During a brief moment when a synapse misfired and led to one of those regularly occurring ADHD moments, the first time I read the title to the new PRIESTESS album it came across in my bleary mind's eye as "Pryor to the Fire: The Richard Pryor Story", but that is obviously neither here nor there. Rather, the matter at hand is assessing the worth of "Prior to the Fire", the sophomore effort from the Montreal act. The follow up to what has been revered far and wide in the Canadian provinces, "Hello Master", is a barn burner whose arrangements move beyond guitar heroics and thunder rhythms (both of which are present in spades) into the world of hook-based songwriting.Expectedly, folks will reference the usual suspect-circle of hipster (god I hate that term) and/or beard metal acts, such as THE SWORD and SAVIOURS, and would not be way off base, particularly considering the amount of six-string firepower involved. But just as accurately, and probably more so when considering melody's command presence in the structures, something along the lines of NWOBHM meets HIGH ON FIRE would work fittingly well. A band like new-school old-schoolers WHITE WIZZARD would have been tinkled purple to have a song like "Lady Killer" on its new album. The cut represents PRIESTESS at its catchiest and most NWOBHM-pronounced. It would have been a classic back in the day and it is a classic now; a real stick of songwriting dynamite. Similar compliments should be showered upon the band for penning the addictive melodies of "Raccoon Eyes", "The Firebird", and "Murphy's Law", the latter track featuring confirmedly heartfelt singing from guitar Mikey Heppner who manages to sound mellifluous and gritty at once. While melody is never an afterthought, for one reason or another, the biggest hooks make up the album's first half, the latter half reserved, officially or not, for the more jam-based, prog-flecked, and semi-traditionally stoner-rocked oriented. Though much of that has to do with the midway inclusion of "The Gem", an eight-minute, multi-sectioned opus with a 70s progressive rock bent during which light and heavy are contrasted. Many of the tracks comprising the album's second half come with pummeling hard rock propulsion, including the three-minute "Lunar" on which Heppner shifts down a register (and effectively so) and "It Baffles the Mind", which features the album's most effective break for godlike axe wielding and rhythmic oomph. On the subject of oomph, the shift from acoustic strumming and soft vocals to gnarly riffs and John Bonham earth-shaking on "Communicating Via-Eye" is nothing short of lordly. So pay attention to PRIESTESS and "Prior to the Fire". The seers predict big things for the Montreal marauders.
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