High on Fire - _Blessed Black Wings_
by: T. DePalma (
"Riffs have come..." - HoF, "Silverback"What interests me about Matt Pike's musical projects is the way they are able to bring together parallel techniques of the metal genre without sacrificing an ounce of passion. Completely unpretentious music rooted in absolute vibe. Going on five years now, High on Fire has kept true to this sentiment, but until now had not fully reached their potential. I've always looked back on their work in a collective sense. While the two previous full-lengths introduced more aggressive elements into the fold, Pike's previous group (the monolithic Sleep) seemed yet unseated from its honored position of influence and durability. I can't speak to any inner competition on Pike's part to out-best himself, or indeed what he believes is his own best work, but in two albums High on Fire seemed to me to accomplish relatively little besides a reputation for playing loud, Frost-ish stoner metal. The band's latest, _Blessed Black Wings_, has drastically changed my opinion of them.The basic HoF sound remains intact: agonizing vocals caged within a buzz of super-thick guitar distortion; raw bass vibration; drums like a fucking avalanche. The difference is that the whole album sounds so much more focused and complete -- perfected, even epic; there's a tremendous effort on exploring more dynamics here with the evocative glint of clean guitar used as a bridge throughout the album. An album that is actually much faster than its predecessors, but maintains a balance between pure cock and consciousness as the songs climb from thrashy road-warrior metal, "Devilution" (an ode to George W. Bush, with lyrically poignant references to Babylon) to the palpable sorrow of "Brother in the Wind" and the contemplative Judas Priest influenced grand closer, "Sons of Thunder". All corporeal aspects of this beast are illuminated in-part, courtesy of unforeseen producer Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies, PJ Harvey). Every instrument is isolated to brilliant effect; resounding with the lucent individuality that further exemplifies the wonderful craft within each track. At times the vocals are a little too low, and appear to overcompensate for what could be construed as Pike's shortcomings as a singer, but it's his torn and discordant style that gives the perfect sonic touch to the band's earthy style and post-apocalyptic imagery.One of 2005's early releases and one that is likely to reside unabated in my stereo for months to come. High on Fire have molded their influences into a distinct paradigm that showcases the band in complete control of their journey, establishing a peak which definitively eclipses the Holy Mountain.
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