It is heartening to see so many bands adopting a style of music that has no better description than heavy metal. Call it traditional, classic, vintage, and high voltage romp 'n stomp, it matters not, as albums like "Agony & Opium" find inspiration from late '70s and early '80s heavy metal. In this case, the 28 minutes of music from Olympia, Washington's CHRISTRIAN MISTRESS cross NWOBHM class with a tough American style of metal imbued with pissed up and steroid-pumped hard rock, the likes of which you might have found on an early "Metal Massacre" compilation.
It is easy to understand why DARKTHRONE's Fenriz has been singing the praises of CHRISTISAN MISTRESS. On "Agony & Opium" the Pacific Northwest unit has tapped into heavy metal's purity through an organic, live sounding production and an approach that captures the magic and electricity of the golden years. Yet in neither case does the LP come off purposefully "retro." As overused and cliché as it may be, "Agony & Opium" does have that "cult" heavy metal feel; so if that works for you, then go forth and purchase.
But if the songwriting didn't cut the mustard, all that talk of cool vibes and what amounts to little more than fixes for the nostalgia junkie wouldn't mean horse dung. In the way of good news, "Agony & Opium" offers some damn good songwriting to go with that good singin' and good playin' that GRAND FUNK RAILROAD was spouting off about, ill-fitting '70s reference notwithstanding. Tunes like "Black Vigil", "Home in the Sun", "Desert Rose", and "Poison Path" sparkle with melodies that well surpass the ordinary and some sweet-ass twin leads to go with seriously hot-rockin' riffs and absolutely blistering guitar solos. And not one of those songs is quite like any of the others, thanks to a diversity of composition that still ensures that common threads are not broken.
Go ahead and thank TYGERS OF PAN TANG and DIAMOND HEAD for all of that now and save the biggest praise for Christine Davis whose passionate vocal approach is just quirky enough to be cool and shares tonal similarities with, believe it or not, DRIVIN' N' CRYIN's Kevin Kinney. When you take that voice and inject it into the dynamic arrangements of heavyweight bookends "Riding on the Edges" and "Omega Stone", the icing completes the cake. The former features dynamite arrangement shifts and godlike soloing, while the latter is a quintessential slow-builder that blasts out of the mystical/clean first half and sets the place ablaze with more incendiary leads and blazing licks.
Maybe not an album of the year contender, but, "Agony & Opium" is one bitchin' debut. Look out for the sophomore release. It could very well end up being held in the highest trad-metal esteem by steel wheelers and retro wannabes alike.