I think it’s safe to say that Matt Pike is the king of metal right now. In fact, I think he’s had the King of Metal crown since High on Fire’s Surrounded By Thieves in 2002. From that album, High of Fire solidified that Slayer-meets-Sabbath wall of deep, dark sludge. There’s no mistaking Pike’s masterful, gritty growl, his low down stoner/speed metal riffage, and the always tight and intense rhythm section of Des Kensel on drums and since 2007s Death Is The Communion Jeff Matz on bass. While other metal hopefuls peetered out and went from salivating metal behemoths to middle-of-the-road rockers at best(I’m looking at you, Mastodon and Baroness), High On Fire have only gotten more intense and ragged, thanks to both the band’s searing musicianship and Matt Pike’s epic hallucinatory lyrical fever dreams.
Luminiferous is High on Fire’s newest effort following 2012s unrelenting and punishing De Vermis Mysteriis. It’s also the first album Matt Pike has made since getting sober. If you think things have gotten quieter and flaccid since sobriety and middle age have taken hold you would be wrong. Luminiferous is just as intense as anything High on Fire have done in their 15 year career, and probably the most clear-eyed and direct album they have made. It’s also as heavy as an anvil to the skull.
“The Black Pot” is a relentless speed metal/punk hybrid that splits the album open like a battle axe to the noggin. This is the kind of metal that used to make me nearly wreck my car at 17 years old as I got whiplash cruising down the road with my mullet head blazing in my 1977 Chevy Nova. The song sports a guitar solo pulled straight from the golden age of Master of Puppets, Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying, and Reign In Blood. Pike is a modern guitar hero. Just as you’re catching your breath, HoF kick you in the gut and knee your psyche with the blistering “Carcosa”. Pike’s vocals are more prominent this time around, gurgling and pounding like a medieval hesher gargling glass shards and blood. There’s almost a strangely danceable sway to this killer track. So time to catch your breath? No, because “The Sunless Years” is a like a war machine built on barb wired-riffs and tribal rhythms that rolls over you continuously for the course of its pummeling five minutes.
Pike and High on Fire taps into a magical musical moment in time for me. A time when bands like Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth, and Metallica ruled the metal landscape. Seven minute songs were the average and they were intricately laid out with intros, outros, and guitar solos were a must. For the most part, this was progressive music not influenced by progressive bands, but by fire breathers like Black Sabbath, Diamond Head, Alice Cooper, and hardcore punk. It was like the punks discovered weed and acid and began seeing the possibilities and ultimately the downfalls of our universe. Songs like “Slave The Hive”, “The Falconist”, and “The Dark Side Of The Compass” pay homage to my heavy metal youth while adding a 21st century ferocity. Fire breathing metal. Sludge-y riffs dipped in THC and LSD dreams. Even “The Cave”, a decidedly toned back affair by High on Fire’s standards still rocks harder than most metal band’s best stabs at heaviness. With Pike’s vocals running through a Leslie-speaker he sounds like Mark Lanegan fronting Sabbath as the song resembles a heavier “Planet Caravan”. This is probably the most nuanced HoF has ever sounded. Don’t worry, the chorus gets good and loud.
Luminiferous is proof that you don’t have to mellow out as you get older. High on Fire expand their sound with each album they release. While some may have seemed more like holding patterns rather than expansions of their sound, they never slipped back. Luminiferous is everything that’s great about heavy metal. It’s everything that’s great about experiencing music.
Matt Pike and High on Fire remain Kings of the metal kingdom.
8.8 out of 10