Anything half-baked and coquettish about Kittie’s notable yet flawed debut have been scrubbed away on their second album, _Oracle_. To what will be the surprise and delight of many a metalhead, the band have augmented their always strong confidence with this set of killer metal tunes. Not a bad riff on the platter, _Oracle_ will push Kittie’s aspirations to a new horizon, although it won’t surprise me (or them) if the differences between records one and two do not go over well with all the fans.The new disc, forsaking airbrushed pictures of the ladies for Tool-flavored x-ray artwork, shows that Kittie has matured greatly. Weathering the loss of fourth member Fallon, the band’s move to a trio seems to have tightened the playing and songwriting. Deft, handsome heavy metal power is showcased from every corner. The songs have become slightly longer and more complex, with significant changes and sudden lurches that were not found on _Spit_. “Mouth of Poison” signals the new direction, a solemn power and rage oozing from every note. Morgan Lander’s vocals range from a feminine plaintiveness to a black metal growl, lending each track a hue of emotional grandeur. Talena Atfield’s bass keeps things dark and dense while Mercedes Lander’s switch to steel kick-drum pads keep a beat that is more than substantial for the mid-tempo grind Kittie concocts. Tracks like “In Winter” are both magisterial as well as majestic, the band showing an excellent grasp of metal form combined with their own sensibilities. “What I Always Wanted” is an eerie dirge, “Safe” an admirable ballad. The plodding, atmospheric “Pink Lemonade” recalls parts of Neurosis and Godflesh. A cover of Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell” works surprisingly well, and the title track is both a lyrical statement of the album’s musical courage as well a summation of the disc’s heartfelt pain told through a story of bludgeoning riffs and wails.Contrary to the information in Amazon’s “professional” review, Morgan does do *all* the vocals on the record, although Talena helps out live (my source is an interview with Mercedes on the band’s website). I feel the band would also rather be viewed on their merits as musicians instead of those purely gender-based. We all know women can create magnificent art describing and decrying their personal tragedies and despairs as effectively as men– the real triumph is when something such as this appears, as it does all too rarely. In the world of heavy metal in particular this is more true than ever. However, Kittie has carved, or clawed, a comfortable niche for itself with this strong sophomore effort.