Most bands that play heavy music build intricate fantasy worlds. Ronnie James Dio could never pass up an opportunity to talk about dragons, and Slayer had a hard time dropping that fascination with Satanism. Even the inventors of the genre managed to write a song called “The Wizard” with a completely straight face. It’s one of the reasons that people outside of the cult have a hard time taking it seriously.
There’s a band out of Montreal called Priestess who are starting to change that. They’ve figured out a way to write those panoramic riffs that Sabbath started messing with in the late seventies and their singer could easily give Bon Scott a run for his money. What brings them into the 21st century is a drummer whose dynamics peak and dip like the engine of an accelerating Harley. Big cymbals rest on a mountain of toms and that bass drum blasts six inch bullet holes in the mix.
After hearing the band three or four times a couple things become apparent. First, Priestess is a whole lot more than the sum of their influences. Sabbath riffs and great singing can make for a pretty good band, but there are plenty of groups who can do that and don’t sound nearly as special as Priestess does. Second, it seems like they’ve broken down a major stigma in the metal world. After forty years there’s finally a metal album that respects women.
Generally in heavy music we find women as objects that appear in tour buses and disappear with each new city. Especially in the eighties women served basically as hood ornaments for music videos. Priestess has a much more healthy attitude in regards to interacting with women. They kill them off.
The first single off their last album was called “Lay Down”. Its about a guy who wishes he could murder his girlfriend so that the pain that she’s causing could stop. It may seem like a backwards way to show respect but in most heavy music, and testosterone fueled rock in general, women aren’t even a worthy opponent. They’re something to be longed for or to celebrate, but never to fear. You can’t have feelings that deep and aggressive for someone without at least acknowledging that they aren’t an object.
That’s why it feels like Priestess is challenging a tradition. Their music describes women as formidable opponents, not as decoration. It’s going against the grain not because they’ve avoided mentioning dragons and satanism, but because they’ve broken down that other fantasy world that rock has created.
LORENZO WOLFF is a musician living in New York. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org