Heavy reviews: Immolation, Priestess.


Immolation, "Majesty and Decay" (Nuclear Blast)

Slammo. When Immolation chose to wait three years to follow up the deeply wrought "Shadows in the Light," the long-serving New York croakers made sure it was the most vicious assault since the sack of Constantinople, and a damn fine work of art to boot.

The biggest ear-opener is Immolation's sense of dynamics -- you know, when a band regularly perforates its onslaught to open windows on the location of the archers and the sling battalion. Such ancient warfare seems much on Immolation's mind, with rhythms resembling a battering ram ("The Purge"), a cavalry attack ("A Token of Malice"), a battle chant ("Divine Code"), an infantry gather-and-charge ("The Comfort of Cowards"), and even buzzards circling over smoky post-conflict terrain as thunderclaps signal an impending storm (the instrumental "Interlude"). Video imagineering could never compete with the mental images generated by something like "A Glorious Epoch," where Steve Shalaty's low-pitched double-kick swells alongside Robert Vigna's scary buzz-picked lead melody to conjure a fatal contest with a rearing, splashing sea serpent.

The band roll over hill and dale in close camaraderie, bassist Ross Dolan's blood-belching vox commanding dire authority while Bill Taylor's guitar roars and Vigna's ax babbles frenzied Ottoman invocations (righteous selection of tones, dude). Prime example: "The Rapture of Ghosts," a condensed epic whose marching rhythm (check Shalaty's soft cymbal crashes on the off-beat) doubles as a primitive dance that builds to dual-guitar arabesque swordfights whirling inside your head; the stop-start bridge breakdown carries just enough flex to avoid rupture of the cervical vertebrae. A superlative track among 12 bust-out prodigies.

I clenched my teeth and grimaced till my face hurt through the entirety of "Majesty and Decay" -- the truest indicator of triumph in the modern-metal arena. Not recommended for listeners with fragile bridgework.


Priestess, "Prior to the Fire" (Tee Pee)

High energy, high melody; don't get a lot of that combination these days. Comparisons to Mastodon and High on Fire skew wrongward; consider rather Danava, the Mars Volta or Children -- riffy sing-along stonerations that seed the weed with crystal.

Priestess write their signature in the sooty skylark voice of lead guitarist Mikey Heppner, whose progulous penchant for Rush and Yes extends to the way he sings, except he stows a bushel more sack than Geddy Lee or Jon Anderson. Since this is a Tee Pee record, guitar geeks may also feast on the meticulously tube-stoked sounds of Heppner and Dan Watchorn, and thrive on the hard-slappin', live-feelin' drums of Vince Nudo, which rock right in yer face as you kick off the weekend with that first cold Molson.

The mood runs from mythic to monolithic, commencing with a bubble-bath of feedback, phasing & noise, then getting right down to the sockdown riff orgy (shades of Maiden, Sabbath, Megadeth). It's physical yet heady, and these Montrealers pack enough wizzdom not only to make judicious exceptions to the prevailing headlong tempos, but, in service to ear freshness, even to call on an occasional snatch of waltz or acoustic folk. While the musicianship isn't overeducated, it's sophisticated enough to embrace slick tricks like the complementary guitar-bass interplay that studs "The Gem." Masters of transition, Priestess can both drag a heavy sled AND gawk to an alien sunrise in the same song ("It Baffles the Mind").

Time to name a standout tune, and the award goes to . . . "Sideways Attack," 3:15 of sharp-hook chorus, surging instrumental interlude, artful vocal bridge, tight-wound riffs, and irresistible wrist action on the ride-cymbal bell. When I read that Priestess got dropped from their RCA contract cuz they didn't have a single -- well, that's just one reason the major labels are dead, ain't it?