The Adventures of Jesus Bros : Chapter 420

So I had this incredibly weird dream last night. I dreamt that when Jesus was born he had a twin brother. The twin brother died so that Jesus could live, and then the twin brother became a time traveler at the moment of his death. He could only travel forward through time until he locates a scroll from an ancient Chinese alchemist who created a serum from the black lotus. This allows him to travel back in time. He can see the past through his ancestor’s eyes, but his enemies can kill him if they kill the ancestors he’s currently inhabiting. It’s basically a sci-fi biblical version of Quantum Leap.

I woke from the fever dream thinking that I might have been touched by some cosmic hand from the ether and shown an existential truth that no one else knew about. But then I realized that the dream was just an after buzz from listening to High On Fire’s excellent 2012 album De Vermis Mysteriis(translated from Latin it means “The Mysteries Of The Worm”.) I’m guessing that worm can be found at the bottom of a tequila bottle, as the album is completely bat shit crazy and also near genius.

Matt Pike comes across as this philosopher hesher that crawled from a dirty sleeping bag lying in a watery ditch you pass nearly every day to work. Inside that sleeping bag is a portal to some THC-powered alternate reality where there’s not much difference between an IQ of 40 and 180. Pike is this heavy metal warrior that is constantly sweating and wheezy, espousing stoned philosophy and warning of conspiracy theories pertaining to alien abductions, government experiments, and hash laced with galactic dust which allows ones mind to expand and see the true meaning of it all. Though if you’re not open-minded enough you’re liable to go completely insane. Pike and High On Fire take Pike’s other band Sleep’s slow churn doom and crank it up to 14. HoF rumble through stacks of Orange and Marshall amplifiers at breakneck speed that would make fans of Slayer and Black Sabbath equally happy. Pike writes songs that are part Philip K. Dick and H.P. Lovecraft tales, while musically its as if Reign In Blood was equally influenced by Loose Nut and Master Of Reality.

I got into High On Fire after a few late night beer fests with an old friend. He left several of their albums on my hard drive for me to peruse. It took a couple years but I finally got around to listening to Blessed Black Wings and Death Is The Communion. I can say without a doubt that High On Fire single handedly got me back into metal. I’d moved away from the darker, heavier fare years before thinking I’d “outgrown” that stuff. Of course the real reason was that I’d simply lost my way in the ways of the dark metal arts. High On Fire scorched a path for me back to classic speed and thrash metal I used to love in my younger days. They also led me to Pike’s other epic band Sleep. But this isn’t about Sleep, or any other band. This is about Matt Pike and High On Fire and, in my opinion, their masterpiece De Vermis Mysteriis.

How do you think the meeting went between Matt Pike and the record executives when he came to them with the concept for De Vermis Mysteriis? “Well, it’s a concept record about Jesus’ twin brother who dies at birth so Jesus can live out his destiny, and in turn this dead twin becomes a time traveler. What do you think?” I’m sure there never was a meeting like that because by 2012 Matt Pike had made his musical intentions very much known. Scream about demons, wizards, warriors, battles, and make the music as hard and heavy as possible. Who gives a shit what Pike is screaming about, just as long as the skin on my skull begins to rip from the bone by the time we reach the first chorus. Actually, I do care about what he’s singing about because that’s an important part of the High On Fire trip. He may be a dirty hesher, but Matt Pike is a hell of a story spinner(as well as a shredding fiend.)

