The joy of receiving releases from Relapse is that they unfailingly have the power to surprise. Easily one of the most open-minded record labels out there, extremity may be a watchword but it is not always the defining factor. Take Christian Mistress, for example. They play a wonderfully charged take on classic heavy rock, infused with blues and soul and played with the utmost passion and conviction by a band who, mentally at least, possibly never left the seventies… and it sounds GREAT! The album is drenched in atmosphere and feeling and you’re left wondering how a band on their second album could so successfully conjure up feelings remarkably similar to the first time you heard Sabbath.
‘Possession’ opens with over and over’, the sort of hard-edged classic rock that makes you feel like you should be standing on a mountain top, guitar in hand, allowing the wind and riffs to fly around you. This is real, classic metal with crunchy riffs giving way to gloriously fluid yet substantially gritty solos – and that’s before you’ve had the opportunity to marvel at Christine Davis’ perfect vocals. The woman simply embodies rock with a voice that is deep, tuneful and shot through with power and conviction. If you have any hesitation about the band whatsoever, ‘pentagram and crucifix’ will wipe those doubts from your mind as effectively as a course of psychotropic drugs and electroshock therapy. A pounding, Sabbath-style riff is unleashed over Reuban W. Storey’s rolling percussive assault and Christine’s remarkable voice once again takes you by the throat and drags you to the dance floor where you have no choice but to head bang as if your life depends upon it. The best thing is that while the music has the comforting familiarity of classic rock, it is played with such passion and verve that it is simply thrilling. This is my third listen through and I can still feel the blood pumping through my veins at twice its normal speed. It’s exciting and it makes you desperately want to grab a guitar and join in – it’s gritty, it’s beautifully played and the recording sounds like it was buried in a time capsule from 1978 and then dug up for a modern audience’s delight. ‘Conviction’ – something which Christian Mistress hardly lack – comes barging out of the gate next. It’s a fast paced, beautifully executed blast of heavy metal thunder and it feels, like the other tracks here, that it is destined to become a future classic – a benchmark by which other classic rock styled bands will be judged and found wanting… just one listen will tell you that – and like the first time you heard Sabbath you just know that this is going to live in your record player for a long, long time.
‘The way beyond’ sees the band slow the pace for a beautiful piece of guitar work that showcases a more sensitive side to the band, although the use of minor chords sees the track spiral through reverb into an altogether darker place – possibly even the territory of nightmares – where hints of Iron Maiden and Priest lock together for a great blast of driving metal music. The title track is a slower paced beast, a lumbering, doom-laden trawl that conjures up memories of the late-lamented Reverend Bizarre as well as strong elements of the omnipresent Black Sabbath. ‘Black to gold’ is a fast paced trail blazer that burns briefly but brightly before the powerfully melodic ‘there is nowhere’ slows things down a touch but without sacrificing the power of the heavier numbers. ‘Haunted hunted’, meanwhile, has a great groove to it, not to mention some blistering guitar playing and then, tragically, we reach the final track which arrives in the form of ‘all abandon’ a stunning closer that again highlights the band’s myriad musical skills.
This is damn near the perfect metal album. There is no sense of trends or fashions being adhered to – simply a group of passionate and talented musicians uniting to make great, timeless music. Everything you could wish for is here – passion, melody, skill and beauty. This is a great, great record for which I am indebted to Relapse for introducing me to and to the band for producing. If so much as a single drop of heavy metal blood pumps through your veins then you owe it to yourself to check out Christian Mistress.