Wednesday, January 9, 2013

HIGH ON FIRE - HEAD MEDICINE'S 2012 Band of the Year/Video of the Year


"FERTILE GREEN" (Directed by Phil Mucci) -- 2012 VIDEO OF THE YEAR

2012 was a banner year for the Oakland California stoner power trio High on Fire.  over the last 12 months, HoF released their most finely honed album to date, De Vermis Mysteriis... they unleashed the video of the year for "Fertile Green"...  their heavy-as-fuck debut record, Art of Self Defense, was remastered and re-released by Southern Lord... and after singer/guitarist/badass Matt Pike's rehab stint forced the cancellation of the band's summer tour, High on Fire emerged healthier and stronger than ever with a triumphant headlining tour across the country.  This was the year when the planets aligned and all doubt was laid to waste as HoF rose up and grabbed the ring as the best metal band on the planet.

in case you didn't know, in the meatheaded, knuckledragging world of modern heavy metal, HoF is a more evolved breed.  Walking upright and having touched the Kubrickian slab of enlightenment, they roam the land, conquering all that comes before them, ruthlessly destroying anyone who challenges them, and consuming any mind altering substance that can be scoured to fuel their violent and entrancing vision quests.  High on Fire's instantly identifiable brand of brutally heavy psychedelic stoner rock quite simply decimates anyone else in music today.  there's noone even close.

Forming in the late 90's from the ashes of the legendary sludge lords Sleep, High on Fire has been constantly evolving out of the primordial ooze of their first album, The Art of Self Defense, to the towering monuments built upon 2007's Death is this Communion and culminating with their most recent release and the densest example of their full range of sounds, De Vermis Mysteriis.  Pike's legend as one of metal's greatest guitarists only grows taller throughout the record with his staggeringly heavy riffs and flesh melting solos, all with that super stoney flair that separates him from his peers.  and hidden under his crusty and oftentimes unintelligible vocals is the fact that he is an absolutely killer lyricist... celestial, biblical, and full of Lovecraftian terror... and  De Vermis Mysteriis is his masterstroke.  built upon concepts originally laid down by Robert Bloch, Lovecraft, and Robert E. Howard, Pike weaves a bizarre tale of the twin of Jesus Christ who sacraficed himself to give his brother life, and is now a celestial time traveler, aided by an ancient Chinese black lotus serum, allowing him to see the past through his ancestors' eyes. it's all absolutely fucking insane, of course, andif  you find yourself a bit confused by the concept, don't worry.  you are about to get the shit kicked out of you for the next hour... you won't even notice.  not to be overshadowed by HoF's frontman, Des Kensel has built a reputation as one of the hardest drummers in the world and he only adds to his legacy on this album.  pummeling grooves continuously trample over the listener like a charging mass of armored war horses.  your skull has never felt so good being crushed into a fine white dust.  and Jeff Matz, the only non-original member, turns in a stunning performance, and stakes his claim as a powerful creative force within the band.  while still filling in the concrete-heavy bottom end, his bass cuts through like a rumbling chainsaw, literally growling at times, while also flashing several slower cliff burton-esque melodic bass solos.  As a whole, the band has never sounded better.  there is an unmatched clarity that never declaws the ferocity of the music (which is what happened on their previous album, Snakes of the Divine).  credit the production of Kurt Ballou for all of this.  where Billy Anderson, Steve Albini, Jack Endino, and Greg Fidelman fell just short, Ballou perfectly captured the fury of High on Fire and helped them craft their possibly career defining album.

De Vermis Mysteriis 

*click HERE for full album lyrics... a must to enjoy this album to the fullest*

all of the elements that make up classic High on Fire is on display with the opening track "Serums of Liao"... a punishing Kensel drum roll starts things off and then, next thing you know, yer face is blasted off. and there is nothing you can do about it.

next is the full throttle punch to the neck of "Bloody Knuckles." absolutely no subtlety here. ouch.

the video for "Fertile Green," directed by Phil Mucci, is a brainblowing Ralph Bakshi/Frank Frazetta Metal Hurlant hallucination and is easily the winner of HEAD MEDICINE'S 2012 Video of the Year.  an awesomely heavy ode to marijuana, with a war march drum intro before the full on assault begins... a searing guitar solo giving way to a devastating, downshifted, primal sex groove (which just might be the coolest thing HoF's ever jammed on), before finishing off with it's bludgeoning finale. the video is fucking spectacular from beginning to end, and it's not everyday that you get to see a  sex scene with a marijuana goddess and the time travelling twin of Jesus Christ, so just sit back, spark one up, and soak it all in.

