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Road Report - Metal Church, Three Inches Of Blood, Division @ Jaxx, VA (11.19.04)

Well my Road Report won't be as spiffy as that Yankee Ken Pierce, who seems to be invited to every metal shindig and meet and greet these days, working hard to deliver Maximum Metal in every bar and grill on the East Coast.  I devoted my evening of November 19th with the finer sounds of Metal Church, worshipping in the madness that only a true metal head can understand. You know the routine, sitting through local acts and being pushed around by the slam-dance kids, not to mention that smelly bald guy who keeps backing his rear into your lower regions. But I for one am a devoted metal journalist, ready to fight for that all-important scoop, for you, my devoted metal reader.

With a full day available and only a three hour drive, I had time to stop by and see King Fowley, vocalist for early thrash band Deceased, as well as his power metal vehicle October 31. I wanted to check in with the Kingster to hear his brand new Oct. 31 record "No Survivors", due out anytime soon through Thrash Corner Records.The new record just kills I might add, recapturing the early days of Overkill, Twisted Sister, and Jag Panzer. (See Mr. Pierce, you aren't the only one getting invited to Record Release Parties, even though this one only consisted of four guys in a living room, it was still a Par-Ty). I got some info on the new Deceased record as well, which is well on it's way to being completely recorded. Look for that one in early '05. From King's we ventured over to the show to check out the local acts.

The first band I caught was Monolith, a local thrash act that did little to escape that trendy hip-hop vibe, with plenty of non-singing and simple stomp riffs. Yawn. Next up was Metal Ages recording artist Division, who may be well on their way to becoming one of the finest progressive power metal bands in the US. I've caught the band in the past opening for Iced Earth and King Diamond, but this was my first time seeing the band perform with new vocalist Nick Kelly, who has been with Division for two studio records. Kelly has a great stage presentation, with plenty of emotion conveyed through his motions and demeanor. His voice is extremely strong on "Trinity", the group's last album, and he managed to transport his studio energy to the stage. Division ripped through old and new cuts, with "Eleventh Hour" and "The New Elite" being my favorites of the set. The twin guitar work from Mike Blevins and Matt Crooks was awe inspiring at times, reminding me of the classic combo of Smith/Murray. The crowd went nuts for a cover of "Power Of The Night", which closed out the group's set a bit prematurely, but time restraints were on, making ample time available for the billed acts Three Inches Of Blood and Metal Church.

Let me be the first to say that I really dig Three Inches Of Blood, and very well could be their only fan. I picked up "Advance & Vanquish", even though I swore to myself to never purchase anything with a Roadrunner insignia. The album really hit home, reminding me of Maiden, Priest, and In Flames all thrown together under a Forgotten Realms styled theme. I was stoked for their set, but had some worries when I saw them hit the stage. From left to right: Lead guitarist in truck driver garb, complete with work boots and a ball cap with a farm logo, bassist looking the part of John Mellencamp circa "Scarecrow", harsh lead singer wearing a hoodie and sockless sneakers, clean lead singer wearing black metal get-up with spikes and bullet belt, rhythm guitarist dressed as G.I. Joe, and a drummer that looked like Ringo Starr in his "caveman" days. On stage, Three Inches Of Blood is a medicated Village People, possibly making it okay to stay at the Psyche Center.

The band stormed through numbers like "Destroy The Orcs", "Fear On The Bridge", and "Deadly Sinners", but for me really failed to reach the intensity and energy of the album. I think they tried way too hard to just "mosh and kill" instead of emphasizing the melody and songwriting. I can't picture Maiden standing on stage banging their heads and standing still, and I didn't picture T.I.O.B doing the same. But unfortunately that is exactly what they did, with the only crowd interaction being the clean vocalist asking the crowd if it sounded okay. Very odd, and reminded me of the Emo styled bands currently shopping the trend stores. Not a great live performance and showed me the band has absolutely no live show whatsoever. Studio-Full on headbanging fury, Stage-Full on headbanging boredom. Didn't even provoke air guitar...

...but Metal Church did! Good God almighty, what a heavy metal force live! Metal Church was the top act, they were the main attraction, and by my standards they were the best band to hit the stage. I had some concern that new vocalist Ronny Munroe couldn't hit the David Wayne highs, that the old classics wouldn't sound quite the same. I couldn't have been further from the truth. Munroe stomped on stage and took control of HIS band, HIS crowd, and HIS stage. He was the furious preacher on the pulpit, and one that seemed quite confident that his version of the Church was the saviors of a new generation.

Out of the gate..."Ton Of Bricks" and "Start The Fire", two of the band's classics handled perfectly by Munroe, putting up fierce vocal highs that made Kurt Vanderhoof step back from the speakers. The whole band was on fire, going through a hellfire and brimstone sermon with classic cuts like "Beyond The Black", "Gods Of Wrath", "Metal Church", and their rip-ride version of "Highway Star". The group checked in with some new material with "Leave Them Behind", "Madman's Overture", and "Cradle To The Grave", as well as Mike Howe flavored material like "Badlands". Vanderhoof and Arrington are the only remaining members of the band's original lineup, but in my opinion this new lineup may be the band's best to date. Judging from the crowd reaction, this Metal Church is the one we all want to see in the future. The group's sound was one of the loudest I've heard in my six years at the Jaxx. Vanderhoof was a madman on the strings, wielding his axe like it was twenty years ago. New bassist Steve Unger was extraordinary, making it real hard for me to believe that guy hasn't been a major player in metal before. Nonetheless, he had the stage appeal, along with new second guitarist Jay Reynolds, who cut his teeth on the 80s strip with former band Malice.

It was a spectacular metal showing, and one that hopefully will come back sooner rather than later. We celebrated twenty years of Metal Church with this tour, and if this is any indication of things to come, Metal Church should still be doing this twenty years from now.

The Night's Highlights - Metal Church playing "Watch The Children Pray", Division playing "Power Of The Night"

The Night's Jeers - Three Inches Of Blood

Strangest Moment - A headbanger in the third row who decided to start breathing fire at the crowd. No security there, so he did it all night. --EC

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