When you have a song like “Madness Of An Architect” you’re pretty much set for sensory annihilation. This song is like a sludgy trip through 40 years of doom, death, and blues all in the course of 7 minutes. This is a slow ride as far as High On Fire go. Usually things are at a breakneck pace, goosing the tempo just short of South Of Heaven territory. But on this track this metal three-piece take their time. Things even get downright melodic on the excellent “Interlude”, a song that has the bass sound of Cliff Burton and even the vibe of something like Metallica’s “Orion”. It leads right into “Spiritual Rights”, which is like dropping acid at an amusement park and you peak just at the top of a 200′ high rollercoaster. Pike gargles blood and Jameson as this truly power trio pummels minds like Thor tenderizing his steak with Mjölnir. I can’t help but think of the late great Lemmy Kilmister when I hear Matt Pike on this track. I feel there’s a thru line from Lemmy to Matt Pike. Both made extreme music and lived extreme lives, yet you talk to anyone close to either and they’d tell you they were the nicest guys. Down to earth guys that took everything in their lives to extremes(R.I.P. Lemmy.)

There’s a lot of melodic moments on this album, which I think was a precursor to 2015s Luminiferous. But there’s also plenty of blood-boiling and gnashing of teeth here as well. Album opener “Serums Of Liao” charges through the speakers with the dexterity of a baby xenomorph bursting through John Hurt’s chest. Not graceful; forceful, violent, and with deadly precision. As metal as these guys are there’s still plenty of progressive rock oomph here, too. High On Fire are the epitome of “power trio”. Pike is one of the premier metal guitarists working today, but the rhythm section of bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensel are a force to be reckoned with. Kensel gives Dave Lombardo a run for his money while Matz lays down some thick, barb-wired bass lines that fill whatever spots Pike might not with his massive guitar tone. “Bloody Knuckles” sounds like Slayer on steroids, man. Seriously, if Pepper Keenan-led Corrosion somehow devoured the violence of Slayer it might sound like this song. Then there’s “Fertile Green”. It’s like the battle hymn of the stoned republic. This is how 21st century metal is supposed to sound. Those kids in River’s Edge would’ve totally gotten drunk and stoned to this track. I could see my brother at 18 driving in his Cutlass with this bashing through his Pioneer Super Tuner whilst wearing my dad’s army trench coat covered in rock patches and the faint odor of prime “Tijuana Magic” stinging the nostrils. Hell, I bet my brother would’ve hung with Matt Pike if time and happenstance would’ve allowed.

Elsewhere, “King Of Days” hints at more introspective work that would be put out on Luminiferous, while “De Vermis Mysteriis” sounds like a thousand demons howling from a near empty bottle of absinthe. “Romulus and Remus” is slow-churning dread that’s part desert biker knife fight and part end-of-days blood orgy. “Warhorn” sounds like Black Sabbath on mescaline. Pike brings things down for the album closer, his vocals gurgle tales of battlefields and muskets blowing fire.

It’s a hell of a period at the end of one blood-soaked, sweat-drenched sentence.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Matt Pike and High On Fire for bringing me back to the true ways of metal. I think High On Fire are keeping metal dark, mysterious, and something your parents might be wary of. That was always a good thing for me. But also, High On Fire place musicianship very high on their albums. They can bash with the best of ’em, but they bash like the best jazz musicians bash. There’s conviction in those brutal riffs and speed demon drumming. De Vermis Mysteriis is a batshit record, but it’s also a near perfect metal album.

In the immortal words of David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel, “It’s such a fine line between stupid and…clever.” Indeed.

Speedwolves and Razor Hooves

Matt Pike should be crowned the King Hesher of Earth. The shirtless, stoned(formerly), drunk(formerly), and long-haired guitarist/singer of High On Fire is a force of nature. First off the guy is a monster on the guitar. Sure there’s dudes that shred in metal bands, but Pike has an ease of playing that feels almost savant-like. He’s one of these guys that just connects to the guitar on some psychic level. To play and riff like he does with that kind of speed and dexterity, all the while singing about demons, wars, bloodshed, and whatever else he comes up in that THC-scorched brain of his is quite impressive. While his solos sound very thought out and planned, there’s a sense that he could just go off the rails at any minute. There’s that vibe of “Shit, let me just set my head on fire then play this solo and lets see what happens.”

I mean, he’s no stranger to the game.

