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Relapse (2012)
Rating: 8.5/10

I’m guessing it’s a good thing sometimes when you don’t know a thing about a band; it enables one to have a non-biased opinion. In the case of the wonderfully named Christian Mistress I know that they are a US five-piece with a strong, retro New Wave Of British Heavy Metal flavour in their sound.

I also know that the Olympia, Washington-based band’s second album, Possession, is an absolute corker that I can’t get enough of. Maybe it’s because of the silky and almost calming vocals of Christine Davis, which just seem to breeze over those retro riffs.

Opener ‘Over & Over’ sounds like some manic 70s style rocker fused with a Jefferson Airplane-style of eeriness, with those vocals providing great atmosphere. But musically it’s fantastic too; a straight up, vintage sounding cauldron of racy riffs, boogie blackness and uptempo drum grooves. ‘Over & Over’ is barely three-minutes, yet it’s a galloping heavy rock mini-masterpiece that swaggers into the ears. Oscar Sparbel and Ryan McLain’s guitars are crystal clear and yet a throwback to the traditional rock groove, occasionally laced with a doom-laden clangour.

The wickedly titled ‘Pentagram And Crucifix’ oozes from the speakers bringing to mind the misty, murky waffle of Coven with that sinister riff, and those seriously smoky vocals somehow complement the shuffling, almost Sweet, circa ‘Ballroom Blitz’, drum rolls. Christian Mistress are a strange, yet authentic hybrid of late 60s mysticism, 70s witchery and 80s garage metal. The track climaxes with a staggering solo and rampant drum before becoming lost in a dense sounding hail of creepiness; the sort of track that would’ve been more suited to the early 80s metal scene, especially in the sense that it only just about hints at the darkness rather than displaying it in full view.

Christine Davis has to be one of rock’s most unique sounding frontwoman, and she shines on the third track, the four-minute ‘Conviction’, and the following doomy fuzz of ‘The Way Beyond’, which features a stomping bass and epic chug that Iron Maiden would have been proud of in their prime.

Those expecting something ultra-heavy or fast would have come to the wrong place. Christian Mistress are very much groove-based, but successfully combine the leathery dinosaur and simplistic style rock of Saxon, with a slightly more bewitching feel, but every song keeps me coming back to those majestic vocals.

The cover of Faith’s ‘Possession’ has all the mysticism of a midnight ritual in the forest; the doomy riff grooves along with Christine’s effortless wail float the track into another of those early 80s style meanderings. This album has such a classic feel, and as Darkthrone’s Fenriz was quick to comment, “They play heavy metal the old way…”, and that pretty much sums Christian Mistress up.

As the drum plods in on ‘There Is Nowhere’, the band shift into a lower gear; Christine Davis becomes a sultry narrator, the guitars are more wistful, yet forever remain darkly tinged until that killer riff interrupts proceedings two-and-a-half minutes in.

Possession is such a simple album, yet it sounds so real and oaken. There are no frills whatsoever, just pure retro sounding structures, blessed with those angelic tones.

The record saunters to its end with the orgasmic ‘Haunted Hunted’ and the six-minute closer ‘All Abandon’, which begins as a Led Zeppelin-ish acoustic mood swinger boasting killer melody before once again a swirling riff comes into play, the drums flutter with such simplicity and the bass bubbles… and then it’s over. Nine tracks fleetingly grace the ears and then you’ll come back for more, possessed once again by this oh so simple brand of old fashioned rock ’n’ roll.

If you recall those majestic days of Angel Witch, early Saxon, old Iron Maiden and early Raven, and vocally imagine the dusky tones of Mazzy Star (80s / 90s American alternative rock band), then you might get somewhere close. Nothing fancy… just top notch old school metal. Buy it.

Neil Arnold

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