By Sean Palmerston
There is a lot to be said for bands that stick to their guns, that won’t let their own original vision of what their music should be like get swayed by major label backing, money or the doubled pressure of both trying to make them into something they are not. This is why I like Montreal’s Priestess so much and think they did the right thing when recording their solid new album.
The Montreal band burst onto the scene with their debut in 2005, had a substantial rock radio hit in Canada and ended up signing to RCA Records in the USA. They did loads of touring, way more than I am sure they even expected to have right out of the gate, and didn’t get around to recording a new album until 2008. According to a recent interview with chartattack.com, they gave RCA demos, the label didn’t like them and kept asking them repeatedly to write more songs ’cause they didn’t hear “hits.” That bullshit went on for way too long, so long that the band pretty much said fuck it and just went in and recorded the album anyway. When RCA didn’t want it, they agreed to split ways and have released it here in Canada on Montreal’s Indica while Tee Pee will release it in the US. It’s RCA’s loss and our gain and I salute Priestess for staying behind what they believe, because they’ve made a hell of a sophomore album.
Too be perfectly honest, I never got too much out of Priestess’ 2005 debut. It was adequate, but a little too safe sounding for my liking. It felt like a band looking for commercial radio airplay. However, upon the insistence of at least five different people I was coerced into seeing the band live and they blew my mind. Their live set had an immediacy and power that was almost completely missing on their debut album, but I am glad to say it has been captured wonderfully on Prior To The Fire. Produced by Dave Shiffman, who has also worked with the Mars Volta, the album has a really good live sound to it: full loud drums, warm guitar tones that sound absolutely great when the twin guitars interlock lines and, quite possibly most importantly, the vocals aren’t too way up front in the mix.
Of course, none of that would matter if the band didn’t have good songs. They do. I have no idea what RCA A&R rep didn’t like these songs, but it’s too bad they had their head so far up their ass that they missed this record. Prior To The Fire sounds much more like Priestess does in a live setting, with songs like the sprawling “The Gem” showing them unafraid to stretch past the seven-minute mark while still retaining a strong pop hook in its chorus. Stylistically, Priestess is not a band you would ever call a metal band. They make an intelligent take at stoner rock that has both progressive rock and pop sensibilities in it. You can tell these guys love their Rush and Gentle Giant records but also are well versed in some of their hometown’s hard rock and metal heroes. I’m thinking specifically of Tricky Woo’s Sometimes I Cry, although this album is more widespread and not as frantic as that one. Over all, Priestess have made an excellent second album, one that has surprised me with just how solid it is from beginning to end. It may not be commercial radio friendly, but it is an album that you can throw on and enjoy from start to finish.