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Metal Church adds fans, area support acts to its congregation in overdue return

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Metal Church @Backstage Live

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Nearly a full decade had passed since Metal Church played San Antonio -- and the magnitude of its return was not lost on the area's true metalheads Thursday night at Backstage Live.

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Preceded by San Antonio's DevilMayCare (below, left) and Immortal Guardian out of Austin, Metal Church whipped a crowd of nearly 400 -- one of the liveliest non-Friday or Saturday turnouts at BSL in recent memory -- into a frenzy from the beginning of openers "Ton of Bricks" and "Start the Fire," both from 1986 classic The Dark.

Prior to their first gig here since December 2004, the SAMME went 1-on-1 with founder and original guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof (watch here).

Metal Church showed it is not content to solely live off its past, debuting two songs off the October release Generation Nothing -- the title track and "Dead City." After the latter, vocalist Ronny Munroe told the crowd, "Someday, you'll recognize this new stuff as much as you recognize the old stuff."

Indeed, it was the classics that resonated with San Antonio, sparking a wave of bodysurfers, mosh pits and even a brief skirmish, which an angry Munroe attempted to quell quickly by telling the perpetrators to leave the premises.

"We're here for the metal," Munroe belted to loud cheers. "Not to beat each other up!"

Vanderhoof, Munroe, lead guitarist Rick Van Zandt, bassist Steve Unger and drummer Jeff Plate received the feedback they were looking for after each tune, especially during 1984 anthem "Gods of Wrath." With the crowd uniting as one by bellowing, "Wohhhh . . . yeahhhh!," Metal Church's machine demonstrated it made the right decision to return to the music scene after Vanderhoof announced in 2009 that the band was quitting.

Most Church faithful grew up with the musical preachings of the late original singer "Reverend" David Wayne and his replacement Mike Howe, but Munroe harkened memories of both by hitting all of the required screams and high notes while putting his own spin in certain spots on 25-30-year-old offerings such as "Badlands," "Fake Healer," and "Beyond the Black." Just as importantly, he exhibited an enthusiasm for singing the songs of his predecessors, a trait that he revealed to me before the show comes easy given that he was a fan of the band long before joining it (stay tuned for that interview).

For the two encores -- the 1984 cover of Deep Purple's "Highway Star" and somewhat surprising finale "The Human Factor" -- the stage lights shined brightly on Metal Church's career-spanning 90-minute set. Unger jumped off the stage and played his bass for those in the front row (see slideshow at top left), while an appreciative Vanderhoof and Munroe saluted the crowd with gratitude -- and no indication that San Antonio would have to wait another 10 years for a metal sermon.

The fun and feedback wasn't limited to the headliners, however.

DevilMayCare displayed its brand of heavy Southern rock with songs from its forthcoming release War of the Worlds. Vocalist Scott Whitaker, guitarist John De La Rosa, bassist Warren Hammonds and drummer Darren Briller delighted their hometown crowd for 40 minutes, with a bulk of their tunes brandishing a military theme. "Kill or be Killed" (watch official promo video here) was especially dedicated to the Armed Forces, with Hammonds playing his version of "The Star Spangled Banner" to introduce it. The bass is oftentimes hard to decipher at shows, somewhat treated as the rhythm section's red-headed stepchild by some bands. But DevilMayCare's bass sounded as if it was turned up to 11 throughout the set, thus avoiding being drowned out by the guitar and drums. All three instruments were refreshingly cohesive.

"Crucified," "I'm Your God," "Feel What I Say" and set finale "Salvation" also marked the band's set and are sure to be heard this Saturday when DevilMayCare hosts a CD release party at Papa Woody's (8902 S. Presa; details here). The group has opened for the likes of Accept (SAMME review here), and with continued hard work and support, it can be expected to grace the stage before more national acts in the future.

Immortal Guardian began the evening by shredding its fury of metal reminiscent of Dragonforce. While it would seem a bit extreme to compare anyone to the dueling guitar speed of Dragonforce's material, one must catch this Austin five-piece to see similarities for themselves. The band made itself known to the masses at last year's South by Southwest (SXSW) extravaganza with its "Shredding in the Streets" campaign (see the SAMME's coverage below at the "Suggested" links in blue). Band founder Gabriel Guardian amazes with his ability to play guitar with his left hand and keyboards simultaneously with his right, as he did on a video tribute to the late "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott (watch here).

With singer Carlos Zema wailing on high notes and guitarist Jyro Alejo, new bassist Foster Minor and drummer Cody Gilliland holding down the rhythm section, big things also lie ahead for Immortal Guardian. Their forthcoming second EP Revolution Pt. 1 is being produced by Roy Z -- guitarist and producer of several works from the solo bands of Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson, Judas Priest's Rob Halford and former Skid Row vocalist Sebastian Bach. Halford, and Bach's band, feature San Antonio's Bobby Jarzombek on drums.

With these three acts in tow at Backstage Live, Metal Church's congregation demonstrated that it is alive and well -- and beginning to grow again for the benefit of metalheads everywhere.

It pays to subscribe for free to the San Antonio Metal Music Examiner, no matter where you live. Do so at the top of this article for exclusive interviews, concert announcements, reviews, and all things metal. You can also get your fix via the SAMME Facebook page, follow along on Twitter or StumbleUpon, and check out his YouTube channel.

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