December 4, 2019

Priestess - Prior to the Fire

By Calen Henry. In 2007 Priestess' straightforward hook-filled hard rock caught the attention of Neversoft, developers of the Guitar Hero series. The Montreal band became a flash in the pan when “Lay Down”, from their debut album Hello Master was featured in Guitar Hero 3
By Calen Henry.


In 2007 Priestess' straightforward hook-filled hard rock caught the attention of Neversoft, developers of the Guitar Hero series. The Montreal band became a flash in the pan when “Lay Down”, from their debut album Hello Master was featured in Guitar Hero 3. But by that point the franchise was just past its peak so Priestess didn’t get the exposure a band like The Sword did with Guitar Hero II, the series’ apex.

Priestess' much overlooked 2009 follow up, Prior to the Fire, saw the band mixing their hooky, driving hard rock with progressive rock and filling the album with fantasy and sci-fi themes. The final product was such a departure from the radio-ready Hello Master that the band ended up parting ways with their US label, delaying the album's American release until they signed with Tee Pee Records.

The differences from its predecessor, though, are why it’s such an excellent record and why, even ten years later, nothing quite sounds like it. Mastodon’s Crack the Skye is often cited as the pinnacle of rock, metal, and prog’s modern coalescence, and rightly so. It’s my favourite album, but Priestess were right there too adding a heavy dose of prog to hard rock without losing any of the energy. They expertly combined hard driving rhythms with serpentine riffs, time signature changes, and unpredictable song structures, all with vintage sounding production for something unequaled ten years later.

Axemen Mikey Heppner and Dan Watchorn really set the sound for the album with custom stacks made by boutique Montreal outfit Richtone. The warm tube driven crunch was ever present, never spilled over into full-blown distortion and was a great fit for the natural drum sound. Mikey’s vocals were a touch gravelly as well, giving the whole album a tour-tested grit that feels classic even though the songs are about everything from Jack the Ripper and werewolves to Robocop, Lone Wolf and Cub, and Dragonball Z. It’s nerd rock with swagger.

You can even still grab the translucent green/orange double LP and a t-shirt from Bandcamp, which is a bit sad since that seems to mean physical sales were low enough they're still selling the first run of LPs ten years later. As for the present, the band has been on hiatus since 2012 and, though I long for more from them, it seems unlikely. For the rest of you, who may have missed out on one of my favourite albums of all time, it’s right there on Bandcamp. 

December 2, 2019

Vofa - Vofa

By Master of Muppets. So much doom, so little time; such is the perpetual plight of those of us seeking fulfillment among metal's lower octane offerings. Given the myriad subgenres ascribing to some doomy teaching or other, not to mention the signature slow-burn inherent to all things doom
By Master of Muppets.

Artwork by Nona Limmen.

So much doom, so little time; such is the perpetual plight of those of us seeking fulfillment among metal's lower octane offerings. Given the myriad subgenres ascribing to some doomy teaching or other, not to mention the signature slow-burn inherent to all things doom, it's practically impossible to find any one act capable of meeting all of your plodding needs with but a single album… or is it? Meet Vofa, an alarmingly adept assembly of anonymous artists from Iceland who just might have crafted the doom album to end all doom albums with their incredible self-titled debut.

Vofa brings a lot to the table, immediately catching listeners by the ear with some truly impressive harsh vocals. Subterranean growls à la Slow haunt the air, with masterful reverb application augmenting the sound into something gargantuan and terrifying; the roars on Vofa recall a freezing wind howling through the Ninth Circle of Hell, narrating the albums story with a voice that is otherworldly and captivating.

Decidedly less straightforward - but no less enchanting or otherwise expertly executed - are the instrumental aspects of Vofa. Things begin with an eerie bit of atmospheric doom ambience, and from there things slither through the realms of crushing death-doom, riffy stoner doom and lurching funeral doom - and that's just the first track! Over the course of 3 tracks and 37 minutes, Vofa manage to drag the listener across the entire spectrum of doom, somehow blending all these different shades of grey into something vibrant and utterly spellbinding.

Make no mistake, none of the ambitious amalgamation found on Vofa comes at the cost of compositional cohesion. When "II" meanders from stoner riffage into cloying funeral doom atmospherics, the transformation is made to feel completely natural and organic, thanks mostly to the expert timing sensibilities of Vofa's drummer. If the walls of sound painted by the guitars and monstrous vocals constitute the scenery of Vofa, the percussion is the path that guides listeners to these varied destinations, and frankly there could be no better trail guide than Vofa's nameless skinsman.

Vofa have surprised and impressed the Hell out of me with this debut; you'd be hard pressed to find a more diverse doom offering from anyone, and there isn't a single second of this album that doesn't keep me completely mesmerized. Vofa is a pilgrimage to all corners of the doomiverse, a portent of promise and a challenge to their peers. This is a band that doesn't just threaten greatness, they have already brought it and now stand poised not to level the playing field but to obliterate it entirely. As of right now, there is no other doom act that I hold more hope for than Vofa, and I eagerly await whatever multifaceted horrors are yet to come.