Serious praise has been heaped on LA trio High Priestess and judging by the majesty of this self-titled debut album (Ripple), much more is coming. As the name implies, the band peddles a mystical, dark yet melodious slow crush, but there’s a joyous inventiveness here that sets it apart from its peers.
The gorgeously mellow bass notes and slow, tribal tubthumping of opener ‘Firefly’ is joined by Katie Gilchrest’s Eastern-style guitar tones, until a meaty heaviness descends. Bewitching melody remains to accompany the fuzz and the subsequent, shamanic harmonies of Gilchrest and Mariana Fiel give the sound a wonderful Psychedelic element, the whole reminiscent of a reformed Kylesa with Kristin Hersh in the lead role.
An almost natural, fluid command of tempo and instruments, allied to a warm production, brings a joy to often sinister lyrics and an ominous air. The opening sequence of the exquisite ‘Despise’ is a delicate meander through dark, acoustic Folk, with only Megan Mullins’ ominous drumbeat and a sinister vocal lilt adding decoration, before exploding into the roared dismissal of a daemon: the harsh vocal interacting to great effect with those almost cheery harmonies. The descent from medium pace to slow, and subsequent resurrection, is executed gradually and in complete synchronicity, with oscillating guitars and John Bonham-style rhythmic brutality to the fore.
Each track lingers long in the mind, due to subtle variations from the format and the almost effortless, organic move between shine and shadow. The soft yet menacing incantations of ‘Banshee’ maintain harmonies throughout a thrilling burst of energy until a harrowing howl envelops the ears, a pulverising mindfulness and harmony vying with the ‘Zombie Drone’ horror of the late, lamented Undersmile. The trippy Proto / Blues of ‘Take The Blame’, meanwhile, sees some wondrous solos enhanced by Fiel’s rich bass tones, whilst the eerie intimations of ‘Mother Forgive Me’ reinforce those Undersmile links: yet there remains a lightness, a delicacy and melody rarely shown by that Oxford quartet whilst losing neither the ominous intent nor the irresistible weight. The beautiful, brittle yet bitter closer ‘Earth Dive’ is a melodic, mournful cascade with Gilchrest’s emotive leadwork once more to the fore.
It’s extremely difficult to be objective about a band’s sound when it encompasses some of the great melancholic artists of the last two decades. It is undeniable, however, that this is an incredible debut, a true tour de force of orthodox Doom with wonderful subtleties and invention, gathering all elements of Low-end music and perfectly balancing dark and light.