Review Summary: If at first you don't succeed it's normal; but the second time you're expected to perform.
Given that the album sleeve sports nothing less than a (bizarrely proportioned) hand rising ominously from a wasteland of craggy rocks, a sea of rolling dust, and a nasty swirl of apocalyptic clouds, it may come as a bit of a surprise that Priestess’ debut album Hello Master
actually features the following things as well: an anthem about the complications of workplace relationships, a soliloquy from band singer Mikey Heppner on how hard it is to “go out there and shine every night”, multiple guitar riffs that are more stoner rock than heavy metal, a pair of choruses on how important it is to tell your girl that you love her, and a closing song whose lyrics suspiciously sound more like the denouement of a vampire-themed Western than anything else. Bearing in mind that album sleeves often prompt investigative listens, this is essentially false advertising at its very worst.
But to be frank the band at the heart of it all probably couldn’t care less. As front man Heppner explained during an interview just after the album’s release, “We consider ourselves mainly a live band and that’s sort of where our life is, just playing. "[Hello Master
is] just a recorded version of us playing,” he adds. The specter of the band’s disdain for the recording process in favour of live shows certainly looms large over parts of the album – the (horrible) photo in the album sleeve’s center spread suggests a group ill at ease with their identity and painfully out of sync with the rugged coolness of their contemporaries. In fact, if not for the beer cans clutched in their hands and the same long down-the-back hairstyle adorning everyone's head, the band would probably more closely resemble hippies than head bangers.
Yet, despite every inch of this record seeming almost cursory in nature, the collection of songs within still manages to hold up surprisingly well. Opening track “I Am the Night, Colour Me Black” features thundering drums running up against a snarling introductory riff, before Heppner begins: “I know where you were born/I know it’s you/I’ll wait for weeks to find out/That nothing’s true”, tossing off the kind of opening phrase that would leave most bands sounding unimaginative and hopelessly banal. But fortunately for Priestess, it’s hard to disagree with the Tony Iommi-esque guitar bellowing away in the background. “Lay Down”, with its soaring chorus and fetching steel riff finds Priestess comfortably galloping along, seemingly at ease in the unfamiliar surroundings of the recording studio.
Elsewhere, "Two Kids” features a thorny, unrelenting tempo and a premise that sounds like it was inspired directly by little Shrimpie’s death in the James Patterson novel “Along Came a Spider”. However, “Talk To Her” eschews that particular line of intrigue entirely, choosing instead to dish out a teenage paean about the universal situations of uncontrollable angst, girlfriends, and the churlish optimism of youth. Now, while Hello Master
has definitely been good fun up to this point, those hoping for Priestess to up the ante in the album’s second half will be sorely disappointed. Simple and blunt is the name of the game here, and by the time the album’s twenty minute mark comes around, it is only too evident that Priestess’ brand of Luddite rock-and-roll has started to blend together a little too well. Numbers like “The Shakes”, “No Real Pain”, and “Performance” leave much to be desired both lyrically and musically. Worse, they strongly give off the impression that Priestess is content with simply going through their paces whilst mercilessly aping bands like Black Sabbath, Metallica, and Budgie. This results in a closing twenty minutes that is merely tolerable at best, and extremely disposable at worst.
But having purged themselves of all the second-rate material lingering in their coffers, Priestess somehow manage to end Hello Master
with “Blood”, which is easily the most intriguing cut on the entire record. Furious, prowling, and loaded with sexual tension all at once, the track hints strongly at the vast reservoirs of potential that Priestess would be able to tap if only they had the sense to understand that having to participate in studio recordings is very much part of being a real band. As it stands, all we can do is watch and pray that one day the band will have enough heart to survive themselves.