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High on Fire - Snakes for the Divine

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Artist: High on Fire

Album: Snakes for the Divine

Label: E1 Entertainment

Review date: May. 14, 2010

The typical arsenal of words unloaded to explain High On Fire – pummel, assault, rage, brutal – are overused but wholly necessary. They build massive songs, anchored in Des Kensel’s deft percussion. Matt Pike shouts/sings/howls in a hoarse, thin roar, which is not only the ideal vehicle for the lyrics he sings, but also conveys the wear of living a truly metal life. This is probably some kind of metal transgression, but I will also use the word “joy” to describe High on Fire. One gets a sense that their unique ferocity stems from an unwavering enthusiasm for the music they love, whether they’re deploying a metal cliché or turning it around to invigorate it. This energy does not flag on their fifth album, Snakes For the Divine; it’s at once relentless and incredibly fun.

Recently, an interviewer asked Pike to list his influences, and he rattled off “Black Sabbath, Slayer, Motörhead, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Jimi Hendrix, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Corrosion of Conformity.” This is almost a joke of a list, a bar jukebox or, say, the prime time playlist of a satellite radio station called something like, “Metal Titans,” but High On Fire bizarrely do sound like all these bands; rather than belonging to a particular subgenre, they evoke a whole history of heavy music.

Purists have given HOF some flak for selecting Rick Rubin cohort Greg Fidelman (producer of recent records by Slayer and Metallica) to produce their record. His sound doesn’t particularly suit the band, which has, so far, thrived on dark, spacious productions with sludgey low ends. The production jars mainly on the opener, “Snakes For the Divine” — Pike’s leads sound wankier, and Kensel’s drums flatter and softer, than one might want. But overall, Fidelman’s work doesn’t obtrude too badly.

Pike writes multipartite songs populated by a cast of characters that includes a firespitter, Tiamat, a murderous bastard samurai, and Frost Hammer (which might be an object). Despite their length, the songs never lose interest. The eight-minute closer, “How Dark We Pray,” opens with several minutes of beautiful riff that Pike’s guitar plays off Joe Matz’s bass line, set to a militaristic beat. After a few minutes, the song moves into a slow, seething verse/chorus, then returns to the instrumental. Crucially, Kensel alters his drumming throughout the song — even as the leads repeat, the beat changes just so, eliminating any potential repetitiveness.

“Frost Hammer” has something like five parts, a rapid, chugging verse/chorus, some solos , a bridge with Sabbath-y dreamy harmony-vocals that stops abruptly so Pike can scream “FROST HAMMER!” a bunch of times before returning to the verse. The moment works so well — it’s the obvious thing to do, but executed with the perfect combination of skill and glee. A listener will want to scream “frost hammer!” too, fist aloft, and it will matter not that he has no idea what a frost hammer might be.

By Talya Cooper

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