Release Date: February 28, 2012
In 2010, Olympia, Washington’s Christian Mistress became one of the year’s quiet metal gems. The band’s classic New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) sound enamored the quintet to fans and critics alike. Still they flew largely under the radar except for those fortunate enough to know someone, who knew someone, who couldn’t shut up about how great their debut, Agony & Opium (20 Buck Spin) was and is. Relapse Records caught wind of the band’s unique retro-NWOBHM sound and inked the them to a deal. This week the fruit of that union offered up Christian Mistress‘s second album, Possessed.
The band’s debut Agony & Opium made it to number 26 on Metalholic’s list of Top 50 Metal Albums of 2010, in which we said:
Talk about a throwback to the NWOBHM. These guys sound like they fell right out of a garage in the 80s. Their debut EP sounds like a demo recorded on an old Tascam 40 back in the day. It’s old school rocking that is perhaps all the more lovable for its flawed production. These guys offer hope for a return to those classic glory days.
Those expecting the band to return with a more refined, cleaner production will discover that Possession retains the raw, garage band, basement demo-tape vibe that made Agony & Opium so wonderful. The band’s magic lay in that feeling we first felt when bands like Saxon, Motörhead, Angel Witch and Iron Maiden first emerged in the late 70s early 80s. If the band were to use all the modern production available to them now what makes them so special would diminish by half.
Christian Mistress wield a dual guitar attack led by Ryan McClain and Oscar Sparbel. A duo which recalls Dave Murray and Adrian Smith from the early Maiden days. The band’s tight rhythm section comes courtesy of bassist Johnny Wulf and drummer Reuben Storey. Rounding out the band, the lead viper and throatist, Christine Davis, whose voice is powerful, dusky and ballsy. In fact, one might liken her to the female equivalent of Maiden’s original vocalist Paul Di’Anno, with her somewhat punk-tinged smokey vibrato. Davis brings a unique style and face to a metal genre full of female fronted bands. In fact, the description of Christian Mistress as a female fronted band would likely annoy Davis. She and her cohorts in metal are perhaps the most unassuming bunch on the scene. Good luck finding photos or social media. It’s simply not there. For these guys it really is all about the music, and everything else is distraction. Go check out their website, christianmistress.com; no bio, no band members listed… Just a bunch of metal crazed pizza slingers who play their hearts and guts out for the love of the music.
So it is with this continued air of mystery that we experience Possession, a nine-track affair which kicks off with the rolling riffage of “Over & Over”. At once we are sucked into the present through the past. The sound full of that analog richness that makes rock so fucking meaty. While the band had something of an actual recording budget this time around, they kept the production sparse and organic.
On “Pentagram and Crucifix” the band hits a chug and burn rhythm. Wulf’s bass will shake your organs. Davis attacks in short bursts, while Storey keeps us propelling ever forward. Part of the band’s genius lies in its talent for understated performances. This song is not one of those. Each member of the band is simply explosive on this track. The guitar work is like a spiraling aphrodisiac calling to your fingers to shred along.
“Conviction” rolls out with a classic Motörhead groove to it. Storey’s drums tell the tale here, motoring the song along with dexterity and diversity.
With “The Way Beyond” Davis shows off her other talent for creating striking lyrics to belt with her muscular voice. The song goes from a bluesy acoustic intro into a striking memory of old Thin Lizzy. McClain and Sparbel channel their inner Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson. More ambitious fretwork on the solo breakdown.
The title track is decidedly ominous and dreary with Davis howling out, cooing to the caliginous ether. The brooding elements ooze here.
The Maiden-era twin guitar vibe drives us into the anthemic “Black To Gold” which turns into a Saxon-esque rocker. Bassist Johnny Wulf is propulsive and rumbling here.
On “There Is Nowhere”, Davis gets more lulling and sultry than usual. “Eternity is a long time, would you wanna know yourself that well?” she asks. Deep thoughts cooed from an alluring siren.
The album’s final track “All Abandon” is oddly enough the template for all that came before it. The blueprint for Possession, according to Davis. Another acoustic intro leading us down a mirthless path to the unknown. Mesmerized by now we follow into the heart of damned. Davis beckons us to follow and we throw any remaining caution to the window, surrendering ourselves over to Christian Mistress.
Well there are any number of bands out there who similar in talent, perhaps even greater in virtuosity than Sparbel, McClain, Wulf and Storey, what sets them apart and above the others is Davis. She gives the band’s dynamic abilities a voice and a presence divinely unique. Add to that lyrics which expand beyond the pedestrian rock and roll metaphors of even many of the bands they emulate and pay homage too, and in Christian Mistress you have a formidable new voice recapturing a lost genre.
Less than 40 minutes doesn’t seem like nearly enough to satiate the appetite, yet this is what we are given. In an era of excess, Christian Mistress have here to gone back to the genre’s early days of giving us just enough. Less is more they say, and Possession leaves us yearning. Possession combines intensity and energy with an intangible enchantment. You may not be sure why you like it so much, you simply do. Go with it.
You can check out, listen to and buy the whole album out HERE