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 otherwise pure retro power-rock. Syncopation breaks up the battle-ready rhythmic punch, 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 dominate “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’s 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 does that admirably. — Nicholas Hall