[10 July 2006]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
We all know about how Canadian indie rock is so wonderful, and we’ve enjoyed the works of the seemingly endless number of bands…sorry, collectives that keep sprouting up north of the border. We’ve all heard about how cool Montreal was in 2004, and how the mainstream media leaped on the hipster bandwagon in 2005, and how native sons The Stills showed us in 2006 that it’s never a good idea to believe your own hype. And anyone who has heard modern rock radio knows full well that when it comes to pure, manly, balls-out rock ‘n’ roll, Canadian rawk tends to exude as much masculinity as a castrato. Nah, instead of pure rock fury, it all tends to involve twits named Chad and Raine spewing lowest-common-denominator pandering post-grunge. Where’s the ferocity? Where’s the muscle? As Monty Python once stated, Whither Canada?
The last Canadian band to come along and truly knock Canadian indie rock fans on their collective arses with some good, old-fashioned riff rock was Montreal’s Tricky Woo, whose 1999 album Sometimes I Cry came out just a year or two shy of garage rock’s brief breakthrough, and seven years later, a band from the same city is ready for a stab at Stateside success. These days, garage is out, and late ‘70s/early ‘80s arena rock and heavy metal is in, and from the look and the sound of it, Priestess have all the right ingredients: A really cool name that grabs the attention of young doom metal tourists and old classic rockers simultaneously? Check. An enticing hybrid of everything from Thin Lizzy to Kyuss? Check. A drummer who leans on the ride cymbal like Brant Bjork? Ridiculously awesome cover art by the great Frank Frazetta that just begs to be airbrushed on the side of a customized Econoline? Check. Vocal hooks that match the riffage step for step? For the most part, yeah.
Ten months after Hello Master was released in Canada to zero fanfare, a US distribution deal with RCA, an obvious attempt to cash in on the recent wave of Early Man/Wolfmother/The Sword retro metal, could be just the push Priestess needs. The first moments of opening track “I am the Night, Colour Me Black” (kudos to the boys for the Canadian spelling) serves as the band’s mission statement, as drummer Vince Nudo pounds the living daylights out of his kit, a massive pattern mirrored by the single chord riff by the rest of the band. Talk about announcing one’s presence with authority; it carries on for 30 seconds, long enough to make us wonder if that’s all these guys know how to do, but the quartet abruptly shift into a raucous thrasher, sounding like Motorhead laced with trashy barroom boogie. “Run Home” is the kind of retro-rock nugget that can give a band some brief, Jet-like notoriety, a snappy Ode to the Workingman that has a fantastic groove, a rhythm guitar riff that reeks of AC/DC’s Brothers Young, capable singing by plain-jane vocalist Mikey Heppner, and if that weren’t enough, some good old, utilitarian cowbell.
“Two Kids” is ridiculously straightforward in its stoner influences, but that chugging riff and those contagious vocals rope us in (in direct contrast to the rather grim lyrics), while “Lay Down” carries itself with a Sabbatherian swagger, underscored by Hammond organ that gives it that irresistible Uriah Heep touch. “Everything That You Are” is a capable Fu Manchu knock-off that has a nifty moment after the first chorus, as the band stays locked in the same one-chord groove for 12 bars longer than it should, as if the guys are having such a blast, they lose themselves momentarily in that one riff before getting back to the business at hand. “Performance” is one of the album’s finest moments, as the verses bear a strange resemblance to another Montrealer in early ‘80s rocker Aldo Nova, while the chorus is a fabulously melodic shout-along in the same vein as the great Floridian band Torche.
Priestess do try to add a little variety to Hello Master, such as the tribal, Adam and the Ants style drum beats in “Talk to Her”, the catchy, blues-drenched ballad “Everything That You Are”, and the Queens of the Stone Age rip-off “Blood” (which is far too obvious for its own good, but so darn catchy), but the majority of the thrills can be found on the more straightforward fare, as the band works within the confines of such a stylistically limiting sound with impressive ease. A promising first album, welcome proof that such a clean, polite country isn’t afraid to get down and dirty after all.