Review Summary: Matt Pike and company return with their signature brand of barbarian sludge metal, but this time, they have Jesus' twin brother in tow.
As the guitarist for stoner rock legends Sleep and now the frontman for the monstrously heavy High on Fire, is it possible for Matt Pike to do any wrong" Sleep’s Holy Mountain is an undisputed classic, and everything he’s put out with High on Fire so far has been one metallic gut punch after another. All of these albums - which include Surrounded By Thieves and the excellent Death is This Communion - feature heaping amounts of drop-tuned guitar sludge, barbaric drumming, and Matt Pike’s signature gurgled vocal delivery. In our modern metal landscape polluted with so much generic breakdown-abusing deathcore, mindless displays of technicality, and autotuned Attack Attack! copycats which leave many metalheads face-palming, High on Fire is one band that can still get a thumbs up from those who are jaded and tired of the current state of metal. Basically, if you’re hungering for heavy music with no pretense or gimmicks, High on Fire is one of the first bands that should be recommend for you to check out.
If there’s one quality about HoF that’s notable besides “heavy” it would be “consistent.” While the band by no means changes up their style with each successive album, they never sound stale or like they’re resting on their laurels. The band always sounds fresh, exciting, and most of all, heavy as a pregnant rhinoceros. But I’m happy to report that Pike and the rest of his trio do, in fact, change things up a little on their latest release. The first new feature of De Vermis Mysteriis (which roughly translates to “the mysteries of the worm”) is that it is a concept album, specifically one about Jesus’ twin brother who died in order to give his brother life. The spirit of the dead twin then has the ability to travel through time, and he has seen “the carnage that Christianity has brought to this world” so his mission is to go back in time to warn Jesus. It’s a unique concept and every song on the album is a piece of it, and the influence of writers like Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Love craft is evident.
Musically, Matt Pike delivers a tremendous performance here. His vocals have never sounded so vile and ferocious, and on the track “Madness of an Architect” in particular, he sounds like a prehistoric carnivorous beast brutally attacking a couple of helpless cavemen – he’s screaming with that much conviction. His guitar solos have improved even more, I’d even say they improved twofold. On tracks like the aforementioned “Madness of an Architect” and the album’s opening pummeler “Serums of Liao”, he positively shreds, but without sounding like a flashy tech-death guitarist. Pike has a much rawer and grittier style, and he plays from the soul and not from the brain. This type of style along with the fact that he writes some serious no-nonsense, crushingly heavy yet totally distinguishable riffs sets him apart from the metal crowd, and for that, he deserves respect.
The production quality has increased on De Vermis as well. Converge guitarist/super producer Kurt Ballou twiddled the knobs here and he made some improvements over the band’s Steve Albini produced last album, Snakes for the Divine. The guitars, while they do kind of fizz out at times, still sound burlier and heavier than on Snakes. The drums are miked well so they sound raw and organic, and Matt’s vocals are done some serious justice. Besides the occasionally fizzy guitar problem, Kurt Ballou did a fantastic job in making this record sound as heavy as he could possibly make it, and while the production doesn’t “make” the album, it sets the stage for the real star of the show: the songs themselves.
Pike’s knack for piecing the crudest and nastiest riffs together to create the most headbanging metal tunes around is what this album is all about, and I’m sure you’ll be throwing up the horns many times throughout this album’s duration. The “Bloody Knuckles” riff is quintessential sludge metal while the instrumental “Samsara” is based on a relaxed bassline with Pike wailing away on a bluesy solo on top of it, and it’s a song unlike anything the band has ever done before. Going back to “Madness of an Architect” (it’s safe to say that it’s one of my favorites) that song provides an opening motif that is one of the grimiest things ever to be recorded to tape. But the crown jewel of this album without a doubt is the seven minute “King of Days.” This beast is driven by a triumphant main riff with Pike credibly singing (!) over it, but don’t worry, he still sounds like an animal. But the main thing that distinguishes this song from the rest of the album is its epic duel between Pike and bassist Jeff Matz. The two musicians trade some seriously soulful solos back and forth with each other before uniting into a dual lead harmony that brings the song to its end. It must be heard to be believed.
In short, High on Fire has delivered the goods once again. If you’re someone who has never really liked this band, then there’s no promise that this will be the album that convinces you, but if you are accustomed to this type of sludgy and unpolished metal, then I’d say that you owe it to yourself to pick this up wherever you can. The appeal of a band like this and the music they make is that there is nothing really modern or trendy about who they are and what they do. They make metal that’s timeless and will always be heavy and true no matter how many years pass by on the heavy metal calendar, and we will hopefully be enthusiastically rocking out to their music generations from now.