When LA trio High Priestess‘s eponymous debut High Priestess (Ripple Music) landed in 2018, it took my breath away with its mesmeric, Doomy hypnosis and occasional brutality. Waxing lyrical about it then, I was already eager and anxious to see if they could follow it. I needn’t have worried: sophomore set Casting the Circle (Ripple Music) maintains the impossibly high standards of that first album while enhancing the entrancing elements of their sound.
The other happy circumstance here is that the trio has retained its unity, allowing it to grow more organically. That’s evident from the first atmospheric strains of the opening title track: Megan Mullins‘ massive drumbeats underpinning a slow, sparing, Eastern-tinged melody; the harmonies of Mariana Fiel and Katie Gilchrest adding to that flavour. The gradual build and quickening toward the midriff is exquisite, still maintaining a hypnotic delicacy despite the added force, and really invoking a sense of mysticism. It’s an evocative opening which leads into the psychedelic siren call of ‘Erebus’, Gilchrest’s oscillating chords and vocal drifting across Fiel and Mullins’ brooding rhythm section to the heavy yet wistful explosion. It’s a little like SubRosa without the violins, they being replaced by a sensual, witchlike seduction.
Here’s the thing about High Priestess: the effortless mix of vulnerability and might which traps the listener in its doleful yet magnetic web. ‘The Hourglass’ is magnificent: Fiel assuming the lead vocal duties and putting a soulful gravitas into that area, yet backing vocals are Bangles-esque in their delicious harmony. Layered guitars howl mournfully as a slow yet vital rhythm introduces a Soul feel to this undoubtedly Doom-based ballad. There then follows a return to those mystical Asian tones for the seventeen-minute epic ‘Invocation’. Here there’s a real Doors, Desert vibe to the twanging guitar and Manzarek-like keys, while the body of the track gradually flexes its muscles then quickens like some harmonious, gigantic voodoo doctor. The crunching yet electrifying second movement is glorious; those mellifluous harmonies remain, shining the sun on the sinister flesh; while the Occult centrepiece is crawling, dramatic, and won’t let go.
The invention and arrangement here is majestic. While the emphasis is less on weight than bewitching power, that ability to expertly yet subtly swell the mass is a testament to the greatness the band possesses. Such ebb and flow governs the latter half of ‘Invocation’ to wondrous effect: while closer ‘Ave Satanas‘ is a delicate yet emotive intonation between the three members, almost choral in its approach yet remaining simultaneously eerie and joyful. Casting the Circle proves that High Priestess was no flash in the pan: the trio itself is a hugely talented, quite unique addition to the Doom ranks and deserves all the attention and platitudes we can throw at it.