By 1989, there were essentially two worlds of Metal. One was following the Big Four, and bands like Kreator and Suicidal Tendencies, looking for music that was heavier and heavier. The other, more mainstream group thought Guns ‘n’ Roses were the hardest music in the world and were following bands with big hair like Poison and Skid Row. Somewhere in the middle were bands like Metal Church, whose brand of Metal was far more traditional, neither glam nor Thrash. The Blessing in Disguise album was their third, and probably their most successful. It included singles in ‘Badlands’ and ‘Fake Healer,’ which had little impact at the time, but are now rightly regarded as classics.
The album opens with ‘Fake Healer,’ a song about the medical profession. This song is big enough in the catalogue that the recent live album from Metal Church included a new studio version of this song. Opening with a crashing riff, it certainly sets the tone for the album. Metal Church have changed vocalists several times and Mike Howe (who is their current singer) sings on this album. He doesn’t have a strong voice in the mould of people like Ronnie James Dio, but it’s a perfect fit for the meat and potatoes Heavy Metal on offer here.
The next song is about the Titanic. Called ‘Rest in Pieces,’ it goes for almost seven minutes. The constantly changing riffs almost invoke an Adrian Smith-penned Iron Maiden song, although it’s clear they are aiming for something heavier. The solo certainly is similar to Smith’s playing.
‘Of Unsound Mind’ is a faster track. It feels like it’s from the same school of Metal as ‘Stand up and Shout.’ It’s not Thrash, but it is faster. It’s kind of Dio meets Anthrax.
The next track is a Heavy Metal ballad. ‘Anthem to the Estranged’ starts soft and while it gets heavy, it stays mid-tempo. This is the sort of music Metal Church are best at, and you can hear they are comfortable delivering the full potential of a track like this. The song has lots of quiet bits which really highlight the strengths of the vocals. The guitar motifs that repeat throughout really give coherence to the track.
‘Badlands’ was a single from this album. It also starts with a quiet guitar bit. It’s a heavier track than the one before, but it does also alternate between quiet and heavy. The guitar motif in this one is interesting enough that it deserved to be something guitar shops got sick of hearing people play. The theme of being true to yourself and what you believe is also pure Heavy Metal.
The album flows into ‘The Spell can’t be Broken,’ a faster track with an extended solo section. It’s not the best track on the CD, but it’s fun all the same. It just doesn’t stand out like some of the others. There is a descending riff at the end that gives it a real lift though, it’s worth the wait, but it’s a shame the rest of the song doesn’t live up to it.
You have to assume that Metal Church were well aware of the changing market they were moving in, and the next track is an instrumental, and probably the track that works hardest to appeal to the Thrash demographic. It’s okay, but it’s certainly not ‘Orion.’ The fact that it’s the fastest track and one of the weakest only highlights the point. Metal Church were a Heavy Metal band, playing traditional Heavy Metal.
‘Cannot Tell a Lie’ is a faster track as well, and it starts okay, but nowhere near as good as earlier tracks. In fact, it gets better when it slows down. By the end it finds its stride and is a decent album track.
The album wraps up with ‘The Powers that Be,’ and it proves that Metal Church can do a good job of a faster, Thrash-tinged track. The middle section of this song is especially good. It’s a strong ending for this album.
This album is patchy because it doesn’t always play to their strengths, but Metal Church were an important part of the Metal scene in the mid to late 80s, even though they never hit it big. They have broken up and reformed twice since then.
In deciding to focus on this band, it was a coin toss between this album and the 1986 album, ‘The Dark.’ Both are well worth checking out.