High On Fire

De Vermis Mysteriis

Written by: AP on 19/12/2012 16:02:51

Originally formed in 1998 by guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike from the ashes of the legendary Sleep when they (temporarily) broke up that year, High On Fire remain one of the first and most influential bands in the stoner/sludge metal movement, and hold to their name what many consider to be a genuine metal classic in their 2007 album "Death Is This Communion".

On this sixth studio album, "De Vermis Mysteriis", very little has changed with regard to the band's trusted formula of creating excellent metal music from the modest trifecta of guitar, bass and drums. Add to that Matt Pike's gravelly roar that lines him up for candidacy as successor to Motörhead's Lemmy, and you've got yourself an album that nods to old school purity. If it ain't broke, don't fix it seems to be the mantra that High On Fire continue to swear by, and as such you should not slot this disc in expecting metal to be reinvented. As per usual, the band straddles the line between doom, stoner, sludge, thrash and classic heavy metal with a rhythmic foundation heavier than most bands of their sort, and a knack for songwriting that spells experience.

But despite the fact that High On Fire are reluctant to tamper with their effective formula, this should not be read as they are incapable of writing varied music. Quite the contrary, as in general, the songs here divide themselves into three categories: excellent, great and very good, each song offering a different perspective, mood and tone than the other. Take opener "Serums of Liao" for instance: this magnificent piece of music proves it is possible to make dense, hard-hitting metal that still has enormous lasting value. Its chorus, spelling "Be thy eyes ancestors reign / Past attune and paravased / Serum drunk reflect and chased / Bloodline trip enters their graves" is one of the catchiest things I've heard this year, the thick groove of Matt Pike's overdriven guitar and Jeff Metz's rumbling bass giving it all the necessities for an instant classic. As you might have guessed, this song obviously ranks in the first category.

It is succeeded by "Bloody Knuckles", a category three song in the aforementioned categories, and as such not worth discussing in great detail here, before more category one excellence is provided with the single "Fertile Green", which rolls in with a thundering drum solo before raining down the riffs in what must be the heaviest song on this album. Pike's brilliant guitar solo, an urgently wailing display of virtuosity that is sure to capture your attention, halfway through it highlights the band's thrash influences, and adds to a growing pile of standout moments that grows even taller once the stoning psychedelia of "Madness of an Architect" kicks in. The guitar riff drills through its verse is the definition of what stoner metal is all about, forcing the listener to shut his eyes and devour the music - an impression strengthened by the instrumental "Samsara" which provides the necessary quietus for your comedown from the acid trance.

"Spiritual Rites" then restores the pummel in a crushing, intense barrage of low-end riffage, before "King of Days" shows us the importance and benefits of a decade and a half of experience. It is the sort of slow burning doom song that probably came together in one take, bit by bit as the trio sat in their rehearsal room thinking up riffs for this album. Building from an absolutely epic lead riff - one of the best I've heard this year, in fact - the song breathes, grows and evolves into a true metal goliath, reaching toward a grand crescendo before providing an almost spiritual release with a lengthy guitar solo in the end. It has the unfortunate side effect of eclipsing the last three songs on the album (the title track, "Romulus and Remus" and "Warhorn"), but taking into account my previous statement that every song on this album is at least very good, there is no reason to grumble about it.

As you might sense from the exasperating praise then, High On Fire's "De Vermis Mysteriis" is, to me, one of the best metal albums released this year; a timely reminder that all that's needed to write great metal songs is a guitar, bass and drumkit. It is a celebration of riffs, solos, groove and heaviness, and if you ask me, the album comes extremely close to the timeless brilliance of "Death Is This Communion".

Download: Serums of Liao, Fertile Green, Madness of an Architect, King of Days
For the fans of: Bison B.C., Black Cobra, Electric Wizard, Sleep
Listen: Facebook

Release date 03.04.2012
eOne Music

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