Friday, March 5, 2010

Priority: Re-Focus!

PRIESTESS – “Prior To The Fire” CD ’09 (Indica, Can) – PRIESTESS kinda came flying in from the north and grabbed me by the balls in late ’05. Their “Hello Master” secured my Top Album spot at the 11th hour and in truth, it looked like there’d be no stopping ‘em from being perennial favourites. To say I was looking forward to Album #2 with baited breath was like saying our neighbors above the border are ok with Molson.

Change scenes quickly to my stepson’s community college. I drop him off there every day and the things that drive me crazy are the…um…traffic calming devices. That is, speed bumps. See, I understand why they have ‘em. Out of a couple gazillion people, a handful think they’re starring in “Death Race 2000” and so…speed bumps. And, my friends, that brings me back to PRIESTESS and their new CD. The point is, while I don’t think “Prior To The Fire” is an unmitigated disaster, it sort of reminds me of driving through that college campus. Every time PRIESTESS gets going, something comes along to slow the progress or send ‘em off course. With “Hello Master,” the band played to their effortless strength in concocting metal songs that were viscerally intense and yet disarmingly simple. It’s a combination that’s fueled some of the very best records since time immemorial – or at least since 1971 – and these guys’ unique blend of stoner/thrash put them in that elite. For some reason, though, with “Prior…,” the band are insistent on showing that they are somehow “progressive.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against some rippin’ prog. After all, I’m buddies with Rick & Roll and I haven’t found “Hemispheres” on a format I’m not in love with, even 8-track. Yet perhaps something PRIESTESS should understand is that just because you’re Canadian it doesn’t mean you’re Rush. So, instead of the hot, punchy classics like “Two Kids” and “Talk To Her” that Mikey Heppner and crew delivered the last time, we now have to sift our way thru overly ornate and frankly confusing fare such as “Communication Via-Eyes,” “It Baffles The Mind” (yes, it does) and the frankly bloated “The Gem” (7:59). An especially irritating thing about this album is the way some of the segues & rhythm changes seem lashed together clumsily with no flow whatsoever. Tony Iommi, for example, was a genius at stopping on a dime, heading off in another direction and still having it groove like mad. Go back to the fast part of “Snowblind” sometime to see what I mean. PRIESTESS try this several times and leave the listener confused by a case of audio whiplash.

That’s not to say that the album is a total failure. It fires up early on with a nice tandem of “Lady Killer” and “Racoon Eyes,” mirroring “Hello Master”s unwavering power. Only too soon, however, the whole thing opens up into a convoluted maze that, at times, disappears up it’s own ass, for lack of a more polite description. It’s puzzling to me why PRIESTESS has taken the route they have with this long-awaited sophomore album. I still believe they could right the ship if they just re-focus on writing good, memorable songs the next time out. If they don’t, however, the 3rd record might just as well be entitled “After The Crash & Burn.” Call For The Priest…Maybe

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