High On Fire


Written by: AP on 01/09/2015 22:38:12

It is a rare thing that a celebrated musician’s second coming should receive more attention than the band that originally wrought them such fame. This is nonetheless the reality for Matt Pike, whose involvement with the legendary Sleep all but sunk into oblivion (at least until that outfit’s resurrection in 2009) by his founding the sludge metal trio High on Fire, regarded by many as a cornerstone and significant influence on contemporary practitioners of the genre. "Luminiferous" is their seventh studio album; it succeeds the excellent "De Vermis Mysteriis" from 2012 and enlists a similar philosophy of song writing, with a minor adjustment in the direction of somewhat lighter stoner metal.

Those to whom High on Fire is a familiar entity will immediately recognise and revel in the nasty tone and turbocharged intensity of opening track "The Black Pot", a classic, galloping hammer to the skull; then nod knowingly at the gradual tempering of the onslaught by "Carcosa" into a mighty mid-tempo stomp threaded through a coil of looping, anodyne riffage. This Oakland, CA based outfit has always invested in contrast, and like its predecessors, "Luminiferous" is no exception: the record is more or less evenly divided into pit-fueling ragers, slabs of stoner metal laden with groove and tuned to a standard headbanging cadence, and slow-burning crushers laced with doom and gloom and perfect for a reflective lean against the wall with a glass of whisky at hand.

Business is as usual then, though as suggested in the preamble of this review, one could argue that songs like "The Sunless Years" and "The Falconist" reach further than their ancestors, tickling at the feet of a mainstream audience with Pike's take on clean singing: a strained bellowing reminiscent of Orange Goblin's Ben Ward and, at his most powerful, Crowbar's Kirk Windstein. The two tracks provide both welcome respite and defined moments to latch onto between the eruptions of ferocity surrounding them, and thus emerge as clear highlights on an album already ripe to bursting with quality picks. The way Pike propels himself into the former by roaring "He's been taking the acid and hooked into the light" and finishes each verse with an unforgettable hammered-on, pulled-off signature riff leaves little to be desired; and neither does his mournful, southern fried musing of "The great awakening, and I don't feel better. Some of us take the pain, and the monsters are real. I could lie but it's hunting us" over a thick haze of melancholy, yet grandiose instrumentation in the latter. These are the sort of mature, skillfully written songs that thrive on being understated, etching themselves into the cerebral cortex with deliberate, yet unnoticed chips. And in the context of the album as a whole, they serve to inject variety and room to breathe.

That is not to say that harder tracks such as the title giving "Luminiferous" are any less enjoyable; on the contrary, their impact is made greater by the constant juxtaposition. The aforementioned discharge of venom is almost obscenely vitriolic, yet it comes across that way by means of a heavy helping hand from the spacious and comprehensive prog-sludge piece "Cave"; just as "The Black Pot" earns its accolades from the burning immediacy and High on Fire's total disregard for easing the listener in. Indeed, there are subtler ways to open the proceedings than "Pick a side, 'cause the dogs come a begging. Best close your thighs 'cause the gods come a raping." Whether or not "Luminiferous" is the enlightening experience its title promises however, is up to debate. It is difficult to deny the LP falls just short of grandeur as "Slave the Hive" and "Dark Side of the Compass" in particular do little to excite me. But out of the seven remaining, it is possible to single out virtually any of them at random as a master class in either sludge or stoner metal. As pioneers, High on Fire remain one of a rare breed of bands in the genre willing to push the envelope and find novelty in well worn ideas simultaneously - of that "Luminiferous" is yet another example.


Download: The Black Pot, Carcosa, The Sunless Years, The Falconist
For the fans of: Black Cobra, Black Tusk, Crowbar, Orange Goblin
Listen: Facebook

Release date 23.06.2015
eOne Music

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