I first became aware of Priestess on a scorching hot July night in 2005, when they were opening for Rob Zombie before "Lay Down" had ever been released. They were fresh, loud metal with a lot of promising rock influences. Since then, the band has put rubber to road with a steady stream of tours and marketing to try and gain attention. From high end video game exposure to touring with Clutch and GWAR, Priestess is treading the long road to mainstream recognition.
Priestess is a band desperately attempting to make someone notice. Their inclusion and resultant popularity from being in "Guitar Hero" hasn't translated into the kind of success the band deserves. So, as part of the flood of metal spilling over from Montreal, it settles on Priestess to make themselves stand out from the pack.
Presumably as a mixture of maturing as a band and trying to create a whole new sound, Priestess' sophomore effort, "Prior to the Fire," isn't quite like anything else I've heard this year. That's not to say it's as solid and thorough as "Hello, Master," but the new album is stimulatingly original both in ethos and affect.
Where the line is drawn between the two albums is that "Prior to the Fire" is more musically and thematically complex, with material that is weightier than the freshmen effort would take on. I find that saying something is "darker" than its predecessor has become the most overused term in all of media, but I can think of no other more apropos adjective for "Prior to the Fire." Most of the light, airy guitar hooks and catchy radio choruses from "Hello, Master" have been stripped away and replaced with more grit per square inch.
However, Priestess continues their trend of being able to talk about the most dire of circumstances in a way that doesn't seem threatening or menacing. Whether it's violence, death, robbery, or any other manner of strife, Priestess folds it all into the music until the themes are almost unnoticeable.
"Prior to the Fire" borrows from or is similar to an entire school of music, whether it be The Sword with "Lady Killer" or Yamamoto-era Soundgarden with "Sideways Attack." It is a magnificent blend of ideas twisted together with the kind of machinery-precise riffing that characterizes all of Priestess' music.
"Prior to the Fire" is a more demanding and less accessible listen than "Hello, Master," and it's going to be up to the listener to decipher its many phases for themselves. It is an album that ranges in scope from numerable songs about loyalty and honorable combat ("The Firebird," "We Ride Tonight," to songs about Robocop ("Murphy's Law.")
There's only one true dud on "Prior to the Fire," which is "The Gem." It's long, it's winding, it fails to come to any satisfying conclusion.
In the end, the album is a cousin of "Hello, Master" but the two have many differences. Where "Hello, Master" was a power-charged slate of heavy metal anthems, "Prior to the Fire," is a biting, guitar-driven and severe card of hybrid metal doom. The paradox of the album is that it is thematically consistent only in its mercurial nature.
"Prior to the Fire" could be a lauded accomplishment for Priestess, as it demonstrates the band emerging maturity and burgeoning depth. This is another great step for them, and I still feel we haven't seen their apex, yet.
(Big thanks to my Canadian connection, who mailed me this album after its early Great White North release. Thanks!)