Agony and Opium (20 Buck Spin)
Sometimes less is more. This brisk debut from Olympia, Wash., hard rockers Christian Mistress is only 27 minutes long—it's supposed to hearken back to the pre-digital era, when sonic force depended on big vinyl grooves and before CDs allowed up to 80 minutes of music. It's an appropriate approach, even if it's a little cute; everything else about Agony and Opium, after all, is a throwback. Christian Mistress operates like it's 1983, just before the start of heavy metal's almost endless division and subdivision into thrash, power metal, hair metal, and on and on. But Agony and Opium rises well above other retro hard-rock acts like Wolfmother for two reasons: songwriting (there are more memorable riffs on here than in the entire Queens of the Stone Age catalog) and the controlled chaos of the performances, especially of frontwoman Christine Davis, whose voice is part Ann Wilson and part Pat Benatar. She throws herself into Agony and Opium with abandon.
The barely there production and efficiency of the six songs (they average about four-and-a-half minutes) save Christian Mistress from the worst excesses of nostalgia rock and transform a potentially self-conscious exercise into a lean and mean slab of no-prefix hard rock, and maybe a contender for best rock record of the year. It's like a perfect opening set—no wasted moments, no fat, and just enough to make you want more.
Christian Mistress' hometown has been corrected. It is not Portland, Ore.