Priestess- Prior To The Fire

(Tee Pee, 2010)

by Paul Stephenson

Very rarely has an album been so hard for me to review. I’ve had it a few weeks now, and have listened to it copious amounts, and in truth I’m no closer to reaching a definitive conclusion about it than I was when I first heard it. So hopefully the act of reviewing this will allow me to finally put my opinion to bed, so to speak. Because to be honest, I’d far rather be listening to the new Dillinger album.

With this their second album, Canadians Priestess have definitely moved on to a new sound. Their first album, ‘Hello Master’ was a sparkling stoner-pop affair, full of big riffs and bigger choruses. It was joyous and fun, and to my mind, bloody brilliant. The perfect summer album, heavy enough to give that tingle we all look for, but accessible enough that if you put it on at a barbecue full of people who think Muse are heavy they wouldn’t bat an eyelid.

Right from the start with ‘Prior’ though, there is a huge difference, with opener ‘Lady Killer’ coming across as some bizarre Judas Priest/new-era Metallica crossover. It’s a huge mess of a song, with pointless galloping riffs that sound utterly out of date struggling to fit in with the Priestess sound. And yet for all that, it’s not a bad song, its underlying shitness somehow circumvented by the charm that the band have always had in abundance.

And this is a familiar theme throughout. As with the first album, there are times when their songwriting is absolutely spot on, with great big choruses that you’ll be hard pressed to shake from your head for days afterwards coming up against a wooden production sound and pointless NWOBHM riffing that is boring and pedestrian. But then there are other moments, such as ‘The Gem’ where the band go in a more Baroneess/Torche influenced direction, and start to do some genuinely interesting things. Along with ‘Communicating Via-Eyes’, a folky stoned ditty that sits next to it, it’s the bravest and best thing about this album.

The history of this album is a little bit long and tortured, with their original major label deal falling through on the basis that the label didn’t think the album was commercial enough, and the band refusing to tone down the heavier new direction and taking their wares to an independent label where they could be free to do what they pleased. It’s a nice story, but one suspects the truth is that the label just didn’t think that this album was good enough and dropped them.

It’s not a bad album, and at times it’s every bit as good as ‘Hello Master’ especially during what is a very strong middle section, but there are too many times when Priestess fail to sound like a band confident in their abilities, resorting to galloping riffs that only Iron Maiden have been able to pull off for over a decade, and so it’s not as good as their first effort.

But for all that, I’m still listening, two weeks later, and not just because I have to write a review, but because there is something about this album that has an inherent charm about it, and because no matter what, you’re never that far away from one of the great vocal hooks that Priestess have shown they are so capable of.

So, a misstep, certainly, but perhaps not a fatal one. If you liked the first album it’s certainly worth checking out just as a curiosity, but newcomers should maybe start at the beginning. It is a disappointment overall, but like a drunken history teacher who comes to a subject that rouses old passions, there are moments of lucidity where Priestess show just enough to keep you hooked in.

Now can I go listen to the new Dillinger please?

6/10

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