vocal range at the same level after two decades of absence! I mean, you are at the top of your game in “XI”, as if a day never passed since “Hanging In The Balance”. How did you manage to stay at a top vocal level and, were there any difficulties in adapting in live show conditions again, after being away from the stage for so many years?
That is the amazing thing. Could it be that my voice was saved from not singing all these years? Maybe. We don’t have time machines to do it again and see. Ha! But I mostly attribute it to correct vocal Technic I learned a long time ago and never forgot. Look at James Hetfield, he still has a powerful voice.
How hard was it to rebuild the right chemistry within the group after your return? Although, judging by the outcome, I don’t think that chemistry ever left in the first place!
It seemed natural. The band had been playing together for several years already. They had good chemistry. They just needed to learn Mike Howe era songs. It’s fun!
Being in the scene since the early 80’s, I think it’s safe to assume Metal Church has seen all the stages of development of the heavy metal world. How do you feel the industry has changed over the years and how has it affected Metal Church? Is it tougher for a traditional heavy metal band to survive today than it was the previous decades?
I feel the music business had and will always have challenges. They are just different now. Such as record sales are way down, but there are less over-head costs in making them. We have family considerations when it comes to touring now. Things like that.
What do you think of today’s situation with the advances in technological recording equipment and extensive use of social media by bands and record companies in comparison with how things were back in the 80’s or early 90’s?
I think these are the tools that help a band like Metal Church be able to still be around today. You would get bogged down in debt that you could never pay back to record companies in the past. We have low overhead these days. Plus we have an awesome record company that uses the tools of today to do right by us. And they work their asses off for us! We love Rat Pak Records!
Do you have any plans for a new studio album in the near future?
Yes! We are currently working on that! Woo Hoo!
You return to Greece for two live shows after 23 years. Do you feel there is a difference between concert crowds of that time and concert crowds of nowadays? Also, do you have any fond memories of the 1994 gig in Athens that you’d like to share?
I feel for me, and I believe our fans too, that we have a deeper appreciation of the music and what it means to our lives that only comes with age. There are advantages to getting older! Ha! As for our last visit to Athens, I’m sorry to say that my memories are fuzzy. Raising kids can erase some brain cells.But I look forward to making new ones!
What do you expect from the two live shows in Athens and Thessaloniki?
I would just like to say how lucky and how grateful I am to all the Metal Church fans who are still out there allowing us to keep on living the dream. We hope to see you on the road! Bring your kids!
The final words are yours, you can close this interview any way you like! Once again, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions!