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Oracle (Artemis)

On Kittie's 1999 debut, Spit, the all-girl Canadian metal band offered up a sound and fury that was every bit as unexpected as gender and geographical stereotypes would have allowed. The two years since have been a dream come true for the band -- and a nightmare for long-haired chauvinists -- with Spit generating gold album sales and earning Kittie a spot on last year's OzzFest. Since then, guitarist Fallon Bowman has exited the band -- by choice or force, depending on who tells the story -- and Kittie is down to a trio (guitarist/vocalist Morgan Lander, drummer Meredith Lander, bassist Talena Atfield). But even with Bowman's departure, Kittie has deepened and matured as a musical unit. This, coupled with its exposure to every kind of metal on OzzFest, has resulted in a darkly surprising sophomore album.

As much as Kittie explored old-school metal riffage on Spit, it was still very much a teenage affair. But on Oracle, Kittie has gone from snapping its gum to snapping necks; charting a course toward viscous death metal in the process, with Morgan alternating her seductive, gravelly growl with a sludgy shriek and trademark down-tuned guitar. Nowhere are these elements more prominent than on the band's thunderous cover of Pink Floyd's "Run Like Hell," on which Morgan shifts between her patented bourbon-smooth croon and a newfound, rusted-hinges-in-hell shriek -- a technique she also employs on "Mouthful of Poison" and "Wolves." Equally impressive are the concussive title track and the deceptively gentle "In Winter," both of which blend the Sabbath homage of Spit with all of Kittie's newly forged black-metal muscle. Pussy-with-claws jokes aside, Oracle is easily one of the heaviest metal releases of the year. Moreover, with no one in the band even 21 years old yet, Kittie is poised to make an even bigger impact on the face of male-dominated metal in the near future. Looks like it's balls to the wall, gentlemen.

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