To release one monster of an album in 2018 is no mean feat. To do so with the wait of expectation from a rabid fanbase weighing like a concrete albatross is truly magnificent. For Matt Pike to follow up Sleeps’ “The Sciences” with a new High on Fire record is just showing off!
I’m no Pikette. This is no long time fan boy talking. I have walked out of a Sleep show a couple of years ago cos I was bored (I know, I know). High On Fire were always on my radar – I had a few albums and loved Snakes for the Divine. Then I saw them this year at Desertfest. The film was blasted from my ears and eyes and I was a convert to the Electric Messiah. This album, just like the bands live show is a sweaty monster.
Before the release of the Album Pike had spoken about his concerns on playing tracks live. This led a lot of fans to believe that this indicated a return to the ferocity of Luminiferous. What followed is the bands most melodic offering since 2010’s Snakes for the Divine. A homage to Lemmy the nine sonic gifts here are worthy of the tribute to Rock and Roll’s greatest outlaw.
Opening with “Spewn from the Earth” immediately the raucous spirit of Motorhead looms large. Dirty, punky but decidedly metal this track rumbles like a Sherman tank before Matt launches into one of his frantic solos. “Steps of the Ziggurat/House of Enlil“ bludgeons it’s way in. Kurt Ballou is at the helm for the third time and the production is perfect as you would expect. The drums and bass are gargantuan but never obscure the guitars. A ZIggurat, in case you are interested is a Mesopotamian stone structure of around 100 metres in height. Enlil was the Mesopotamian god that granted King status on mortals. So, this is a 9 minute doom laden metal stomp based around a fuck off great monument to a God that creates power. It sounds like it. Every last stone!
The title track is a blast. Pure energy from the opening riff and scream it’s a high octane , neck snapping , hair whipping rock orgy to the final blood curdling yell.
Post coital respite comes from “Sanctioned Annihilation” which builds from Roman Galley drums and a single guitar into a grandiose piece of speed doom. So, so heavy! Not just heavy though. There is a gutsiness to HoF that shines through the album and this track in particular. For Matt Pike to write a 10 minute doom/stoner epic is not news – he does it in his Sleep (see what I did there) . To be able to do it and maintain the rampant metallic heartbeat that pumps throughout this album is something else. The strange off kilter oddly tuneless solo reminds me of old punk guitar solos on half speed. It’s oddly mesmerising and adds to the ambience.
“The Pallid Mask” disappears into a rumble of bass and drums whilst “God of the Godless” whips in like a Djinn. There is something about this album that evokes feelings of the Egyptian desert rather than that of the US. The rhythms here have a Middle Eastern lilt and it gallops along like the Medjay after Brendan Fraser.
This album is one of those where my favourite track keeps changing with my mood. “Freebooter” is my current song du jour. It’s one of those that you should never have on when driving unless you are on the Autobahn. Pure thrash delight! Hints of 80’s Megadeth in there and even some good Slayer. Ruddy marvellous!
“The Witch and the Christ” now that’s a film I would go and see. Especially if this was the soundtrack pounding drums and a thunderous riff. Hammer horror lurks in the background with buzzsaw guitars. Swansong “Drowning Dog” opens with a Dave Murray style guitar line and the metal is certainly pushed to the forefront here. A mighty bassline ushers in Pikes most melodic vocal on this collection . Fans of Grand Magus will love this one. So metal, so epic, so melodic.
High On Fire have a fantastic discography. It is easy to tread water nowadays. High On Fire chose to set the H2O on fire and wade through the smoke firing off riffs and drum fills at naysayers. Long may they continue to do so!
(9/10 Matt Mason)