Thursday, April 15, 2010
Pitchfork have reviewed Priestess' most recent album, Prior to the Fire, giving it a score of 5.9 out of 10...
[pitchfork.com] Even in its death throes, the major-label machine sometimes gets things right. Consider, for example, the Montreal riff-rock crew Priestess. Hello Master, the band's 2006 debut, showed a flair for soaring hooks and memorable riffage rare in any of the many retro Camaro-rock bands out on the touring circuit. The band initially released the LP on a pair of indies, but RCA snapped them up. The band and RCA have since parted ways: As Priestess' Mikey Heppner put it to Chartattack, the label wanted them write new songs for sophomore effort Prior to the Fire until they heard a single. Instead, we have Prior to the Fire, exactly the way the band wanted to release it, except now it's on the much smaller Tee Pee label. And guess what? No singles. No halfway-to-great songs at all, actually.
Now, this isn't a Yankee Hotel Foxtrot situation. Priestess isn't a band out there blazing paths. Instead, they play the sort of fast, crunching stoner-metal that Motörhead and first-album Black Sabbath pioneered and that a few thousand bands have attempted to perfect ever since. What made them special was their way with a hook. Hello Master sounded at first like an easy album to dismiss; it did absolutely nothing new. But tracks like the Guitar Hero III jam "Lay Down" stuck with you. The band might've been doing stuff that'd already been done to death, but they did it really well, with swagger and assurance and craft. Flash forward a few years, and Priestess are a seasoned touring act, and a couple of their members have grown seriously badass biker beards. But they've evidently lost their ear for sticky, soaring melodies. Prior to the Fire is a perfectly acceptable retro-metal album, every part in place. But there's nothing exceptional about it-- and nothing here for anyone not already a fan of retro-metal.
That said, if 70s guitar-thunder is your thing, there's plenty to like here. Drummer Vince Nudo keeps things moving admirably, throwing in all sorts of berserker fills where other guys would've been content to smack a cowbell a couple of times. Heppner has a great metal voice, a vaguely scraggly wail that comes off, at times, like a less-destroyed version of Lemmy's growl. The lyrics are fun: stuff about "the forest of my soul," "scum-filled city streets afraid," a priceless bit about how Heppner is "like a skull with no eyes" because, it emerges, you're gone. The album is beautifully mastered, so that the quiet acoustic bits actually sound quieter than the loud ones; especially for a metal album originally recorded for a major, that's a rare thing.
So if Prior to the Fire does make its way onto your iPod, you probably won't hit skip when its songs come up on shuffle, especially if you're already invested in this kind of thing. But when you hold it up to something great in the same vein, like High on Fire's masterful new Snakes for the Divine, it suffers. That album is the sound of a band at the peak of its powers, dropping bombs for the fuck of it. But Prior to the Fire just sounds like a competent, professional band running through the motions. The album has no grand arc; it's just a collection of pretty okay jams for people who already own everything Pentagram ever recorded. It's fine, but it's nothing more than fine.
— Tom Breihan, April 14, 2010
Posted by Dan Goldin at 8:02 PM