Christian Mistress is a confounding egg of a band. A half-decade ago, they took a good chunk of the metal world by storm with their Agony and Opium debut which saw them offering a solid, if not spectacular, dose of heavy metal proper. Granted, they were on the leading edge of the growing obsession with the old-school NWOBHM/80s proto speed metal sound (i.e. they never gave up wearing patch jackets and collecting vinyl after you did), so they stuck out like a bit of a sore thumb at the time.
However, quality tunes, robust four-on-the-floor beats, anthemic riffage with Christine Davis’ soulful, two-packs-a-day rasp up front and centre trumped the ‘hipster metal’ sentiment and any notion the band was spring boarding on to some sort of band wagon. Christian Mistress just went about their business and let opinions fly and fade. The trouble is that they went their own way a little too quietly and insularly.
Here’s the thing: unless Christian Mistress is on the cusp of releasing a new record, you never hear much from, or about, them. The fanfare surrounding 2012’s Possession went as quickly as it came. Yes, tours were embarked upon here and there but, comparatively speaking, there was nary a peep from their camp, which is especially troubling considering they're a band with Relapse’s sphere of influence backing them and one which the press corps seems to hold in high regard. Maybe things are different in closer proximity to the band’s Olympia, WA hometown, or the Pacific Northwest in general, but speaking as someone on the receiving end of a litany of PR updates and press releases, I can’t remember the last time a news item concerning this quintet crossed my path.
And that’s criminal, especially when, like it or not, hammering away at the public in order to be seen and heard is a necessity these days. I’m not at all insinuating that Davis’ should go the Hottest Chicks in Metal/T&A route, or that we need to read about the ongoing saga of drummer Reuben Storey’s ingrown toenails on Blabbermouth, but if there’s an album to be bought or a tour happening, more people should know what’s going on. Hell, if Marvin Gaye were alive, he’d want to know what’s going on. Probably, 'cuz he liked good music as much as the next guy.
There is a reason for the above rant: To Your Death is a killer album, a rousing example of ‘sacks to the shack’ – that’s a wink-wink-nudge-nudge twist on the old ‘balls to the wall’ descriptor – heavy metal. It’s destined to have fists involuntarily punching the sky and getting that head that doesn’t bang to bang. To see it tumble through the cracks would be a great disservice to the band, their fans, potential fans and those who are suffering with the multitudes of bands these days that think they know what's up after simply spinning the first four Sabbath records and a couple each from by Witchfinder General and Angelwitch. There’s a lot of retro-rocking bullshit that people are painting their chests in honour of these days and, honestly, Christian Mistress is beyond the vast majority of it.
One of the many things that has this lot standing above their peers is how they’re able to employ a sense of self and identity to the music. This, despite the obvious and voracious references to the bell-bottomed days of early heavy metal and transitional hard rock. “Open Road” may be the missing link between Judas Priest's early works and the Painkiller album in terms of the song’s bluesy flourishes and up-tempo skip, but immaculately phrased leads by Oscar Sparbel and Tim Diedrich and Davis’ Joplin-esque voice surround the track with distinction. Lead off tune, “Neon” builds from a basic, blood-pumping power chord anthem towards dual harmonies, wavering dynamics, vocal doubling and more wailing leads from the NWOBHM/Kirk Hammett school. Chances are if you’ve been listening to metal long enough, or refuse to listen to any album that doesn’t have a sword on its cover, you’ve heard the riff to “Stronger Than Blood” and the galloping hop of “No Place” somewhere previous. But, the raucous arrangements, commanding vocal lines, strutting bass work and the fiery guitars have the songs existing beyond mere tribute.
Because of the singularity exhibited by these elements, even some of the album’s weaker moments are still anticipatory and compelling in their own right. The slow-hand vibrato and 80s mid-80s Van Halen feel of “Walkin’ Around” may be a bit on the thin side, but again, it’s Davis’ wrangling of her Marlboro mouth into melodic patterns that’ll keep your finger away from the skip button, especially on the balladic “Lone Wild.” Let’s hope that there’s a bit more of a forward push in getting this band and their third album in front of more faces and into more ears. It fucking deserves it.