Prior To The Fire

Written by: AP on 03/08/2010 13:02:36

Let's be honest - when your moniker alone rips off Baroness, on paper it seems inevitable that your music will do so as well. And quite right, Priestess take no shame in crafting music that falls into the same, sludge-slash-stoner metal niche as that of the aforementioned band's. For better, or for worse, is for me to decide in the lines that follow. But first it should be clarified, for the sake of integrity, that Priestess and Baroness both formed in 2003, in Quebec and Georgia respectively, and that discounting demos and EPs, Priestess actually debuted two years before Baroness did, with an album "Hello Master", that earned the band a major-label recording contract with RCA. Priestess have since left the label amid some kind of stylistic dispute about not writing hit singles, and joined forces with TeePee Records to release their sophomore effort, "Prior to the Fire".

On the surface it would indeed appear that Priestess make use of the same tools and techniques as their American counterparts, with overdriven, Maiden-esque lead guitar noodling around a sludgy mix of melodic drumming and resonant riffs. But as soon as Mikey Heppner starts singing, a vast divide tears itself open in between the two bands and Priestess takes position closer to Iron Maiden and further away from Mastodon. You see, instead of writing complex progressive songs which maintain a constant heaviness, Priestess are perfectly capable of writing those hit singles their former label accused them of not writing. "Lady Killer" and especially "Raccoon Eyes" present the listener with unforgettable hooks complete with pop choruses, while "The Firebird" introduces a more straightforward, rock n' roll aspect in the band's music - and already it has become abundantly clear that while Priestess and Baroness (and indeed Mastodon, High On Fire, and other such groups) have much in common, Priestess have their own ways and means to success.

That is not to say that Priestess are incapable of writing challenging, progressive pieces, for such tendencies are offered in both "The Gem" and "It Baffles the Mind", but the songs always remain considerably more mainstream than those of their colleagues. Selling out it is not, but feats like this often cause distrust in the metal circles; distrust which I hope to dismantle with this review. Those who have heard the band's debut album will be delighted to know that the band has scaled back on the cleanliness of their sound, taken on a darker and damper atmosphere, and inserted an alarming amount of depth into the songs whilst still maintaining their penchant for catchy songwriting. As such, "Prior to the Fire" stands in stark contrast to the band's previous work, which employed a more minimalistic stoner rock aesthetic.

Other critics have referred to Priestess as a bridge between High On Fire and Fu Manchu, an accurate metaphor for music that is cerebral enough to keep the synapses firing, and primal enough to stimulate the inner-mosher. "Prior to the Fire" takes the instant memorabilia of Iron Maiden and puts it inside smoky riffs and clever lyrics (the nerds among you will find lots to rave about in "Murphy's Law", an ode to Robocop that integrates quotes and plot points from the movie into its lyrics) to create a different kind of stoner album. It isn't top of the pile stuff, but a highly recommended purchase nonetheless.

Download: Lady Killer, Raccoon Eyes, The Gem, It Baffles The Mind
For the fans of: Baroness, High On Fire, Iron Maiden, Mastodon
Listen: Myspace

Release date 01.02.2010
TeePee Records

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