High On Fire
De Vermis Mysteriis
posted on 4/2012 By:
Unless you've spent the last decade listening to Anvil in your sweatpants, you're probably hip to High On Fire's status as (arguably?) the most complete band in heavy metal. They've released five albums, the quality of which can only be rightfully measured on a scale starting with 'Pretty Damn Solid' and maxing out on 'Nuclear Cocaine From a Shotgun Barrel.' They tour incessantly, humbly alternating between the roles of Dutiful Opener and Unfuckwithable Headliner. They bring riffs for days, solos for the ages, and bangovers like bastards. High On Fire consistently conjures power trio fury in its purest form, taking all the right cues from the past and driving them furiously into the future.
So, if you're shocked at the revelation that De Vermis Mysteriis will go down as one of the year's best albums, you haven't been paying attention. If you're shocked that it might be the best album in their heretofore stellar career, well...can't blame you there. Killing on eleven with album number six is pretty atypical. But here we are.
Let's get one thing out of the way: High On Fire hasn't been breaking their own rules in the songwriting department in, basically, forever. They've been doing their thing for awhile now, so conversations about the band's "evolution" or the merits of a new album typically gravitate towards their producer-of-the-moment. The desperately-sought HOF "live" sound has been pretty elusive. Up to this point, it was best captured by Steve Albini on Blessed Black Wings, but Kurt Ballou basically nails it on De Vermis Mysteriis, injecting Matt Pike's guitars with the appropriate amount of filth while still allowing the terminally-underrated Jeff Matz to shine like thunder. Overall, this is the nastiest High On Fire record to date.
And not just on the surface. There is some serious, sickening depth to De Vermis Mysteriis. Cynics may simply take note of Matt Pike and Des Kensel's continued drunken-Motorhead-meets-stoned-Slayer destructiveness and call the album another notch in the band's widening belt. But two things make the album stand out: Pike's impeccable vocal delivery and Matz's continued excellence.
While Pike will never be known as a great vocalist in terms of technique (the nakedness of Greg Fidelman's Snakes of the Divine production splayed out his flaws), but with each passing album, he leans less on his riffage to drive his songwriting and more on his vocal patterns. He uses his voice to devastating effect on De Vermis' first side, spitting rapidfire venom on "Bloody Knuckles" and spit-flinging pit-calls on "Fertile Green," two towering ragers that give Fire devotees exactly the kind of adrenaline rush they bought the ticket for.
But Pike truly excels on the album's slower tracks. (In fact, these songs are where De Vermis mines gold. That "stoner" tag that many have shoehorned into the band's description over the years finally seems to fit, as Ballou's swamptones have helped the band recaputure some serious, serious doom metal moments.) "Madness of an Architect" lazily rides a loose, droning riff, but it's pulled together with seething, tightly-stitched verses. "King of Days" is a full-on doom track, the type of bluesy n' brawling boiler that Grand Magus once had the biker balls to pen themselves. Pike croons with flawed, pained power, his rawness setting a grand stage for some of the cleanest, sexiest guitar leads he's ever laid down.
These slow jams wouldn't be nearly as effective without Matz's subterranean buttressing. While Kensel's primal footwork usually takes the most credit for powering Pike's legendary drives, Matz has been an invaluable part of High On Fire's dominance since joining the band for Death Is This Communion. He shined on Snakes (his bright spotlight was Fidelman's saving grace), but morphs into absolute backbone on De Vermis: Stoking the flame on the suave interlude of "Samsara," carrying the weight (and stepping up to the solo plate) on the aforementioned "King of Days," and utilizing glue-coated gloves of concrete to power the single-minded basher "Spiritual Rites." He's the critical element that essentially turns De Vermis into Surrounded By Thieves on godfucking steroids. Only this time around, High On Fire is blessed with a veteran band's sense of dynamics and pacing, both of which are employed here with shocking dexterity.
High On Fire has always bled purity. When a band describes themselves as "no-frills," they must answer to High On Fire's barometer. This is rock and roll in its absolute purest form; three dudes making as much controlled noise as humanly possible, playing the living shit out of their instruments for the most noble cause in all of music: worship of The Riff. The band's dedication to their craft is practically unmatched, and De Vermis Mysteriis cements them as the most consistently kinetic entity in guitar-based music today. This is qualty. This is craftsmanship.
This is the greatest heavy metal band on the planet. In their prime. Show some respect.
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