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We Disappear: Ten years of Priestess' "Prior to the Fire"

Glancing back at the legacy of the Montreal masters of the riff.

More than a decade ago, stoner rock and metal had reached an all time high. There were groups galore with an assortment of sounds that set them apart from the others. More pedals, electronic elements, and the resurgence of classical instruments broke up the monotony and divided the concepts of stoner, doom, psych, retro, and epic metal into various sub-genres that were themed even more than they already were. A great saturation took place, and though the gimmicks got greater, and the gateway was wide open, jaded metalheads who could no longer stomach the endless array of droning rock groups turned to bands who could do the most with the least amount of frill. This subsistence, bare-bones style of rock was executed by groups such as WOLFMOTHER, WITCHCRAFT, and THE SWORD, all of which featured a strong presence alluding to the forefathers of modern rock 'n' roll, folk music, and heavy metal.

The group we're here to celebrate today is a pillar of that community; a Montreal-born project that was fortunate enough to experience a meteoric rise in fame until their untimely fade into obscurity in recent years. That group is the ever humble PRIESTESS, and ten years ago, they released a widely overlooked little diamond in the rough, dubbed Prior to the Fire.

It would be a blatant understatement to call this album a pile of different sounds. This album is a confounding example of what happens when each track is deliberately arranged for the highest level of absurdity. The sheer calculated will it takes to transition from a song about a murderer, to a psychedelic dream, to Dragonball, to werewolves, to Robocop, and even to Pandora's box, is ridiculous. Not only did PRIESTESS manage to combine some of the most fringe forms of cult-classic entertainment the industry has seen, they did it with a level of decorum that hasn't been seen in years.

Sure, there are plenty of groups who have delved into the world of video-games with imagery and lyrics inspired by the Dark Souls series, but it takes true dedication to craft an entire album that is built upon a proverbial shrine to your fandom and make it sound good. The fourth track, Murphy's Law, actually makes use of direct quotes from the film to fill it's second verse. It's a fun track that much like the rest of the album, features bouncy licks that create a fun and easy to access soundtrack for those who are looking for something heavy, without any of the emotional baggage that comes with getting a riff-filled playlist.

The Gem, the middle of the journey and fifth track on this record, is an eight-minute hell-steed that I can say with confidence puts almost every other track from the year to shame. Creeping in with the intensity of coagulation, this song takes an ominous approach to its first verse and refrain. Cyclical, apocalyptic, and eerily exciting, the song erupts with all of its intensity at once, taking in stride a smooth falsetto vocal that spells the doom of every person in our plane of existence. This tale of Pandora's box may well be the finest of our time. The line echoes towards the end, crying, "YOU LEFT A CRACK IN THE DOORWAY!" the strength of a strained and projected voice taking dominance over the instrumentals only briefly before being left behind by the next chaotic measure. It's ending is tapered off, having been sucked into the void, the only trail of light left from its initial melody, bleeding away into a rhythmic march that signals the end to its glorious and catastrophic suite. There will never be a song like it again.

The quirks with this album are it's greatest strengths. There are points where the comical nature of the subject matter make light of a musical score that only conveys a tone of epic battle. Tracks like Raccoon Eyes take an almost surf-rock approach to its direction, only to reveal a psychedelic dreamscape that is painted by the terraforming and erosion of a massive mountainous terrain. The slow pluck of It Baffles The Mind throws back to a simpler time, watching the ludicrous, and oftentimes nonsensical combat of the legendary Akira Toriyama series. Far reaching highs, the sudden decrescendo as each flurry of fists is played to the tune of splash over crash. In retrospect, it's not too far off from the pacing of the show itself, and I appreciate that much more years later.

Alas, this album was the last offering from PRIESTESS. Though they toured well into 2013, the members splintered off into their own respective projects shortly after the completion of Prior to the Fire. It isn't surprising. After a litany of troubles having the album released through RCA Records after it was dubbed ‘not commercial enough’, it was taken by Tee Pee Records and distributed internationally. Since then, we've seen a couple projects take off, including WETMETAL, UNCLE BAD TOUCH, and BEAT COPS. However, most of the work has been quiet, and all of the PRIESTESS social media account updates have gone quiet for several years.

I'm not going to wax poetic about why it's worth your time to revisit their catalogue. I won't tell you why it's worth appreciating a group who shredded harder than most of the groups you see today. I can't tell you why I miss this group specifically as much as I do. I can tell you that the world is going on ten years without a single new note from Mikey Heppner, Mike Dyball, Vince Nudo, and Dan Watchorn as a metal quartet, and there's something both tragic, and heartbreaking about it.

To the boys from PRIESTESS: If you're out there reading this, come back. The world needs to hear you now more than ever. You dealt with hell making Prior to the Fire and the work spoke for itself. A decade later, it's an album that the world can appreciate as a perfect example of riff-rock done right. It's nerd culture and fun music coalesced into a beautiful package of midnight green and orange. I know I speak for tens of thousands of fans who would show up tomorrow to see a return to the stage. We want you back.

But if you don't intend to return, that's fine too. We just want closure.

Pick up the pieces and end what you've started.

Happy tenth anniversary.

Cover art by The Black Axe


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