Review Summary: Snakes for the Divine is a very focused album, and is proof that High on Fire is ready to become a true mastodon on the metal scene.
After 2007’s Death is this Communion
, it was evident that High on Fire had matured to the point at which they could have taken one of two paths for their next album. On the one hand, their use of the opaque and thunderous riffs that are found predominantly on Post-Metal albums was a good indicator that the band could propel themselves into the realm of Post-Metal with relative ease. But the album was as much an exhibit of their technical proficiency as it was one of the dense sound with which a lot of bands employing low tuned guitars are experimenting. And while Matt Pike’s guitar prowess wasn’t a primary component of the music, it was utilized enough to exemplify that if they wanted to, High on Fire could continue to attune their sound to one in a similar vein as their arguably most relevant contemporaries: Mastodon.
But unlike Mastodon, who is often unjustifiably dubbed a sludge band, that very element has always been prominent in High on Fire’s music. And despite balancing the aforementioned sounds to form a more cohesive album, the sludge aspect is still just as prevalent as ever. In fact, probably moreso than on Death
, which paid more attention to the musicianship than the atmosphere that the sludge sound tends to elicit. On Snakes for the Divine
, High on Fire weaves these elements together in order to create a more coherent and focused album.
A few things are noticeably different in High on Fire’s sound almost instantly. The production has definitely improved, although it is still far from perfect. The bass is perpetually audible, and the opening sequence in the title track is crisp, an indicator of the solid sound quality. The only gripe people will have with the production is that although certain aspects of it are better, the album still doesn’t sound like one that came out of 2010. The vocals, too, seem to have taken steps in the right direction. On Death
, Pike’s vocals often sounded insipid and uninspired, rarely changing in power and inflection. Snakes
showcases a more incisive and blustery vocal performance; Pike’s voice has clearly stepped out of the shadow of the other instruments on many of the songs, and his maturity is accompanied by the evolution of the other instruments as well.
Matt Pike has added more variety in his fretwork, “Fire, Flood, & Plague” throwing in a thrashy component at the beginning, before settling right into a strong riff for the rest of the song. There are more solos on Snakes
, which although detract a bit from the sludgy aspect of the songs, are never unwelcome features of the music. Des Kensel’s drums are well done as well, never overpowering but never underwhelming either. And it’s interesting to see a drummer in today’s metal scene who doesn’t utilize much double bass either. That isn’t to say that the bass drum is unutilized; it just isn‘t exploited to the extent that it is on many metal records, and his modest performance is sublime.
With regards to the dilemma presented in the opening paragraph, High on Fire drew on elements of both sounds for the new album. Using the sound from Death is this Communion
as a foundation, the band carefully and intricately crafted an album that has really developed their own sound. Without compromising the sound that many found pleasing on their last album, High on Fire made a return to their roots, reviving the sludgy sound that they were always known for. Snakes for the Divine
is a very focused album, and is proof that High on Fire is ready to become a true mastodon on the metal scene.