It’s clear from the get-go that High On Fire are not pissing around here. The debatably-questionable production of previous records is instantly forgotten as soon as opener “Snakes For the Divine” grabs you by the throat. From its clarion-call intro, the song – hell, the rest of the record – just doesn’t let go. It appears the move from Relapse to E1 has been a healthy one for the band, and it’s poised to place them, finally, in the top-billing realm they’ve deserved for too long.
For one, the E1 deal must have included the kind of budget which brought Greg Fidelman’s production skills to the table – which, here, is top-notch and crystal-clear. Many feared another Clip Magnetic or World Painted Mud with Fidelman at the knobs, so it’s a welcome surprise that Matt Pike’s vocals have never sounded this clear-as-a-bell. While some argue that the vocal effects he’s used in the past are sorely missing here, I think he sounds better than ever without them. “Frost Hammer” takes over from the opener, and as a follow-up track should, it lays waste to the smoldering ash left in the the title track’s wake.
But then stomps in my personal favorite, “Bastard Samurai”, which sounds, epically, EXACTLY like you’d expect a track of that name to sound: like an oaken truncheon dipped in Clorox-throated bongwater. Des Kensel’s bounce-roll licks in the chorus bring the whole track home – he’s a vastly underrated drummer, and this track duly showcases his talents. The band closed their set with this song when I saw them a few weeks ago, and judging by crowd reaction, this is the one the heshers are going to be yowling for on the band’s upcoming tour – definitely a new classic.
On “How Dark We Pray,” the lumbering, thundering rhythm section carries the track – bassist Jeff Matz doing some especially tasty shit in there – while Pike’s soulful opening solo channels Lord of the Riff Tony Iommi as good or better than any Sleep album ever managed to.
Ultimately, the whole record deserves the praise the punters are heaping upon it. It’s noticeably more cohesive than previous efforts, and the songs flow well track-to-track. Add to this the fantastic production, the completely epic songs, and not least of all, the riffs for friggin’ days – which is what we all came for, anyway. Snakes For The Divine is likely to grace a lot of Best-Of lists at the end of the year, including mine.