Well, isn’t this a wake-up call you wouldn’t mind hearing every morning. Oakland’s mighty HIGH ON FIRE have brought the juice on their sixth full-length album, “De Vermis Mysteriis,” a record that bitch-slaps the sleep from your eyes and the nuts-and-bolts from your pussy snooze button.
Featuring Matt Pike on guitars and vox, Jeff Matz on bass, and Des Kensel on drums, these Sludge Metal mavens have created an album that soundly trumps 2010’s “Snakes of the Divine” on all sides of the cube: aggression, psychedelia, groove, melody, structure, production, you fuckin’ name it. It’s aural intensity that reeks the way badass Metal ought to; heavier than hell, faster than sin, and edgier than a slab of granite rock, “De Vermis Mysteriis” coats the land in a bloodied and weather-beaten blueprint of how to mash subgenre with seething and snarling affect.
Fans should be cognizant of Pike’s placement in the annals of Metal history; the man’s a legitimate Doom-Stoner heavyweight whose guitar playing in SLEEP helped till the big-riff landscape as we know it. And even with such a great tittering clutch of albums at his heels, the man clearly has plenty left to share. However, and in spite of Pike’s ability to dole out heapings of said awesomeness, perhaps most vital to the album’s success is that the creative pace is pushed at an equally frantic tempo by the tireless pull of Matz and the relentless hammering of Kensel. Whether they hit slow and thundering on the grooving head-banger “Madness of an Architect,” or roil forward with malevolent precision and want on “Spiritual Rites,” the trio’s cohesive impact is palpable on every one of the album’s 10 tracks.
Although it shouldn’t have been given HIGH ON FIRE’s track record, “De Vermis Mysteriis” still came off as a tremendous surprise; due in large part to the album’s conceptual framework (ingredients that include Lovecraft, war, drugs, time-travel, Christ’s twin, and Robert E. Howard) and the sterling production of Kurt Ballou at Salem’s Godcity Studios. With his name behind recent albums like TORCHE’s “Harmonicraft” and BLACK BREATH’s “Sentence to Life,” Ballou’s attention to detail has the album tasting like bottled magma; flammable and dense with the fizzing carbonation of a live show that pours out as one of the most combustible records of the year.
Everything comes through with the right amount of clarity and power; Pike’s voice is random parts Tom Warrior, Dez Fafara, and Lemmy Kilmister; roaring and blazing and then showing considerable control on the album-closing “Warhorn,” and his flourishes of smooth psychedelic solo work, highlighted on the bluesy instrumental track “Samsara,” lends the album generous and dreamy respite. While their imprint is perhaps slightly less prominent than Pike’s, Matz and Kensel follow his lead wearing cinderblock boxing gloves; adding a considerable heft and hurt to the dozens of gnarly riffs found on “De Vermis Mysteriis.” On a track like “Fertile Green,” Matz is manic, popping off volleys of runs and then migrating into suitably huge Doom chords, and Kensel acts as the inexhaustible beat-keeper; driving the album ahead through fen and dune, maintaining a consistent momentum that crashes with insane tribal drumming that never grows familiar or stale.
HIGH ON FIRE’s latest has more than enough replay value and kick-ass creativity to keep it relevant not just for a few more months, but rather, until some other band grows the balls to create an album that rips as heavy and as hard as this one. Fucking badass on so many levels.
ME(n)TAL NOTE: HIGH ON FIRE had to recently leave the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival due to Pike’s health. He’s entered a treatment facility where he’s undergoing alcohol rehabilitation. The Metal Observer wishes Pike a speedy recovery.
(Online July 5, 2012)