Priestess: Prior to the Fire

On Priestess's second album, it's a case of one step forward and two steps back.


Prior to the Fire

Label: Tee Pee
US Release Date: 2010-02-02
UK Release Date: available as import
Artist Website

In the wake of the US release of the enjoyable Hello Master, Montreal foursome Priestess found themselves riding a nice wave of momentum in 2006, the record justifiably attracting a good deal of attention Stateside; their Canadian fanbase growing by leaps and bounds (typically spurred by the positive reception in America); a series of plum tour spots being offered with such popular bands as Black Label Society, Mastodon, and Megadeth; and even inclusion on the wildly popular Guitar Hero videogame franchise. After all the promise they displayed on their first album and all that positive publicity, Priestess were primed to take that important next step with their much-ballyhooed follow-up, but much to many people's surprise, all that momentum came to an abrupt halt when their label RCA refused to release the album upon hearing the more aggressive and less commercial direction of the new songs. Instead of caving in to a major label's demands, the band parted ways with RCA, ultimately winding up with the excellent indie label Tee Pee. From a publicity standpoint, it came off as a masterstroke, making Priestess look like the picture of integrity in an age where corporate hard rock still dominates the airwaves. However, upon listening to Prior to the Fire, for all its exuberance, one can't help but wonder if RCA's A&R reps had a point when they asked for something a little catchier.

Priestess have always been exceptional when it comes to blue collar heavy rock riffs, and all those metal tours have certainly rubbed off on them, as Prior to the Fire completely does away with all the garage and stoner rock shtick in favor of a more vintage sound, one that hearkens back to the first wave of early-1970s heavy metal. And make no mistake about it, these guys can hammer out as effective a knock-off of Deep Purple's "Fireball" as well as anyone, and there are times when this album absolutely smokes: "Sideways Attack" nails the sound perfectly, Mikey Heppner's howls having us envisioning Ian Gillan on lead vocals, and "Trapped in Space & Time" is built around the kind of nimble rhythm guitar riff that Ritchie Blackmore mastered 35, 40 years ago. Elsewhere, "Ladykiller" feels lifted from Judas Priest's Sin After Sin, the economy of the riffing and drumming working greatly to the band's advantage, while the Sabbath-esque swing of "Lunar" features drummer Vince Nudo in a very impressive vocal turn.

Unfortunately, the problems start once the riffs give way to Heppner's lead vocals. He's never been the most powerful singer, but he held his own very well on Hello Master, the hooks on those songs strong and incessant enough to make up for his lack of range. On the new record, much to our surprise, the majority of the vocal lines sound half-baked at best, and with the odd exception, not for a second memorable. "The Firebird" starts out strongly, but there's never a payoff by the time the chorus comes along. The plodding "Murphy's Law" is positively hookless, and the proggy "Communicating Via-Eyes" is even worse, Heppner failing to sound convincing. Only does the lively "Raccoon Eyes" have a vocal melody that grabs us, but it still feels slightly awkward, failing hold a candle to any of Hello Master's strongest moments.

For all its imperfections, we still manage to get a glimpse of where Priestess can potentially go in the future, namely the eight minute epic "The Gem", an old school metal workout that displays a rather incredible amount of restraint as the band takes a far more deliberate approach than the Mastodons and Baronesses of the world, emphasizing groove over dexterity. It's the strongest moment on a frustratingly inconsistent album, one that we hope will ultimately be regarded as a temporary misstep by an otherwise talented band.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.