Christian Mistress – To Your Death (Relapse)

Christian Mistress - To Your Death (Relapse, 2015)In 2012, Christian Mistress released their excellent first full-length album, Possession, which made my Lucky 13 for the year. They toured Europe, and then, they went home. No further promotion, no triumphant North American tour. Not a peep from the band, nothin. I was afraid one of my new favorite metal bands were breaking up. To my relief, they finally announced activity last year on their Facebook page, and after much anticipation, we have To Your Death.  Was it worth the wait? Considering it’s not only the best metal album to come out this year, but most likely the best of any rock albums, hell yeah.

A lot of focus is aimed toward Christine Davis’ smoky vocals. But it’s not because she sounds badass for a woman. Thankfully when I wrote my Metal Sirens piece in 2012 before the release of Possession, nearly everyone understood that it was about the fact that so many great bands were being lead by women not as a curious anomoly. It was simply about time that many of the best bands around were lead by women. The biggest portion of humans who have historically been beaten down and repressed are women. Of course they should be more capable to inject intensity into their music. In researching for a piece about the birth of metal, it all started out with bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden playing to 100% male audiences in workingmen’s clubs. That’s a waste of perfectly good metal! Audiences are somewhat more gender balanced these days, depending on the bands. Perhaps someday it will be common to say, “they’re not bad…for a bunch of dudes.”

While Davis does not have the range of former Witch Mountain vocalist Uta Plotkin or the power of Royal Thunders‘ Mlny Parsonz, she has what many singers wish they had — soul. Screw comparisons to other women, I’m talking about what you hear from Sam Cooke through Phil Lynott. Simply put, Christian Mistress songs make you feel something deeper than just the urge to pump your fists for favorite solos. From “Desert Rose” and “Haunted Hunted” to the new album’s lead-off “Neon,” gave me goosebumps, when I first heard it live in a tiny bar last week, and when I heard it on the album. It’s not just down to Davis’ voice and emotionally gripping lyrics. It’s the whole band, their chemistry, musicianship, songwriting, riffs, solos, all coming together to make the kind of magic that plenty of pretty great bands can go years without achieving. “Neon” is evocative of so much, from the wrenching pain of Percy Sledge’s “The Dark End of the Street,” the epic storytelling of Thin Lizzy to a classic 80’s arena rock jam that never existed but should have. Well it exists now motherfuckers, so don’t sleep on it!

“Stronger Than Blood” is a tight encapsulation of previous strengths, featuring a variety of parts, a galloping NWOBHM style rhythm section and dueling guitar solos. On “Eclipse” and “Walkin’ Around,” the band explores textures in mid and slow tempos, respectively, but building momentum and tension. The latter features some AC/DC-like  high register picking in the beginning, a nice touch. “Open Road” perfectly embodies the album’s propulsive energy and sensation of forward motion, making it an excellent driving album. I think it’s what Judas Priest tried to aim for with Turbo (1986) but missed the mark. As the first single, “Open Road” is another obvious highlight. The band stretches out to their most epic track on the 6:18 long “Ultimate Freedom,” which starts out with a really spare bass and drum arrangement and Davis’ vocals. At 1:30, the guitars come calling and squalling, eventually trading off some great solos. While there is some complexity and changes, the immediacy of “Neon,” “Open Road” and “Ultimate Freedom” are exemplified by the fact that they were standouts at last week’s live show, and that was the very first time I’d heard them!

The album winds down with “Lone Wild,” a slightly sinister, downtempo tune that features a cool acoustic bridge, and eventually to a payload of molten, golden guitar riffs. “III” is an instrumental, and a pretty great one, though it’s kind of a disappointing way to end the album. It felt like there should be at least one more! However, like their previous album, they keep things concise at under 42 minutes, and prefer to leave you wanting more rather than exhausted and burned out. For those of you buying the deluxe version, however, it does feature a scorching 4:16 long bonus track, “TYD” (To Your Death). Thanks Mistress, yer too kind!

Even though they go up against other all-time favorites of mine like Ufomammut, Royal Thunder and the upcoming Graveyard, at the moment this is my album of the year. Actually, Golden Void’s Berkana is pretty close, but since my pre-ordered CD didn’t come yet and I never got a promo, I’m only on my third listen, so the review will have to wait.

Christian Mistress, Red Line Tap, Chicago

My photos are crappy but of the moment!

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