Before he started High On Fire he was the guitarist in the band that pretty much defines stoner/doom rock as we know it. Sleep was the quintessential doom metal band, dark and slowly trudging through riffs steeped in Sabbath and hashish. C’mon, any band that pushes to put out the hour-long song/album called Dopesmoker, a concept album about the Weedian people has got to have some serious brass balls(or have brains completely steeped in some top shelf, high grade shit.) Pike comes across as a guy who didn’t really give a shit about what the suits at the label thought. So instead of messing with their vision the band breaks up and Pike starts over with drummer Des Kensel and bassist George Rice as High On Fire. High On Fire was like Sleep, but sped up. They were just as much influenced by Slayer as they were Sabbath. They’ve changed up bass players over the years, but Pike and Kensel have remained.

High On Fire have put out some seriously blistering records since the very beginning. For me, though, it all began with 2002s Surrounded By Thieves, their first record for Relapse Records. I’d listened to Pike and company before, but nothing really clicked(it was a weird time, I was only listening to Blonde Redhead and Thelonious Monk that week.) A pal hooked me up with Snakes For The Divine but nothing came of it. Then back in 2013 I read an article about Dopesmoker and thought “Hey, I need to look into this craziness”, so I bought a peculiarly colored(Indica) double vinyl from Southern Lord and proceeded to see the light(without the use of any narcotics.) My local record store had had a reissue copy of High On Fire’s Surrounded By Thieves in stock for some time. I relieved them of it and have never looked back.

FullSizeRender (83)I think there’s better High On Fire albums, for sure, but there’s something about Thieves that gets me coming back for repeated listens. Maybe the simplicity of it. It’s still a relatively sludgy affair(when you compare it to something like Blessed Black Wings or De Vermis Mysteriis), but it sounds like a band finding their footing. Their debut, The Art Of Self Defense, still sounded like a band looking for their sound. Still dealing with “Sleep” paralysis, they hadn’t found that HOF groove. Surrounded By Thieves is that spot where they were definitely past Sleep’s shadow and had found a new thing.

“Eyes and Teeth” slowly swells like air pushing through your ears before exploding in a sea of crushing riffs and precision attack drumming. Matt Pike’s vocals are a mix of singing and war tomes. You feel like there’s a song there, but you also feel like Pike is preaching a sermon of doom and damnation at the same time. As good as Pike is, though, Des Kensel is just as important as the man himself. Kensel is one of the best metal drummers working today. He takes the throne from former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo as far as I’m concerned. The guy is a drumming beast. “Hung, Drawn, and Quartered” proves Kensel’s ability to get the ball rolling with tribal beatings opening the song before a double kick drum and Matt Pike’s chugging riffage break through the mix to pummel you to a bloody pulp. “Speedwolf” sounds like a throwback to early 80s British metal before that all important meaty Pike guitar sound breaks the glass and it’s like Venom were swallowed by Electric Wizard. “The Yeti” is sort of the centerpiece track, with a running time at just over 7 minutes. Matt Pike sounds a bit like Lemmy as he sings about the mythical snow creature as the music trudges along what feels like an ominous snow path somewhere in the Himalayas. “Thraft of Caanan” has a bit of the Dopesmoker vibe, but with a little more groove thrown in. There’s even more of a singing thing happening as opposed to the growling here. The album closes out with the one-two punch of title track “Surrounded By Thieves” and the scorched earth “Razor Hoof”. There’s really no time to stop and breathe. You’re running for your life as soon as the needle is dropped.

FullSizeRender (84)Another thing that I love about High On Fire in general is their commitment to the vibe. When you look at a High On Fire album cover you’re seeing what’s buried within the grooves of that vinyl. If you see some cat with glowing red eyes carrying a battle axe and wearing a helmet with horns under fire-glow skies and a looming army behind him you know what you’re gonna be treated to sound-wise. This isn’t Molly Hatchet’s Flirtin’ With Disaster. You know, the one with the album cover with the muscle bound Scandinavian carrying a bloodied axe and some kind of serpent on the ground next to him. You expect it to be some heavy shit, but it’s really just southern rock. And half ass southern rock at that. Or that Grim Reaper album See You In Hell. All death and doom on that album cover, but surprise, inside is just some really lousy metal. No, High On Fire are as advertised. All doom, darkness, blood spilling, and as metal as they come.

