Review Summary: The concept of De Vermis Mysteriis is more of an off-hand comment than anything else, but that makes the album's mythic proportion that much more impressive.De Vermis Mysteriis
begins on a lightning-fast double-bass ridden note and ends in a thunderous droning piece of theatrical doom-esque metal, never failing to obtrude, abuse or suffocate your senses. The heavy power of this record from beginning to end is so overbearing, guttural and driving that it's no wonder Kurt Ballou of Converge was responsible for producing its characteristic sound. An exhausting amount of adjectives from "blistering" to "sludgy stoner" lie in the wake of this album, but somehow they fall just short of truly describing De Vermis
' punishing sound.
De Vermis Mysteriis
is actually the name of a book by science fiction writer Robert Bloch, later incorporated into H.P. Lovecraft's fictional Cthulhu Mythos. Lead singer and frontman, Matt Pike, stated on the band's website that the album is a conceptual album based around the idea that the immaculate inception of Jesus Christ also involved a twin who had to die at birth to give Jesus his life. And then there's something about that twin becoming a time traveler and seeing through his ancestors' eyes, and it all begins to sound like the half-baked ideas of a thousand alternate-history, science-fiction films. Pike summed up the concept by simply saying, "But whatever---time travel is a killer concept." A truly edifying conclusion.
Regardless of Pike's intended concept or meaning, De Vermis
is a showcase of how deafeningly powerful, yet controlled and melodic High on Fire are capable of being. At one point, you can practically hear the bass strings of Jeff Matz's guitar slapping against the neck, and you can feel the crack of Des Kensel's drum sticks enacting their judgment on his unholy kit. It's all somehow theatrical, larger than life, and visionary, regardless of the unrealized concept itself of Christ's twin.
Through all of the power and static bliss of the album, Pike's vocals are almost always charging at the forefront. His guttural singing is rasping, vehement and personal. Sometimes it actually feels as though he's yelling these songs in your ears, and a part of you really wants him to just back off for a moment. As his commanding yowls lead the music on, there are still times when his voice becomes a little cleaner. The track "King of Days" features some clean ringing vocals, like you might hear in fantasy-inspired metal bands, and the final song, "Warhorn," is even cleaner as Pike goes on and on about a war-torn world. But even through the clean vocals, there's still something sinister that lies in wait. The title track hits off on a very dark, garbled note, and it sounds as though Pike's voice was mechanically manipulated, although I'm inclined to believe it wasn't. He's just able to channel something resonantly deep and powerful.
Songs like the first three tracks, "Serum of Liao," "Bloody Knuckle" and "Fertile Green," attack at ripping speeds and Kensel's aggressive drumming nears an almost punk status. Other tracks, such as "Madness of an Architect" are slower and heavier, where the "stoner" aspect of the band truly comes into play. And "Samsara" really
breaks the mold, throwing in much-needed variety as an instrumental track, which is simultaneously lovely and powerful, uplifting the level of melody. And to top it off, Pike---who also fronts as the lead guitarist as well as vocalist---manages to pull off some truly shredding guitar solos that will probably have you drawing comparisons to Black Sabbath and Motörhead. It all feels like classic rock and roll at its finest, yet it caters to the headbanger ready to burst inside.
It'd be disastrous not to note, though, that De Vermis
hits a somewhat repetitive streak from time to time. It's usually on the faster songs, such as "Romulus and Remus" or "Spiritual Rites" where it begins to sound like a rehash or a combination of the first three tracks put together. Thankfully, though, even the repetitive moments are broken up by slower, more inventive tracks, like "King of Days" with its near tribalism percussion ending. So---at the very least---the repetitious parts aren't jam packed into an entire section of the album, which is good pacing, indeed.
Concept albums are fun. They feel bigger than music for the sake of making music, and they truly become inviting and enveloping stories, or even thesis statements for the more persevered musicians. But, sadly, De Vermis Mysteriis
' concept is more of an off-hand comment than a driving force or the focus of attention. Which is exactly why the fact that the album is so empowering, so emboldening, and so mythical is that
much more impressive.