Published Feb 26, 2012Christian Mistress have garnered an immense amount of attention for Possession, and every ounce is well-deserved. Critics have attempted to pin genre monikers like "NWOBHM" and "traditional" to Christian Mistress, but the best way to pay homage to the purity of their sound is to call them simply heavy metal. Supple yet muscular, their tone is as lovely and deadly as a skilled swordsman ― perfect balance, grace and a very sharp blade. The production is warm and smooth, almost buttery in its analog perfection, with just the right amount of sunniness playing off the dark, occult-tinged lyrical content. The Olympia, WA quintet have a chemistry that's positively alchemical in its precision and magic. Oscar Sparbel and Ryan McClain's guitar riffs groove and swagger, sensuously moving around each other with the grace of competitive fencers. The songs are driven by their rhythms, which sometime groove and sometimes charge ahead, as likely to punch as caress. Christine Davis's smoky, caramel voice has the right balance of grit and smoothness, and is one of the crucial elements that lift Possession from being merely good to something extraordinary. This record is pure, full of pleasure and entirely enveloping. The theme is one of transformation and every curve and corner of the sound echoes this, from the plaintive, introspective strumming on "The Way Beyond" to the overt references to metamorphosis in "Black to Gold." It has the type of energy that invades, penetrates and carries the listener forward; it's the perfect balance of seduction and strength. Possession will take you.
How do you define yourselves in terms of genre?
Davis: I think that it's far more helpful to use descriptive words when talking about our music, instead of genres or categories. I think that listeners owe it to themselves to do more that just categorize. I appreciate when people listen to our music and decide for themselves what it sounds like. I think of Christian Mistress as the kind of music that helps you to deal with things in life. I envision it as a kind of cyclone of the mind's eye, something both towering and calm. This is the kind of music to listen to when speeding down the highway, hair in the wind.
How important has the now-infamous endorsement from Fenriz been to your careers?
You know, I am kind of bummed that quote has been used so much by labels. Two record labels have used that particular quote and both times we had directly asked them not to. And yet, they keep using it. It's not all that descriptive or interesting to us as a band, as we want to project a more interesting face to the world. Don't get me wrong, we are very happy with our labels and they do a great job, but that line is frustrating and has been overused. All that it did for me was to help us become more aware of the international metal scene. Our friend and visual artist, Dennis Dread, who had done an illustration for Darkthrone, was the one who passed our work along to Fenriz. The endorsement really didn't change a lot, as our friends and fans have always supported us; they are the ones who catapulted us to where we are. The whole Pacific Northwest metal scene has been hugely supportive.
As a band founded in 2008, with two EPs and a full-length to your names, you have the opportunity ahead of you to play Roadburn, in Tilburg, the Netherlands, this year. How do you prepare for that?
A great wardrobe? Really, though, I feel like we are prepared. We have been doing this for four years and it has all moved along very smoothly. As far as putting records out, putting songs out, playing live, it has all been a very natural progression, one step after the other. Now, playing Roadburn is a dream come true. At the same time, it also feels really natural. Nothing we have ever done has been forced. We never do what we don't want to do and choose exactly what feels right to us in the moment. There is enough chemistry between band members that we are all able to make decisions and write songs that we love easily. All our material captures how we feel about the world, our relationships and each other. At Roadburn, we won't really know what's happening until we get there. I don't think there's any way we can accurately picture it ahead of time. When all the opportunities are so great, you really don't know what is happening until you are present and in the midst of it.
Christian Mistress recently played dates with Hammers of Misfortune. What was that experience like?
Fantastic! We invited them to do a short tour with us and we knew it was going to be great because we had played with them in the past. We always invite each other to be a part of things and take great care of each other; we're all good friends. Being on the road with Hammers of Misfortune was a really good time. I think our sounds complement each other. We're great openers for them because we're very energetic on stage and get a strong vibe going, then Hammers are more meticulous and have a lot more sounds going on, in terms of the vocal harmonies and layers of sound. They are really great colleagues to have. Plus, Oscar and Sigrid are both classically trained musicians and can talk about music theory.
Olympia, WA has always been a hotbed for punk and indie rock music. What is the metal scene like? How has the deep punk roots of the place affected you as artists?
