Following their 2004 debut, Hello Master, Priestess rode in on the wave of critical acclaim for heavy metal. They opened for heavyweights Dinosaur Jr. and toured the world with contemporaries such as Mastodon and Converge and old-timers such as Motorhead and Megadeath. Around that time, It seemed as if metal was getting the long deserved credit it always warranted.
But the road paved with gold became rocky for Priestess. With their songs featured in video games such as Need For Speed: Carbon and Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, and hit television shows such as Entourage, the band was quickly scooped up by major label RCA. Their debut album was rereleased, this time with much wider distribution. And then the problems started.
When it came time to release Prior to the Fire, RCA balked, unhappy with the results. The label was hoping for something that stood out as a hit, a track that it could plaster in a commercial or a television show. The album was supposed to be released in January 2009, and the month quickly passed, the album still sitting on the shelf. So Priestess decided to move on — or back, you may say. They signed with Tee Pee Records, home to familiar faces such as Earthless and Witch, and the label finally released the long-awaited Fire. So, after all his time, how does it hold up?
Priestess, it has been noted, is a more melodic band than most of those on the metal circuit. They are less technically innovative and don’t have the same smack-in-the-face appeal as Mastodon, an obvious comparison. The riffs are big, yes, but the songs are more formulaic, structurally and sonically. The producer on Fire is David Schiffman, who has worked with System of a Down and Mars Volta, and the influence shows. The sound is less balls-to-the-wall on most of tracks, the mix focusing on making the sound big instead of powerful. Intensity seems to be missing on tracks such as “Murphy’s Law,” “Communicating Via-Eyes,” and “We Ride Tonight,” and although “Sideways Attack” and “Trapped in Space & Time” knocked me down at the starting line with brutal force, they soon petered out.
While the definable hooks are definitely more present than on most metal records, that doesn’t necessarily make a better, or even more accessible album. This kind of rock music, unless you’re going to truly experiment with the form, relies heavily on intensity and innovation. On Prior to the Fire, Priestess’s music sounds like the band is ready to explode. I’ll be very excited when that day actually arrives.