It might not have been the best year for male vocalists, but the women in metal more than made up for it. Stellar performances from bands as varied as Royal Thunder, Sabbath Assembly, Chelsea Wolfe, Myrkur, and Diablo Swing Orchestra showed us that the women can bring it. But the best performance of the year came from a band whose album flew under our radar: Pristine, and their fourth album, Ninja. For those not in the know (probably all of us, and certainly The Huckster prior to June), Pristine are a group of Norwegian blues-rockers not dissimilar to Blues Pills, their main selling point being the stellar vocals of red-haired siren Heidi Solheim.

Pristine get the weakest track out of the way right off the bat. “You are the One” has a country twang to it that just doesn’t sit well with me, but luckily, it’s an anomaly. The band rights the cart immediately thereafter. “Sophia” is a short, funky grinder featuring a catchy Hammond organ solo, and “The Perfect Crime” has the best vocal performance of the year on any album of any genre, period. This song alone, with Solheim putting all other vocalists to shame (not to mention an excellent guitar solo), makes Ninja worth owning.

Amazingly, Ninja was recorded in one day, with a few more days spent on overdubs and mixing. Almost unheard of in this age of glacially-paced recording and editing sessions. The spontaneity of the band shines as a result, showing that the four guys backing Solheim are more than up to the challenge, with tight rhythms, excellent keyboard work, and tasteful guitar solos. The band covers a lot of ground in nine songs, from the bluesy balladry of “The Perfect Crime” to driving rockers like “The Parade” and the swampy, meandering “Ghost Chase.” The longest song is “Jekyll & Hyde,” a seven-minute exercise in seductiveness and psychedelia that’s mesmerizing to listen to. Throughout all the songs Pristine sound fantastic, with a well-balanced, lively mix.

2017 may have been a big year for death metal, but it was also a fantastic year for non-metal albums, and Ninja was one of the leaders of that pack. Remember, if it weren’t for the blues we wouldn’t have metal at all, so to hear such a kick-ass album as this was one of my musical high points of the year (as you’ll see from my dubious year-end list). Pristine are on my radar going forward, and they should be on yours as well.

Tracks to Check Out: “Ninja,” “Jekyll & Hyde,” and “The Perfect Crime.”