Christian Mistress - Possession
2012 Relapse Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
I'd like to think everybody has a Christian Mistress in their hometown. You know, a retro-minded sludge metal unit that never mentally left the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and L.A. power rock scenes but have stepped forward enough to place a brackish yet charasmatic female roller front and center. Said band is likely to toss out an obligatory Maiden and Heart cover within their repertoire of developing originals. These bands are usually ferreted out by incoming metal bands on tour and presented as endearing warm-ups for ravenous headbangers who still can't get enough of Judas Priest, Omen, Fates Warning, Coven, Saxon, Hallow's Eve and Tygers of Pan Tang.
Where I live, that band is Scarlet Angel. Local favorites who throw it down old school and feature three ladies to one dude including badass mike maven Kim Yates, Scarlet Angel may never penetrate the masses beyond the Delmarva territories (local speak for the central eastern coast), but damn if that band doesn't fight the good fight. If you find them at a venue, you can also count on them approaching you and pimping the band.
Olympia, Washington has Christian Mistress, and this band has struck the fancy of many a metal writer and listener in 2012. Christian Mistress is possibly better than Scarlet Angel or whatever comparable you may have in your nook of the metal community and that's to everyone's good. Christian Mistress awkwardly has become the throwback darlings of the year to this point and for old school metal freaks, the future looks no different than it did in 1982. That's a pleasing proposition for many.
Following up their 2010 full-length debut Agony & Opium, Christian Mistress jacks the amps through analog channels to hedge a vintage metallic clout on Possession that convincingly takes their audience into the days where Metal Blade comps were all the rage. There's no doubt Christian Mistress would've appeared in the Metal Massace series and rubbed elbows with Lee Aaron and Betsy Bitch. Christine Davis is nowhere near over-the-top as her femme-banger predecessors, but cadence-wise, she shaves a masculine alto beneath her cloudy sopranos and metal fans dig that by default. There's an asphalt toughness lurking beneath Davis' feminine swoons which suits Christian Mistress and keeps their throwback mission lofting instead of tumbling.
Barreling might be the best trigger phrase, because Christian Mistress has more than a few tendencies to steamroll Possession with breakout twin axe soloing from Oscar Sparbel and Ryan McClain and abrupt deviations from their mid-tempo verse structures. The clever rhythm shifts and galloping outtros (especially on the near-spectacular "There Is Nowhere" and "Haunted, Haunted") plus the unexpected thrash-happy closer "All Abandon" elevates Possession beyond its inhibited, dirge-filled imitation of past heavy metal glory.
Nostalgia is the main ingredient to Christian Mistress' out-of-nowhere favoritism by the metal press. "Over & Over," "Conviction" and "Black to Gold" will throw old leaguers straight back into their teenage bedrooms, while the dual scorching of Sparbel and McClain bring listeners straight to Iron Maiden's formative years with Paul DiAnno. "Pentagram & Crucifix" is likely to become a cult hit for its title alone, but the writhing chug of the tune is its bigger notable. By the time "Pentagram & Crucifix" is wrapped, if you don't already own some Witchfinder General, you'll be surfing to hunt them down while bobbing along to the remainder of Possession. Of course, the headbanging is countered by an inexplicable jive and shuck on "Black to Gold," which hails as much Southern boogie as it does inflictive power metal. Then Christian Mistress has the good taste to tip their hats to Zeppelin on "There is Nowhere" through its ethereal drag. It thus becomes the perfect set-up to the Maiden-esque crushing titania in the song's second half. Salud...
This is the reason why Christian Mistress have made such an unexpected vault past countless other revisionists. They're on the radar because of Christine Davis, sure, but giving the band as a collective their due, they're A-plus students of their curriculum and it's hard to dismiss them as a throwback novelty. It will be a challenge, however, for Christian Mistress to stay viable over the next few years in their present mindframe, but their never-say-die attitude is precisely what never-say-die headbangers want to hear today...even if it's been presented many times before.