There isn't a metal scene in Olympia ― there is a music scene. It is very alive and vibrant, and not nearly as constrained by genre as the scenes in other cities. We play with all kinds of bands because we have friends in all kinds of bands. We've played with the Body and Thou when they came through, and tons of bands of all different types locally. People in Olympia go to see bands not because of genres but because they like music; it is all about the vibe you project and the energy. I think it might be a reaction to the weather, the need to expel energy inside because of how rainy the Pacific Northwest is. But whatever it is, it is great to belong to a music scene, rather than something divided. We are originally from Portland, so we also spent a lot of time immersed in the punk scene. That has affected our drive and given us punk-rooted ethics.
Your lyrics tend to be quite poetic, leaning towards the associative rather than the literal or narrative, often incorporating themes of transformation. What is your writing process like and what are your influences?
What I hope for when I write lyrics is for people to project their thoughts. The way lyrics make someone feel can correlate to my original ideas, but if they don't it doesn't matter. The lyrics, for me, are an extension of the music. The first thing I think of is the vocal melody in a song, and that comes from the guitar line. It is very much a chain of events, one thing leading to another, and lyrics are always the thing that comes last in the songwriting process. I think it is crucial to connect the lyrics to the unconscious core of the song ― the song is in charge no matter what. I also have to say that being a lyricist is a failing poet's dream come true. I've never really tried to be a poet, and since I have been writing, I have always been in bands, so I always used lyrics as the primary form in which to express myself. My lyrics are strongly rooted in imagery and based in emotion.
I read in an interview that you've often read poems and thought that the author didn't realize how metal something was. Were you thinking of any work in particular?
Not really anything in particular. My lyrics are not typical heavy metal material. I think that there are elements of desperation in Baudelaire that strike me as particularly urgent and there are elements like that I want to come across in my writing.
Do you have any interest in publishing your writing in another form?
No. I am honestly just thinking about this now because when I started writing, I never imagined that what I wrote would ever be seen by a greater audience. I honestly never thought there would be this many people listening so closely. I never expected to have to talk about this or care. When it comes to the style I have developed, in terms of lyric writing, I thought no one would actually listen so I used that as a shield. I figured that, behind the music and in the lyrics, I could do whatever I wanted. It was a personal catharsis, something I never thought others would appreciate. Having to talk about it in detail now is so weird!
What other artists inspire you vocally or musically?
I'm really into Swans. I like the way he [Michael Gira] uses chanting and tone with the music. Some of it is screechy and noise, but then on The Burning World there are some vocal parts that are such a clear inspiration, for me. That style, the way he puts vocal elements and music together, is something that influenced me greatly.
You are the focal point and voice of the band, both on stage and off. Are you most comfortable being in the spotlight?
I'm kind of a control freak. I like to know what's going on, and so I like to be the voice of the band. I also know that my bandmates are capable and willing people. It is not always a conscious decision, but my bandmates are happy to let me handle it when publicity comes my way. I like to be the person who talks onstage too, as it gets confusing when everybody talks. I like things to be straightforward and I like that I am the connection to the audience.
Do you feel more scrutinized as a female vocalist and front-person? Do you ever feel that you're judged by a different set of criteria, musically and otherwise?
No, it doesn't really affect my life. In the world where I live, Christine World, it doesn't affect me. Once in a while I notice people saying something or if we get asked to do one of those "girls in a band" shows, then it gets to me and I always say, "no," because I prefer to steer clear of sexist generalizations. I don't think things that separate artists from each other based on gender [are good]. We were asked to play something called "Cuntfest" once, just because we have a woman in the band, and my response was: "Have you seen my cunt?" Like, why would you assume that I have one and that I would want to play your Cuntfest? That effectively ended the conversation.
Your online presence is quite minimal for a band with your level of popularity. Is this a deliberate choice?
We just really hate being online; it always feels like such a waste of time. The tediousness of the effort would be so detrimental to the music that it wouldn't be worth it. I think it is crucial to keep the potency of Christian Mistress alive and some mystery helps with that.
You use a great deal of magical and alchemical symbols in the art associated with Christian Mistress. Are you trying to say that music is a kind of magic?
Music is magic and it is very powerful. The thing with using this kind of magic is that you have to be careful or you just might manifest things you don't want to. I'm a little bit clairvoyant and a lot of the lyrics on Agony and Opium directly came to pass. Without being too specific, it was totally freaky. I hope that Possession is much more of a retrospective, illuminating the past, rather than once again being clairvoyant. In terms of the imagery on the cover of Possession, there are very powerful symbols. We have fate lines coming off the hand into the lightning of life. The flowers are from the song "Haunted Hunted." I wanted that cover to represent everything that we had come through. (Relapse)