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CD Review: Priestess 

Prior to the Fire (Tee Pee)

Subtlety is a term not often applied to heavy music, but it is central to Montreal's Priestess. While Prior to the Fire has plenty of power and aggression, they are always applied with a deft touch, used more as layers and shading than as whitewash. "Ladykiller" launches the album with an assault of drums and chugging chords, and maintains a balls-out rocking stance — yet it throws in a few flourishes that belie the band's stance as pure retro power-rockers. Syncopation breaks up the battle-ready punch of the rhythms, while the lead guitar breaks formation to engage in surprisingly melodic turns reminiscent of both Thin Lizzy and prog-rock's technical trickery.

These more restrained elements dom-inate "Murphy's Law," whose gentility and strident melodicism would feel out of place on most metal records but seem right at home between the slow-burning, low-slung menace of "The Firebird" and the epic sprawl of "The Gem." The latter does a fine job of incorporating Priestess' full bag of tricks — propulsive drumming, emphatic power-chord locomotion, rhythmic flexibility and a melodic sensibility that borders on beauty. Aggression can be beautiful and subtlety intimidating if you're willing to explore the boundaries and commonalities between them. Priestess do that admirably. — Nicholas Hall

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