Matt Pike is the king of the Heshers. Shirtless, long-haired Midwestern punk who relocated to Oakland, CA as a teen, if Pike hadn’t found his purpose in a Gibson Les Paul and a Marshall stack he probably would’ve ended up in jail. He took his teenage Black Sabbath worship and love of mind-altering substances and turned it into a music genre called doom metal. He may not have single handedly created it with his band Sleep, but he was definitely one of the pioneers for sure(after Sabbath, Trouble, Saint Vitus and Candlemass of course.) From the 60-minute song “Dopesmoker” to the speed metal dexterity of his other long-running musical project High On Fire, Pike took heavy metal to the next level in the late 90s/early 2000s and never looked back.
Despite health issues and the occasional conspiracy theory rabbit hole(alien overlords and lizard portals abound), Pike has remained busy for the last 20 years churning out High on Fire records, playing shows, and even reuniting with Al Cisneros to bring Sleep back from their slumber. But 2020 put Pike in lockdown and boredom(much like the rest of us.) Having nothing to do tends to weigh heavy on Pike, giving him too much time to lean into governmental and pandemic theories. And he’s got plenty of them.
Not to be stopped creatively, Pike managed to hit the garage with pal Jon Reid on drums and the two churned out what would become Pike Vs The Automaton. Produced by longtime friend Billy Anderson(Anderson engineered Sleep’s Holy Mountain and High on Fire’s Surrounded by Thieves), Pike Vs The Automaton is what you’d expect from a solo Matt Pike record; chugging riffs, primal howls, and speed metal BPMs. And lots of it.
Pike made this a labor of love, with collaborations with Mastodon’s Brent Hinds, Pike’s wife Alyssa Maucere-Pike, and Stephen McPeeks(Art Of Destruction). His solo debut shows both the side we’re all quite familiar with, as well as one we weren’t. “Land” is a slow-churning bluesy number, complete with acoustic guitar, slide, and a swampy vibe that brings to mind Alice In Chains and Zakk Wylde’s Pride and Glory. Brent Hinds adds some tasteful guitar to the proceedings. On the opposite side is the hardcore punk barn burner “Acid Test Zone” which has Pike’s wife screaming bloody murder for its three-minute runtime. “Alien Slut Mum” is absolute chugging metal sleaze and comes with a great video which tips its stoned hat to Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead.
It’s not all new territory. Album opener “Abusive” lets you know from the get-go this is a Matt Pike joint, bringing to mind primo High On Fire. Likewise, “Trapped In A Midcave” is the slow motion avalanche of sludgy riffage we crave from the doom metal king. Album closer “Leaving The Wars Of Woe” is 11-minutes of pure music brutality, bringing it all together to make Pike Vs The Automaton the Matt Pike hit we didn’t know we needed.
Matt Pike’s Pike Vs The Automaton is like finding that ratty old concert t-shirt on the floor of the closet after thinking it’d been tossed. You drop your Izod on the floor, put on the t-shirt and it just feels right. In that moment, it feels right. I’m glad Matt Pike got his health turned around. We need curious, honest dudes like Matt Pike in rock and roll. Some of his theories might be a little out there, but he brings it all together with those riffs. All hail Pike, King of the Heshers.