As I write this introduction, I’ve just found out about the passing of Mike Howe, vocalist of the criminally underrated band Metal Church. He was 55 years old — too young.
The last time I memorialized a musician in this column, it was Entombed vocalist L.G. Petrov. Howe’s story differs from Petrov’s in two critical ways. First, because Petrov’s passing was unfortunate but expected, whereas Howe’s was surprising. Second, while Petrov and Entombed had gone their separate ways, the band had achieved notoriety commensurate with their artistic output. In contrast, Howe had been an active member of Metal Church at the time of his death. Despite 40 years of existence, the band isn’t as well known as they deserve to be.
Metal Church was one of the Seattle-area ’80s heavy metal bands that, alongside Sanctuary and Queensrÿche, established a nuanced, gloomy-but-sharp and progressive-but-aggressive sound that dabbled in speed, thrash, power and even a touch of glam without committing to any one adjective. Apocryphally, Lars Ulrich considered joining Metal Church at one point, when they were still based in the Bay Area. The band’s first three records showcase ultra-high-class songwriting. Howe’s debut with the band, 1989’s Blessing in Disguise, was released via Elektra Records.
It’s worth noting that Howe was not Metal Church’s first singer. David Wayne sang on the band’s first two albums. Sadly, Wayne also passed away too young at 47 years old.
Despite their acumen and pedigree, Metal Church belong to the echelon of great bands that deserve wider recognition — bands like Trouble, Fate’s Warning, Solitude Aeternus, Forbidden, Exciter, Accept, and so on.
This is all to say that, in my opinion, there ought not be any more excellent bands who only get their due after the untimely loss of a great talent. It’s for that reason, among others, that we continue presenting the best underground metal albums each month, including the ones listed below for July 2021.
Author’s Note: This intro was completed just before I found out that founding Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison had also passed away at the young age of 46. Needless to say, Jordison was an immense talent, and I could easily write an entire essay about his brilliance behind the kit. That said, Heavy Consequence has already paid tribute to Jordison with a list of his 10 Most Jaw-Dropping Slipknot Drum Moments. Rest in peace, Mike Howe and Joey Jordison. —Joseph Schafer