I do not know Matt Pike of High on Fire personally, however every couple years I invite him into my home to kick me in the balls.
I like this.
The first time I heard about High On Fire was during the great ‘Stoner Rock Quake’ of ’99, when Man’s Ruin Records seemingly came out of nowhere and began making incredible ripples in the underground music scene with a small cadre of Sabbath-esque bands who had stripped heavy music back to the barest of essentials*. ‘Stoner Rock‘ was of course just another label marketers could feed the masses as ‘the next big thing’ but all things considered there were some really great bands that came out of that era**: High on Fire, Queens of the Stone Age and Electric Wizard to name a few. With all that great music looming over the turn of the century who could have guessed the good bands would be usurped by the nebulous anti-movement of ‘Extreme metal’ – i.e. those silly douchewaggers who paint their faces white and pretend to be (or in the Nordic variety are) evil murderers in the mainstream eye. Subsequently Man’s Ruin died, QOTSA went on to become possibly the last of the great stadium rock bands and everyone else either faded away into obscurity (Roach Powder) or against-all-odds continue to hammer out a tough living touring non-stop and working part-time when they’re not.
High On Fire is one of the latter.
Matt Pike was originally in the band Sleep. If you have heard of Sleep before it is probably for one of the following three reasons:
1) You read some aging popular music critique in the late nineties who used Sleep for his/her linchpin of credibility as the last strains of whatever that marcy-playground shite was after nirvana faded and bands like kid cock and lymp bisquick made sure to appeal to no one but fourteen year olds and rednecks. Sleep’s epic 73 minute final album Dopesmoker (later re-edited as 63 minute Jerusalem) made the rounds as being every critic’s ‘jukebox desert island’ pick in what always seemed to me to be desperate attempts to grasp at what I’m sure they all thought was going to be the next big thing.
2) You saw Harmony Korine’s masterpiece GUMMO and sought out the awesome soundtrack, which prominently featured the band’s awesome and very Sabbath-like track Dragonaut.
3) You were uninterested in the Mesa-Boogie Metal thing going on everywhere else and caught wind of the fire-ass bud brewing in the underground Stoner set.
Sleep is an awesome band, however they do not hold a candle to High on Fire. If you haven’t heard High On Fire imagine Black Sabbath Volume Four combined with Motorhead and you’re approaching the ballpark. But there is something else with these guys too. Call it Virtuosity without dream theater style wankery. Brutality without makeup and posturing. High On Fire is honest, working man’s metal that seems to have a physical manifestation when played loud enough – I am always moved to imagine an army of Orcs mounting up and laying siege to some unsuspecting castle or village, slaying everything living in their path and burning everything else.
Sounds great, no?
While I continue to hold the band’s third album BLESSED BLACK WINGS as their masterpiece thus far I must make it extremely clear that each of their other albums are amazing as well, and Snakes of the Divine is no exception. Realistically, if you pick up an album and it has tracks with names like BASTARD SAMURAI and FROST HAMMER you should pretty much know intuitively you’re about to catch Mjölnir in the face. Yet at the same time all these metaphors are colorful but essentially a waste – whatever you think, High On Fire is twice that in both adrenaline and skill.
I know a lot of the old school metal bands are back to making halfway decent albums, but to me once you stray onto the path of suck you really can’t ever make up for it, no matter how well you’re able to dissect and re-create your original sound. The future of metal is dark, but with bands like High On Fire around that darkness is being channeled for sonic rituals of headbanging laceration – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
* Looking back that Southern Lord Records is kind of doing the same thing right now, although they have more of a sophisticated Black Metal thing going on. Yes, I know I just spent (or am about to spend, depending on if you follow my overwrought use of asterisks in the flow of the paragraph they depart from or read them at the end) a couple of sentences making fun of Black Metal but that is the commercial, make-up wearing end of the genre. There’s some really cool stuff going on elsewhere in the genre (and I have to admit, I do like me some Demon Burger from time to time)
** But you have to admit – the moniker fit!!!