I don’t know how Matt Pike does it. Six months since Sleep dropped The Sciences (which is still ace and you should totally buy if you haven’t already) seemingly out of nowhere, the man who has forgotten more brilliant riffs than most of us will ever know has effortlessly created another world-beater. I admit that might be a case of me showing my hand a bit too soon – saying a High On Fire record is great is about as predictable as the sun rising in the morning, but both are positive reminders that good things are always on the horizon.
‘Spewn from the Earth’ couldn’t be more aptly named to start a record like this, as it erupts with the traditional rock n’ roll swagger that laces so many of High On Fire’s modern tracks. As the title track of Lumineferous and ‘Fertile Green’ that came a few years prior, the only descriptor that feels appropriate is “ripsnorter”.
The behemoth ‘Steps of the Ziggeruat / House of Enlil’ is as intimidating as the ancient Mesopotamian structure it was named for. The central riff that the first two-thirds of the song is built around almost oozes this rumbling, sinful kind of evil with rhythmic tribal drumming that precedes the coming of a deity or spiritual entity. Perhaps this is to summon Enlil (Mesopotamian god associated with wind, air, earth, and storms), but more likely it would just invoke the spirit of Lemmy when the title track interrupts proceedings with a chugging mix of metal and punk so infectiously fun, it’ll feel as though Motörhead are still with us.
What sets this, and the trio’s two previous releases apart from the earlier material is Kurt Ballou’s production. For the past three records, High On Fire have sounded more intense than at any other point across their twenty-year career, and it’s tracks like ‘Electric Messiah’ and the Thrash-worshipping ‘Freebooter’ that give any young, “pissed-off” band you’d care to mention a run for their money.
‘Sanctioned Annihilation’ starts in usual Stoner territory with a slow, hypnotic build before a jarring, galloping riff snaps you out of your haze. That’s not to say High On Fire is all about the pace nowadays, as ‘The Pallad Mask’ and ‘God of the Godless’ retain that same lumbering, malice from ‘Steps of the Ziggeruat / House of Enlil’ and ‘The Witch and the Christ’ swings like sharpened pendulum that never loses its malevolent momentum. The usual Matt Pike squiddling solos are all over this record, perfectly encapsulated on ‘Drowning Dog’ that also boasts the same murky, down-trodden bass work that made ‘King of Days’ sound so filthy.
So, once again High On Fire selfishly hoard all of the best riffs and with Electric Messiah (eOne) to create possibly the most thrilling and finest sounding record of this recent Ballou trilogy. It might seem easy to say, but when a band is still producing their best material this far down the line, it’s important to remember why the greats are referred to as such.