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Priestess: Prior to the Fire, in "Nothing Not New"

Welcome to "Nothing Not New," a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 40-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here.

Artist: Priestess
Title: Prior to the Fire
Release date: February 2, 2010
Label: Tee Pee

Another rainy morning in Phoenix, a good day for old-fashioned heavy metal, courtesy of the Montreal band known as Priestess. It's the first metal record of the new year's "Nothing Not New" project and it's a pleasant surprise. Traditionally, I'm not a big metal fan, especially when it comes to the metal of the past decade and a half. Priestess, though, is decidedly old school. They have a lot more in common with the late-'70s and early-'80s-era Judas Priest and Iron Maiden kind of stuff (love the operatic, double-guitar lines and chugga-chugga-chugga throughout) than the punishing, brutal music of a lot of newer metal bands.

Seems much of the metal I've been exposed to in the past 10 years ago or so is way over-produced and compressed-to-hell. Not Priestess. This record sounds totally natural -- powerful but not so full of forced energy to the point where the music can't breathe. The singer's tenor isn't the most compelling or the most clear-sounding, but he can still sing. Kind of a poor man's Dio. Thankfully, no comically guttural growls here. 

Lyrically, there's lots of bigger-than-life imagery. Here's my favorite verse, from "Raccoon Eyes": "And I'd shape the Earth / With the cause of my birth / And the future is mine." Here's another gem, from "Sideways Attack": "I'm a demon / I walked the road through the river of fire / The truth I believed in betrayed / My revenge, I long for the day." That kind of stuff is all over Prior to the Fire.

If you're a fan of unadorned, traditional metal (back before the genre turned really angry), check out Priestess. If you know of other bands like this or have some thoughts on the evolution of heavy metal, drop a comment in the space below.

Best song: "Raccoon Eyes." Extra credit for "The Gem," the eight-minute, mini rock opera that is the record's centerpiece with a classic trad-metal chorus: "Lay waste to all the Earth / We disappear / The one who ends all becomes the hero."
Rotation: Medium. A little bit of Priestess goes a long way.
Deja Vu: The guys down the hall in my college dorm.
I'd rather listen to: Girlschool
Grade: B

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