There’s good reason so many metal bands continue to crop up sounding like they just stepped out of Bill & Ted’s phone booth from the early 80’s: it was a bloody kickass time that produced a veritable bounty of exciting heavy music. So much so that I still find myself picking through releases from every corner of the globe now three decades later. And as many of us have come to discover over these many moons since the NWOBHM first geysered into our collective laps, there were countless other gems dropped by lesser known acts that easily stacked up to the Killers, Stained Classes and Strong Arms of the Law of the day. This is precisely the sort of recollection Olympia, Washington’s Christian Mistress elicit every time I sit down to crank out their debut full-length, Agony & Opium.
It’s quite possible (yet admittedly unconfirmed) that the members of this band are young enough that they were more concerned with defending the universe with Voltron and rocking with Jem & The Holograms back in the early/mid 80’s than they were with underground heavy metal, but this record sounds as if they’ve spent ample years studying and absorbing works from bands such as Quartz, Tysondog, Savage and Desolation Angels. Similar to those old rollicking face-melters of yore, Agony & Opium is the type of record that demands to be cranked; something to accompany your bashing mailboxes from their roosts while leaning out of a GTO; a record that blares into your boss’s face as you light his desk on fire and strut out the door. It’s stripped down, raw/roughhousing metal with an emphasis on beer drinkin’, Hell raising and leaving flaming tracks when you peel-the-fuck-out. In terms of current day bands, cursory comparisons will possibly be drawn to Slough Feg because of Christian Mistresseseses penchant for dual axe attack, but there’s a little less meat and just a pinch more rawness and hard rockin’ to this formula that makes me more apt to connect the dots over to Illinoismen Bible of the Devil and Züül. But regardless of whom you think they should be sharing the stage with, the bottom line is that this record lights up the gd gas tank, and that’s all that really matters.
Also setting Christian Mistress apart from their peers is the added measure of sugar and spice thrown in from vocalist Christine Davis. Although she certainly (and thankfully) brings a fair bit of grit and gravel to her delivery, so you needn’t worry about yet another heavy metal act fronted by a Laura Croft knock-off who’s overly puffed with pink ribbons and unicorn dust. Davis brings to mind the real ripper lasses of yesteryear ala Leather Leone (Chastain) or Sabina Classen (Holy Moses): a refreshing change of pace from the softer, sweeter approach many of the current gals fronting retro or doom outfits today employ. I suppose it’s just nice to hear a girl soundly break the shackles of daintiness without necessarily sacrificing all her girliness, if that makes any sense. To put it another way, Christine is woman, hear her roar, but she also sounds like she might be able to take you in a knife fight, so be careful not to step on her toes too often.
The only thing I can think to pick apart on Agony & Opium is its brevity. 28-minutes of high-octane hard rockin’ heavy metal with loads of fiery leads ends up sounding short-handed if you can’t even haul ass out to the airport before its over. Still, it’s an omen of great things to come. And as great as the record starts off with “Riding the Edges”, I think it ends even stronger with the cocky Brats-inspired one-two punch of “Poison Path” and “Black Vigil” followed by the plaintive, mellow “Omega Stone” that eventually lights up and closes out the record sounding like a lost cut from Kill ’em All.
20 Buck Spin offers up this platter for a paltry 10 smackers for a disc or $12 for an LP, which I’d call a damned bargain considering how much Hell you can raise with it. Despite its lack of minutes, I’d say Agony & Opium is one of 2010’s no-brainer pick-ups. Definitely recommended.