High On Fire
Snakes For The Divine
posted on 2/2010 By:
I hesitated to sign up to write the review of Snakes for the Divine. High on Fire means about as much to me as three guys I have never met who make cool noises can. I doubted that I could equal with words what High on Fire creates with sound (a doubt I harbor still). Then I thought of all the insipid metalcore, redundant thrash and infuriating post-whatever bullshit (Gods and Queens, I’m looking at you, you cocksuckers) I have reviewed in my tenure at Metal Review, and I asked myself: If you have spent countless hours trying (and likely failing) to pull literary magic out of your ass in the face of stifling musical mediocrity, only to balk at the chance of reviewing the one band you esteem above all others, just what the fuck are you doing this for?
And so here we are…
In ten years of recording, High on Fire has not released an album I would count as less than 100% pure, skull-crushing metal of the highest order. For those who would like to save some reading, I will state, plainly, that with Snakes for the Divine, High on Fire’s tradition of excellence continues.
High on Fire's previous album Death is this Communion found the band in a bit of an experimental mood. The trio explored exotic grooves, dabbled in some middle-eastern instrumentation, and even added some keyboards to the proceedings. As titles like "Frost Hammer", and "Fire Flood and Plague" might suggest, Snakes for the Divine is a more straight forward, go-for-the-throat affair. Death is this Communion was hardly easy listening, but on Snakes, the band is playing with such furious intensity, it seems as if they have something to prove.
The album opens with a bit of a surprise, as the title track’s unaccompanied tapping intro, while undeniably infectious (stuck in my head since the first listen and not due to leave any time soon), had me questioning whether I had ended up with a Children of Bodom album by mistake. After forty five seconds, however, there is no mistaking the track for the work of anyone but High on Fire; the rhythm guitar drops in, and the band commences to pummel the listener for eight and a half glorious minutes. “Frost Hammer”, a track as mercilessly crushing as its title implies, with lyrical imagery perfectly suited to High on Fire’s barbaric sound, offers no respite from the punishment. The brooding “Bastard Samurai” has a longer fuse than the previous tracks, but once the charge ignites, the heat is equally intense.
Front-loading the album with three of the best tracks can produce a perceived drop in quality for the songs that follow, but in High on Fire’s case, the drop is only from God-like to superhuman. Standouts from the album's second half include “Ghost Neck”, which heaves and churns like the bloody water during shark feeding frenzy, and “How Dark We Pray”, which contains some of Matt Pike’s most majestic and melodic lead work to date.
The selection of Greg Fidelman as producer of Snakes for the Divine was a source of unease for many fans due to Fidelman’s ill-regarded work on Slayer’s World Painted Blood and, to some extent, Metallica’s Death Magnetic. Let me put any fears to rest by saying that Fidelman has done an excellent job on Snakes for the Divine. The sound is certainly the cleanest High on Fire has ever had, but the band has hardly been neutered. The sound is massive and powerful, and the instruments are all expertly placed in the mix. Amongst an illustrious list of producers that includes Billy Anderson, Steve Albini and Jack Endino, who has best captured High on Fire’s sound is a matter for debate, but no one can accuse Fidelman of fucking this album up.
Matt Pike is widely acknowledged as a grand wizard of the riff, and rightfully so, but I feel that Pike’s acclaim has overshadowed the excellent work of drummer Des Kensel. So, I would like to take this opportunity to state that Des Kensel is one of the best drummers in metal today. His superb grasp of grove and dynamics is eclipsed only by his ability to strike a beat like the hammer of the fucking gods. Kensel's work on this album, like on all the others, is monstrous.
Music at its best is a transcendent experience, helping us, if only for a moment, to slip the bonds of ordinary life, and when I listen to Snakes for the Divine, I become a ten foot tall Viking on a mountain of skulls, hurling boulders, breathing fire and shooting lightning bolts from my eyes. This is metal at its finest. Buy it.
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