Some people might say Matt Pike’s the new Lemmy, but when it comes to High On Fire’s consistency, I’d compare them to AC/DC. As they enter their 20th year as a band, you pretty much know what you’re gonna get before you push play – and yet, I can’t say I was disappointed by Electric Messiah.
Some songs are shorter and faster than others, with opening track “Spewn from the Earth” clocking in as the shortest at just under four minutes. Suffice to say this is a signature slice of HOF’s mid-tempo thrash/sludge hybrid—we’ve heard a few tunes like this before, but it still packs a wallop. From there they slow things down and stretch ‘em out with the nine-and-a-half-minute epic “Steps of the Ziggurat/House of Enlil.” The gloomy, head-nodding riff that opens this one is surprisingly mellow, with a plodding, pounding Des Kensel drumbeat driving the first couple minutes, before they move into a menacing, mid-tempo march slightly reminiscent of Neurosis. This song isn’t going anywhere fast until the seven-minute mark, when a vicious, angular riff slices through the proceedings, signalling a slight shift in tempo towards Conan territory, but still anchored by Pike’s trademark sneer.
The Lemmy-inspired title track ups the tempo right from the get-go, with a pummelling riff/double-kick combo that almost borders on death metal. But from there, we get the longest, slowest song on here, with 10 and a half minutes of “Sanctioned Annihilation.” Pike’s screams are more tortured than ever as the band grinds forward like the gears of a machine, although this one does drag on a little too long.
The next few tracks range from mid-paced, murky death/doom (“The Pallid Mask”) to pounding, plodding semi-Slayer worship (“God of the Godless”) to another full-speed-ahead killdozer (“Freebooter”). While some of the usual suspects still remain, I’m glad to hear at least a couple surprises along the way.