High on Fire

The Art of Self Defense

Written by: EW on 01/09/2012 18:46:11

One of Sleep's notable alumni, Matt Pike took a turn for the heavier end of the spectrum following the demise of the stoner heroes in the late-90's to form High on Fire, the band who resemble a Black Sabbath and Motörhead love-child and consequently are about as pretty as a disfigured troll. The earliest result of this partnership is 2000's "The Art of Self Defense", now being reissued on Southern Lord and a fine start to their consistently strong discography.

Naturally the stamp of Sleep remains at large within the 8 songs of "The Art..." from minor guitar licks to the whole song structures but Pike's gravelly vocals and the funkier bass-led charge bring the aforementioned two gods to the table in a blisteringly groovy fashion. Built less upon Sleep's holy mountain of drugs than a slagheap of riffs (and some weed), "Blood of Zion" and "Baghdad" offer a true audial punch in the face, with each drum beat seemingly accompanied by a terrible rumble from the fuzzed out bass of George Rice. "10,000 Years" opens with his work before Pike's guitar leads the song into a leaden weight stoner doom haze, the lead riffs of which I'm a little surprised haven't caused any tectonic disruption on the notorious San Andreas fault in their native California.

Following through into "Last" you will start to see the influence of High on Fire on Mastodon (who reputedly formed upon meeting at a HoF show) - the ceaseless bassy grooves of Pike and Rice ploughing away atop the ADHD drumming of Des Kensel, whose tendency to maximise the number of fills in each song is more than a little similar to Mastodon's mighty Brann Dailor. "Fireface" feels like a Sleep relic and by the conclusion of it's 8 minutes of battering riffs is likely to make you require one, before last song from the original album, "Master of Fists" (see what I said about their knack of writing bad-ass song titles in "Snakes for the Divine") is pure stoner heaviness and massively influential on the more recent likes of Black Pyramid to plough the stoner/doom furrow.

"Steel Shoe", which was included on a 2001 re-release, is a much faster and more direct tune recalling the old vibe of Motörhead, before 4 extra tracks of this rerelease - three rough and ready demo versions of "Blood from Zion", "10,000 Years" and "Master of Fists" which demonstrate the sweaty rehearsal feel that has always existed about High on Fire, and a particularly down-tuned version of Celtic Frost's classic "The Usurper" which is just as heavy as the original (no easy tasks all purists will understand) and no less resounding. This rerelease of "The Art of Self Defense" is not only a great excuse to dig out a highly under-rated album from a most under-rated band but also portrays how important the band have been to the development of metal since 2000.

Download: Baghdad, Last, 10,000 Years
For The Fans Of: Motörhead, Mastodon, Sleep, Black Sabbath, Church of Misery
Listen: Myspace

Original release date: 11.06.2000
Man Ruin’s Records

Rerelease date: 30.07.2012
Southern Lord Records

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