With vocalist Mike Howe’s return to Metal Church on 2016’s XI proving successful, it’s only logical that its follow-up Damned If You Do features similar elements. The band has always had a tried and true method of doing things, and their twelfth full-length album is no exception. Guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof sets up a darkly melodic playground for Howe’s snappy barks, and new drummer Stet Howland fits in well enough. The setup ensures smooth sailing for Damned If You Do, but one ends up wishing they’d rock the boat a bit more.
While the album features the same classic metal style as its predecessor, its songwriting is much more workmanlike in comparison. XI wasn’t the most revolutionary thing out there but its emphasis on adventurous vocal lines and song structures made it stand out in its late era comeback context. It could be argued that the more straightforward tracks are channeling the group’s thrashier past, but they’re ultimately too interchangeable to truly make an impact.
Fortunately, there are still some memorable tracks on here. I can’t help but wonder if the opening title track was a holdover from the last album’s sessions, as the vocal hums and urgent structure makes for a bold highlight. In addition, “By the Numbers” and “Out of Balance” were wise single choices due to their persistent hooks. On the flip side, “Revolution Underway” feels like a “Signal Path” repeat and the mid-tempo hard rock of “Monkey Finger” would’ve been more effective with a striking chorus to match.
Overall, Damned if You Do is a solid though unambitious addition to the Metal Church catalog. The band has never been out to make high art and the musicians aren’t necessarily phoning it in, but there’s a nondescript feeling that was common during the Ronny Munroe era. It’s a serviceable effort and there are enough great songs to ensure that fans will get what they want out of it. It just needs an extra spark to make it truly noteworthy.
“Damned if You Do”
“By the Numbers”
“Out of Balance”