(grover XIII reviews the new album from Olympia, Washington’s Christian Mistress, which will be released by Relapse Records on February 28.)
“Everything old is new again.” Although the source of that quote is not at all metal (it comes from All That Jazz, which I admittedly did not know prior to a Google search), it certainly is applicable to the current metal scene. Within the last several years, revival of metal’s roots has been sweeping across the musical landscape, from thrash to death metal to doom to NWOBHM, with varying levels of success depending on the band. Christian Mistress fall into that last category, and the Olympia-based 5-piece have been making waves with their decidedly retro sound.
It really started with a shout-out by Darkthrone’s Fenriz, who said of the band, “They play heavy metal the old way, the exact way we enjoy it ourselves.” From there, the band’s initial full-length Agony & Opium (if you can call it that, given that it was six tracks and 27 minutes long) took off, earning a lot of well-deserved notice with its classic metal riffing and the soulful (clean, in total violation of this website’s name) vocals of frontwoman Christine Davis.
It is primarily on the strength of Agony & Opium (and to a lesser extent, a demo and a single from 2009) that Christian Mistress’ second full-length, Possession, has been garnering an impressive amount of hype for a relatively unknown band. Happily, I am here to say that Possession lives up to that hype.
The biggest change here is in the production, which is just a tad clearer and more expansive than on the band’s previous releases, but still retains the fuzzy, dirty feel that helps to cement Christian Mistress’ sound. The drums are a bit better defined, but there’s still a nice mix of guitars, bass, drums, and vocals, with no one instrument drowning out any of the others. The guitars of Ryan McClain and Oscar Sparbel lock in step on the riffs and duel on the solos over the solid rhythm section of bassist Johnny Wulf and drummer Reuben Storey, but Davis’ vocals are what truly set the band apart.
Davis may not have the most nuanced, versatile voice in the world. She probably wouldn’t make it past the preliminary tryouts for American Idol, much less go anywhere on the show. However, she packs a punch, and as it turns out, her voice is a perfect fit for Christian Mistress’ music. She’s got a bit of a roughness to her voice, putting her somewhere between Jex Thoth, and that chick that sang ‘Black Velvet’ while sounding like neither. It’s not really something that you can easily quantify, but it’s safe to say that Christian Mistress would not sound the same with a different singer.
Musically speaking, Possession doesn’t deviate much from the blueprint. There’s a bit more of a focus on guitar solos this time around, and they do change things up a bit, like with the doomy intro to the title track, or the use of acoustic guitar at the beginning of ‘The Way Beyond’, but Christian Mistress never stray too far from the path set forth by those bands that came before, and it’s to their credit that they have no trouble keeping things interesting anyway, as McClain and Sparbel draw upon a seemingly bottomless well of immediately memorable riffs. Possession is a solid and engaging listen from start to finish, a throwback to a simpler era in metal’s history, and one of the best albums of the year thus far. To miss it would be to do yourself a great disservice.
Here are two tracks from the album; the first is available for free download.