Let’s face it, Canada is one wonderful country. Nationalized health care, prevailing tolerance, political candor, and decriminalized marijuana statutes all serve to make Americans green with envy. Not exactly the stuff to incite a violent coup d’etat. Call me simplistic, but I believe the old blues adage that more impactful music will emanate from pain and strife than from a life on easy street. What does this mean for a hard rock band such as Priestess? To borrow from the provincial language of these Montrealians, Hello Master lacks a certain je ne sais qua. That isn’t to say the members of Priestess aren’t well-styled, competent musicians with above-average riffs and a knack for stumbling upon the occasional moment of melodic sublimity. They merely lack complexity. To their credit, they are masters of unadulterated Anglo-rock.
Not surprisingly, most of the album is comprised of the perfunctory compositions that constitute the band’s somewhat tiresome live set. “Lay Down,” “The Shakes” and “No Real Pain” are all toe-tappingly fun but fail to ascend to the ranks of their more complex arrangements. A much more fascinating cut, such as “Run Home,” has the structure of a Michael Schenker-era UFO rocker, complete with harmonized guitar solos and cow bell. Throughout the album Priestess displays a real affinity for percussion — shakers, tambourine, and the oft-neglected cowbell pad much of it. Halfway through Hello Master, “Time Will Cut You Down” serves as a nice reprieve from the incessant open-A Angus Young riffing. Evoking an almost Beatle-esque quality, this song’s meandering verses and soaring choruses make for the perfect stadium-rock anthem despite its slow tempo. “Talk to Her” also exhibits Priestess’s pop sensibility, with its galloping verses and arpeggiated choruses a la Cheap Trick.
Lead track “I Am the Night, Colour Me Black” (notice the European spelling) makes for a bombastic introduction to the band. For better or worse, the last track, “Blood,” sounds like nothing on the rest of the album. A tribute to Songs for the Deaf-era Queens of the Stone Age, this song lifts Josh Homme’s long-winded, monotone delivery as well as his band’s unrelenting rhythms and layered choruses. Despite its aural intricacy, it sounds like an afterthought.
I’ve witnessed these Canucks live several times, and I can say that all of their songs have benefited greatly from their deft-handed producer, Gus Van Go. But the increased clarity has also amplified their inherent weakness: they just aren’t that interesting. Perhaps what Canada needs is a little turmoil if they want to turn out dangerous, exciting rock bands. For their own good, I say they leave that to us.