High on Fire
February 21, 2016
The Swiss label Off the Disk Records was founded by Thomas Mölch and Erich Keller (Fear of God fame, breaker of Henry Rollins’ microphone, and now renowned academic) in 1988, which is when they released Infest’s classic Slave LP (“Youth of Today im Elektrozaun”). Hemorrhaging quality releases since its inception, I blindly ordered Sleep’s Vol.2 7” in 1991, which was my first exposure to the wizardry of Matt Pike channeling Saint Vitus and Black Sabbath. Two of the songs on the 7” found their way on what is widely considered to be the blueprint for the evolution of stoner metal: Sleep’s seminal album Holy Mountain before they recorded a single one hour long self-immolating song called “Dopesmoker,” which became their last album.
From the ashes of Sleep and evolving from mid-paced stoner metal rose Pike’s new band, High on Fire, and while maintaining his signature guitar tone, it became an increasingly fiercer, faster, and more aggressive incarnation with him handling vocal duties as well. Cue “Masters of Reality played backwards on 78pm enhanced on mescaline”.
In a live environment, High on Fire is a virtuosic, brutish force of nature:
Backed by a stack of Orange amps, Des Kensel pummeling double bass drums, and Jeff Matz nimble bludgeoning on bass, both completing and echoing Pike’s writhing, rumbling riffage and growling, the triumvirate descended upon the University of Sydney’s campus and plowed through a close to 90-minute sweaty and career spanning display of pre-Ice Age archaic hominis.
Especially the newer material of their current album Luminiferous shines live. Produced yet again by Converge’s Kurt Ballou, the 9 heavy hitters epitomize the strong points of HOF’s oeuvre: weighty, sludgy drawn-out compositions, pushing and pulling tempos at will, circular hooks and marvels of rhythm perfection with more emphasis on vocal harmonies, anthemic choruses, and multi-layered song structures without sacrificing bile and venom.
High on Fire were brought to Australia by the heads behind Life Is Noise, a solid touring company with a focus on weird, genre-pushing, experimental, and exciting music. From dense noise to droning doom, tripped out acid-rock to screams, metal, and all the spaces in between. They’ve worked with the likes of Neurosis, Sleep, Pallbearer, Yob, Boris, Om, Tortoise, Earthless, High on Fire, Sunn O))), Elder, Grails, et cetera and have yet to stage a show that is not well planned, enjoyable, and professionally organized.
Photos by KAVV