A couple years ago when reviewing High On Fire’s fourth full-length Death is This Communion, an album that landed at no. 7 on my 2007 year end list, I said something about how Matt Pike, Des Kensel and then new bassist Jeff Matz had managed to top 2002’s Surrounded By Thieves and all that came after it via huge Jack Endino production and all sorts of new details (Eastern tinges, pastoral acoustics, an extended and accumulating drum solo, etc.), but for all these leaps and adds, it was the raw moments that felt best. Hello Snakes For The Divine. The Oakland trio’s taut, muscular fifth album is unrelenting. They don’t bother with interludes. Maybe think of it as Blessed Black Wings with five years experience and stadium-sized production. Pike’s guitar playing is at its speediest and most complex without losing any forward momentum. His cracked-tooth vocals continue to age and deepen like the whiskey he drinks. Kensel and Matz click like guys who’ve recorded a classic album together and hit the road hard. It’s early too early in 2010 to talk lists, but it’s not often something rocks this hard.
The opening title track makes me think of Disfear and Motörhead finding a golden mean and asking Kurt Ballou to layer his trickiest riffs over it. For eight and a half minutes. These eight new anthems (not a dud in the bunch) were recorded in Los Angeles with Greg Fidelman, who produced Slayer’s World Painted Blood and is mixing the Metallica live album. So, right, they went for a mammoth (Mastodon-ian?) sound. As always, the lyrical themes are just as huge: War, floods, plagues, “sacrifice, morbid stories / blood trickles through histories,” disease, sinking in ice, “a woman’s coffin sending shivers up my spine,” “my demons come to play and play they do with guns,” fire spitters, a “Bastard Samurai.” See for yourself on “Frost Hammer,” a song that popped up live a couple of months ago and works perfectly with the chilling winter weather while solemnly nodding to the Swiss greats who share part of its name. The setting: “Dream being thrown down aloft from the icy sky / Careful what to seek for inside the frozen mind / Permaglaze reflects this world distant to the thawed life / Frost clan blows the war horn without a fear or guise.” And note the smeary psychedelic group vocal harmonies that enter the picture the 3:40 mark.
“Winters in veins / Hammers arise / to melt through the ice … Frost Hammer!” Speaking of epic, in case you missed it when I posted it in Haunting The Chapel, here’s the tracklist:
01 “Snakes For The Divine”
02 “Frost Hammer”
03 “Bastard Samurai”
04 “Ghost Neck”
05 “Fire, Flood & Plague”
06 “How Dark We Pray”
07 “Holy Flames Of The Fire Spitter”
08 “Mystery of Helm”