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Rejuvenated Metal Church returns with Ronny Munroe on the mic
Back in the 1980s, before Nirvana and its ilk made grunge the Pacific Northwest's main musical import, heavy metal ruled the land.
Among the myriad of metal bands plying the Seattle club scene – as well as the bars, skating rinks and all-ages venues of South King County – was Metal Church.
Now the band is back, with a new album, "Generation Nothing", scheduled to drop this fall on Body of Work and Rat Pak records. A reunion show is slated for Aug. 30 at the Liberty Theater in Puyallup.
Formed in San Francisco in 1980 by guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof, Metal Church soon found itself part of the burgeoning Washington metal scene, with Renton-native David Wayne on vocals, Kirk Arrington on drums, Duke Erickson on bass and Craig Wells on guitar.
After releasing a self-titled debut album in 1984, and singing with a major label, the band broke out of the local scene.
"I was such a fan of that first album, singing it at the top of my lungs driving around in my car," current Metal Church lead singer Ronny Munroe said.
By 1986, the band was a national act, boasting a new album, "The Dark", and opening shows for Metallica. The band continued its success into the 1990s, with vocalist Mike Howe replacing Wayne for a couple of albums.
The band broke up in 1994 but briefly reunited with Wayne for the "Masterpeace" album and an ill-fated tour in 1999. Then it went on hiatus again.
Munroe, a Fife native, had been kicking around in local bands in the Puget Sound region since the late 1970s.
"I wanted to be a rock star from a very, very young age," Munroe said. "I just had a love for music in general from a young age, as a baby."
Munroe's first instrument was the saxophone, but after switching to drums, he joined his first band, Madhouse.
"And then I got bit by the singer bug. and that was it," he said.
Munroe said it was legendary metal frontman Ronnie James Dio's vocals on the Rainbow song, "Man On the Silver Mountain," that spurred him to take a shot at singing.
"I heard it on KISW and took off my headphones, ran downstairs and called the station asking, 'Who is that singing?'" he said.
For the next two decades, Munroe paid his dues on the local club circuit, performing in bands such as Moxi, Paladin, Hammer and Far Cry.
"I've done it all," he said. "I've done the Seattle original scene. I didn't make it, so I did top-40. Then I went back to the original scene, then back to top-40. Then I did a tribute band, Metal Gods."
In the early 2000s Munroe stepped to the next level, hooking up with Vanderhoof and Arrington.
"I originally tried out for Kurdt's solo band, Vanderhoof," Munroe said. "But of course, my being a huge Metal Church fan like everyone else, I was like 'Dude, how about Metal Church? Why don't we do Metal Church?' A couple of weeks later, Kurdt called me and said, 'OK, you want to do Metal Church, let's do it.'"
Beginning with 2004's "Weight of the World," Munroe and Metal Church put out three albums in the next four years, including 2006's "A Light in the Dark", and 2008's "This Present Wasteland."
"I thought that it was going to just be handed to me, but it took many years until I made it in 2003 when I got the gig in Metal Church," he said. "I truly believe everything does happen for a reason, and it took me awhile to get where I wanted to be."
Although Metal Church again called in quits after "This Present Wasteland," Munroe kept busy, releasing two solo albums: "The Fire Within" and "Lords of the Edge." A third, "Electric Wake," is due out on Rat Pak records in November.
"I was also afforded the chance to do two tours with the [multi-platinum selling] Tran-Siberian Orchestra," he said. "That was another dream come true, so I'm a lucky man."
This year, when Vanderhoof came calling, Munroe got the chance to come home.
"We've been waiting around for the time to be right," Kurdt said. "Finally, Kurt called me up and said, 'Hey I'm really starting to think about Metal Church again.'"
The band reformed, this time with Munroe, Vanderhoof, Steve Unger on bass, drummer Jeff Plate and second guitarist Rick Van Zandt. It played on the rock cruise "70,000 tons of Metal."
"We've got a great lineup in Metal Church now with Rick on guitar," he said. "Our rhythm section with Steve and Jeff is tighter than a gnat's ass. The band is doing well, and now that we're back together, there is something in the air."
Despite his solo forays and his membership in the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Munroe said, he remains committed to his gig fronting Metal Church.
"Metal Church is my main focus and will be for years to come, and my solo project," he said. "So those are my main focuses. Will I do other projects? Yes, because I need to do that to survive. But I'm not searching any longer to be in a big name band. I'm home."
To celebrate the release of "Generation Nothing," the band's 10th studio album, it will play a show Aug. 30 at the Liberty Theater in Puyallup, with Taist of Iron, Mechanism and Sin Circus in support.
"It's a hometown show. I used to watch movies there," Munroe said. "We promise to put on a really good show for everyone.
"Every time that I go up there, even now that we're back together, I do my job," he said. "I put my own stamp on the songs, but I also pay as much respect to Dave (who died in 2004) and Mike and the way they sang the original songs. There are always signature parts that the fans want to hear. So I do that, but I also put a little bit of me in there."
"I'm lucky to be doing what I'm doing and lucky there are people out there that like what I'm doing," he said. "There are people who don't. I'll never live down the David or Mike thing, but that's just how it is. Anybody coming into an established band and replacing somebody, you're never going to get rid of that. That's part of the band's history. So I really don't want that to go away. I'm a fan of the band and the first record too. And then I ended up becoming the singer.