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Righteous Thunder 

Priestess worships the holy trinity: Hooks, riffs, and heft.

Long hair? Leather? Headbanging? Priestess checks out.
  • Long hair? Leather? Headbanging? Priestess checks out.

As Priestess' debut album, Hello Master, opens, the drums pound and the guitars slash, measure after measure, locked into the same ominous riff for 30 seconds, like an impending storm.

The track "I Am the Night, Colour Me Black" combines the heavy, bluesy drive of Zeppelin with a searing, ledge-walking lead. It's got the bottom-end ballast of Deep Purple, the rock swagger of AC/DC, and the churning power of Motörhead.

"We focus on melody and having really crafted songs and choruses," says Priestess frontman Mikey Heppner. "Typically, metal isn't about catchy melodies and choruses. It's about heft and riffs, which is awesome, but we wanted both."

The band received help forging its sound from producer Gus Van Go, manager of Heppner's former bandmates in the Stills. For Hello Master, Van Go envisioned mimicking the crisp, pristine production style of classic metal albums. He wanted to make it "clean and clear," and "very Hi-Fi."

"We liked the idea and -- at the time -- thought it was a good one, " Heppner says. "We justified it as that we'd be a band of two beasts, how the record sounds and how we sound live."

What ties them together is Heppner's songwriting. While he leaves plenty of room for six-string aerial maneuvers, they're yoked to solid hooks and head-bobbing choruses. Although the prog-inflected "Lay Down" and the ambling sound of the Jane's Addiction-like "Performance" are massive, Heppner actually writes on acoustic guitar.

"If you're satisfied with what you have on acoustic guitar and it's something you could play to people in your living room, then you're starting with something strong," he says. "If you add to it and build on it, with giant drum beats and guitar riffs and shit, it can be huge."

Priestess takes the sound in a number of directions, from the Thin Lizzy-meets-Black Crowes blues-rawk of "Time Will Cut You Down" to "Everything That You Are," which sounds like a stoner-metal take on T Rex. A testament to the band's genre-crossing appeal is the diversity of its tourmates: Dinosaur Jr., Motörhead, and GWAR.

On tour with the Sword and Early Man late last year, Priestess was outmatched in the arena of sheer chest-pounding intensity. But the band made up for it with far more memorable songs than its stoner-metal mates presented.

Still, the band members wanted to recover some of the album's production-spawned beef. They found their additional chunkiness when a local entrepreneur offered them his homemade amps.

"They were pretty Sabbath-sounding, so we sent them back to him and asked could he tweak them with a lot more bottom-mid. We handed him our CD, like, 'Try to emulate this,' and he nailed it," Heppner says.

Recently, Heppner had a chance to have an impromptu jam with Mastodon guitarist Brent Hinds.

"They were out partying with us," Heppner says. "I was out in the crowd with my guitar, and he just kind of grabbed me from behind and started playing it while it was on me. It was pretty awesome."

After more than a year on the road, Heppner's aching to get back to his acoustic six-string. During the breaks between tours, Priestess has worked out a few new songs, tightening them up during recent soundchecks.

"We'll probably have three new songs by the time we get to Cleveland," Heppner says. "We're hoping to make the instrumentation and the parts a little more intricate, while at the same time keeping it catchy."

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