Following the exit of singer Ronny Munroe in 2014 after four albums, the long but on/off running heavy/power/thrash metallers Metal Church once again found themselves without a frontman. In a move that has shades of their earlier reunion with the late David Wayne, Metal Church have been able to bring back singer Mike Howe to the band. Howe had been out of Metal Church since 1994 and previously recorded three albums with the group, the last being Hanging in the Balance (1993), which up until this point seems to also be the last Howe was heard of in the metal scene at all. XI (2016) is the ninth Metal Church album. Aside from Howe it features the same line-up as previous album, Generation Nothing (2013).
It's clear right from the opener Reset that Mike Howe has lost nothing as a vocalist in the last twenty odd years. I have to confess that the most recent Metal Church album I've heard prior to XI was A Light in the Dark (2006) so I'm unable to compare how XI stands up to either This Present Wasteland (2008) or Generation Nothing, but it seems to me that Howe's return has breathed new life into this classic band. It's not a return to the USPM of their early days but rather a traditional heavy metal record with some thrash metal influences (such as the track Needle & Suture) which I'd say is typical of later Metal Church. Most importantly it's one hell of an album. The first three tracks, Reset, Killing Your Time and No Tomorrow are all particularly excellent. Not every song packs the same punch, but there aren't any fillers either, just a classic band continuing to give it their all and be successful at it.
The only real downside as I hear it is that XI doesn't have as much of a lasting impact as it initially had me believing. It's be a real monster of an album if all the tracks were on the level as the first three, but it's lacking that something that made Metal Church's early work so special. Even so XI is still a very satisfactory release from them and with the reunion with Howe now firmly established I expect there'll be more great things to come from Metal Church.