High On Fire – De Vermis Mysteriis
Label: E1 Music
Release Date: April 3, 2012
High on Fire is a three-piece band from Oakland, California, a city more renowned for its speed and thrash metal roots than the dark, grooving abyss this trio creates. Consisting of Matt Pike (former guitarist for legendary stoner/doom band Sleep) on guitars and vocals, Des Kensel on drums and Jeff Matz on bass, High on Fire are blazing new trails down old stretches of blacktop.
When it comes to the faster spectrum of sludge, stoner and doom metal, High on Fire has always been my favorite band. I find their music fast-paced and straight forward without any “technical” wankery, like a big fat punch in the guts that just doesn’t let up until the end. I doubt I can equate with words, what High on Fire creates with sound. I think of all the insipid metalcore, redundant thrash and infuriating post-whatever bullshit I have reviewed in the last few years, and I ask myself: If you have spent countless hours trying (and likely failing) to pull literary magic out of your ass in the face of stifling musical mediocrity, only to balk at the chance of reviewing the one band you esteem above all others, just what the fuck are you doing this for?
And so here we are…
High on Fire have released their sixth album titled De Vermis Mysteriis. It is produced by Kurt Ballou, guitarist of mathcore/metallic hardcore titans Converge, and a prolific name when it comes to producing grindcore/hardcore/metallic hardcore (Nails, Trap Them, Kvelertak and Genghis Tron to name a few), which somehow does wonders for them as Kurt brings out the raw, almost bestial side of the band. Sadly, this was missing in High on Fire’s last album Snakes for the Divine, which was very watered down and didn’t retain the grittiness of their previous albums. When I heard about Kurt Ballou taking over the production duties of De Vermis Mysteriis, I knew this band was in good hands, and boy was I right!
In thirteen years of recording, High on Fire has not released an album I would count as less than 100% pure, skull-crushing metal of the highest order. For those who would like to save some reading, I will state, plainly, that with De Vermis Mysteris, High on Fire’s tradition of excellence continues.
The two very important things you will notice about the album are:
- The return of the gritty guitar sound that is raw, edgy and has character, not depending at all on “Pro Tools” and “Studio Magic” to sound heavy.
- It’s one of Matt Pike’s most majestic and melodic works to date.
Des Kensel’s drums sound massive as every sound on the toms and the kick drums seems like a nuclear explosion not very far away from my living room, which is another High on Fire signature that I am glad has returned. However, it’s not all about the production. High on Fire display some very different shades on this album. Songs like “Serum of Liao”, “Bloody Knuckles” and “De Vermis Mysteris”, maintain a balance between fast-paced bone-crushing heaviness with more thoughtful, emotive songwriting, which is not very technical, but definitely powerful.
“Spiritual Rites” and “Fertile Green” are pure, no bullshit sludge-stoner madness, which is fast, aggressive and takes no prisoners. It’s perfect for a moshpit.
There are some surprises on this album which I never knew High on Fire would bring up, like the band’s ode to Sleep, “Madness of an Architect”. Or a very sludgy ballad of sorts called “King of Days”, which could have sounded cheesy if it was any other band, but these guys know how to do it right. Everything snaps into one final explosion during “Warhorn”, which is essentially a sludge/doom song, but Matt’s husky vocals give it a bluesy feel.
So…I guess if you haven’t noticed already, I have to say that I really, really dig this album. High on Fire has proved once again that they are the masters of their game. Music at its best is a transcendent experience, helping us, if only for a moment, to slip the bonds of ordinary life, and when I listen to De Vermis Mysteris, I become a ten-foot-tall Viking on a mountain of skulls, hurling boulders, breathing fire and shooting lightning bolts from my eyes. This is metal at its finest. Buy it. All hail Valhalla!