Metal is entering its fifth decade of existence. While as a genre it has always been expanding and aggressively trying to scorch and raze previous boundaries, forty years and counting is a long time for any form of art to hang around without leaving behind niche pockets of reminiscence for the many sub-genres that have come and gone over the years. This growing nostalgia for Days of Metal Past has been creating metal anachronisms all over the globe, from Sweden’s Witchcraft to Austin’s The Sword, and now Christian Mistress seems ready to put Olympia, WA on this same space-and-time-defying-map with their album Possession.
When assessing Possession as an album, I find myself thinking less about how I feel about their music as I do thinking about time evocative metal as a whole. As great as it is to have an album released in 2012 that sounds like it was recorded in 1978, the element of necessity seems missing. When I saw Saviours live, for example, I remember thinking that it was as close as I would get to seeing Metallica during their club circuit days — Saviours’ stage antics and dual guitar leads would have made any 1980s hesher proud. But other than giving their audience a chance to play pretend Whiskey a Go Go 1982, they as a band didn’t seem to serve much purpose. I imagine seeing Christian Mistress live would feel similar.
This isn’t to say Possession is a bad album. It’s actually very well put together. The guitars sound as huge as any Marshall stack should, and the leads crackle with the same lightning that struck everyone’s ears when Sad Wings of Destiny dropped. Chistine Davis’ vocals are powerful and sultry, carrying on Dio’s legacy as much as they do Ann Wilson’s. The song “Black to Gold” had me banging my head involuntarily. These are good musicians who set out to make an album with a certain sound and they succeeded in doing so. If I am grading them in whether or not they achieved that goal, they get an A+.
But it’s that goal that I have a problem with. It’s one thing to master the right licks and buy the right gear to recreate a sound that was abandoned after everyone discovered Nirvana. As someone who’s always loved guitar solos, I wholly understand the appeal. But it’s another to conquer the sounds you love while adding your own elements and moving the music forward. It is in this that Christian Mistress fails, and fails hard. They are essentially doing for metal what Stray Cats did for rock ‘n’ roll. It’s fun to dress up and play songs that fit in better 30 years ago — rock ‘n’ role playing, as it were.
If you like classic metal, or if you’re yet another timid indie rocker looking to see what all the hubbub at NPR and Pitchfork has been the last few years, with all those articles praising metal as high fashion rather than damning it as the music of the ignorant proletariat, Possession will feel like a warm vintage army jacket. If you’re looking for a memorable album that will still be well thought of ten years from now, either within the metal community or outside of it, this is not it. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself how well Possession would have been received in 2002, when guitar solos and humbuckers were being exiled to suburban dive bars, rather than in 2012.