High On Fire are on another level altogether when it comes to metal music. As heavy as Surrounded By Thieves, as well as their other records are, the heaviness seems to transcend onto some other plain. It almost becomes meditative. I’ve found that to be true of a lot of metal records as of late, both old and new. I mean, I don’t listen to Slayer because I dig lyrics about serial killers and eternal damnation(though all of that is tempting.) No, their records are a swirl of fury and speed that once you dig in it’s like you’ve entered the eye of a hurricane. The energy is addictive, for sure. But what’s even more addictive is melting into the background of the fury. Matt Pike and High On Fire make a similar kind of transcendental fury. I don’t know if it’s the mid-range their sound sits in or what, but I can get lost in records like Thieves, Blessed Black Wings, Death Is The Communion, and De Vermis Mysteriis. Not in a scary, serial killer kind of way, but the way I get lost in Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, and other heavy synth records. I could just be weird(I know I am, in fact), but I find something calming in the heavy riffage and fantastical imagery that High On Fire offer up.

Surrounded By Thieves is a good place to start the HoF journey, if you’re looking for an in.


High on Fire : Luminiferous

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 ofhigh-on-fire-luminiferous 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

Nothin’ but a Dopesmoker

DSC03847Lying upon my front stoop when I got home from an unextraordinary workout was a box from Vermont. Inside said box was a heavy ass double LP from the now defunct doom metal band Sleep. Yes, the classic stoner doom metal masterpiece Dopesmoker. The Weedian people have arrived at my humble Midwestern abode and they’re ready to shake the foundations with their monster, fuzzed-out riffs and tales of stoned hemp people crossing THC-flooded terrain.

I’m about as straight edge as they come, folks. But it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate someone elses green buzz. And if these three were stoned to the heavens when they made this hour-long monolithic epic, then my hats off to ’em. Imagine Black Sabbath’s dirgiest dirge, like “Black Sabbath” blaring from Cheech and Chong’s weed-constructed van. They keep things in second gear the entire time, but it’s the kind of slow chug of a vehicle you wouldn’t dare pass on the highway for fear it was the crew from The Devil’s Rejects waiting to follow you off the highway so they could kill you and play with your blood. No, this smoking van you either turn off and go a different route, or you just follow along, roll down your windows, and get one hell of a contact high.

This is the 180 gram remastered “Indica” version of this monstrous record. “Dopesmoker” is three sides of this double album. Over one hour of Matt Pike sweating up a storm as he makes Tony Iommi cry somewhere in the universe. Al Cisneros’ vocals are more like demonic Gregorian chant than actual singing, while Chris Hakius keeps time like a man on a mission. Those that are used to the muffled graininess of the 2003 Jerusalem release will either have an out-of-body experience or be disappointed to the lack of “evil” with this new 2012 remastered version. It’s still sounds like the entire band was put through a Big Muff at 10, but the song is overall clearer and sonically a wonder to behold. Pike’s leads come out of the speakers and puncture your eardrums. You can feel the bass and kick drums, where as before it was just assumed there were drums and not just a wild animal running through a hospital ward.

So yeah, I’ve got Sleep’s Dopesmoker playing on the stereo for the second time now and it sounds even better. Maybe the coffee helped, I don’t know. I’m sure there were strict instructions to get really stoned before listening when this first came out. I can tell you firsthand weed isn’t necessary to love this thing. Would it enhance it? Ehh, I guess I’ll never know. Either way, thanks Sleep, Southern Lord, and In The Moment Records for introducing me to the Weedian people. I bet they’re hungry.