The slo-motion molten metal being poured on "Madness of an Architect" harkens back to pike's old days in Sleep.  monolithic and terrifying, this will make your eyes roll back in your head, lost in a leaden fog

but High on Fire isn't just about the vicious head beatings they routinely deliver.  lately, they've been able to stretch out and explore more expansive terrain with exotic instrumentals like "Samsara,"  with Matz's layered melodic bass work and a mesmerizing Pike lead woven through.  HoF cannot write enough songs like this one.

"Spiritual Rites" scorches the earth as it stampedes through the countryside, setting everything aflame and sending the villagers screaming into the night.  This song is just ruthlessly heavy, as any tune about burning witches should be.

"King of Days" is as close to a ballad as HoF can get yet still densely heavy.  This dirge has Pike's most soulful vocals to date and the triumphant call-and-response solo trade-off between the guitar and bass is fucking magical.  get yer lighter up in the air, this is an album highlight for sure

the terrifying title track, summoning an ancient behemoth from the earth's core.  it sounds like pike prepared for his vocal performance by swallowing a handful of rusty nails and chasing it down with a coupla shots of battery acid.  unforgivingly brutal and fucking awesome

"Romulus and Remus"  tells the ancient tale of the infant twins,  heirs to the throne, who were left for dead and kept alive by suckling a she-wolf.  they eventually went on to found the city of Rome.  classic Pike reference material.   Matz and Ballou combine to capture the perfect chainsaw bass growl on this one

and "Warhorn" closes the album with a final thunderous battle charge.  

HERE is the bonus track, "Speak in Tongues," from the limited edition vinyl

The Art of Self Defense re-release

originally released in '00 on Frank Kozik's legendary Man's Ruin record label, "The Art of Self Defense" is an indisputable  stonerrock classic.   these are minimalistic, mystical interpretations of the sacred Iommi texts from the hallowed Temple of Sabbath.  riffs and grooves that drone on and on, gathering a heavier mass as they expand outwards into infinity.  cosmic metal at it's absolute finest!  but the album, produced by Billy Anderson, always sounded a bit murky, and maybe not necessarily on purpose.  this year, the mighty Southern Lord Records stepped in and dispatched Brad Boatright to scrape away 12 years of thick stoney resin to reveal, for the first time with startling clarity, all of the rich sounds that lay underneath.  Southern Lord even gave the package the deluxe treatment, with updated original cover art,  a 48 page booklet of classic photographs, the two bonus tracks from the 2002 Tee Pee Records re-release, "Steel Shoe" and the Celtic Frost cover "The Usuper,"as well as the three tracks from the band's original 1999 demo recording.  it's the definitive version of a must-have all-time classic.  easily the Reissue of the Year here at HEAD MEDICINE.

*note:  these are not links to the re-issue.  these are from the original release.  buy the reissue HERE*

"Baghdad"... There isn't much to say about the melted lead psychedelic riff, the warped groove, or pike's cosmic chant that the song doesn't say for itself.  a classic of the highest order.

i love the part around the 3:00 mark where the riff collapses under it's own weight and just punishes the listener for a few moments before straightening back out again.  fuck yeah

High on Fire - Live! and a short Matt Pike  Q & A

earlier this year, just after De Vermis Mysteriis was released and HoF was prepared to embark on a summer long trek of American and European music festivals, Matt Pike, who had been touring with the newly reformed Sleep, suddenly announced that he was going into rehab and the entire tour was scrapped.  Things were looking a bit grim for HoF, but Pike emerged clean and sober and was ready to get back to work.  another tour was plotted.  after several missed attempts in the past, i finally got my sorry ass to a High on Fire show in Kansas City in December and,  as expected, the performance delivered a transcendental pummeling.  i couldn't tell you what songs they played, i couldn't even have told you my name at a certain point.  the show is a hazy fog in my memory.  waves of sound were bombarding us on a molecular level, rattling each cell in our bodies.  and when we staggered out of the Riot Room's doors, it was like we were taking our first breath all over again. 

afterwards, i talked with Matt Pike for a few moments.  it was balls cold outside, and the man just played his ass off for us and i'm sure he wanted nothing more than to enjoy his smoke and get back on the tour bus, but he graciously answered a couple of brief questions for HEAD MEDICINE.  thanks matt.

HEAD MEDICINE:  This year saw the release of what may be your finest album, a deluxe reissue of your first record, a successful stint in rehab, and a victorious tour.  what are your thoughts looking back on 2012?

MATT PIKE:  It's just one day at a time, man.  just trying to, y'know, keep my bearings... keep my head straight.  y'know, there's alot more work to it now that i don't have my comfortable buzz on... there's just alot of anxiety that i have to overcome.  but i've been killin'... i've been playing very well.

HM:  your video for "fertile green" is our Video of the Year.  what's the story behind that one?

MP:  well, i came up with the story, it's a part of the story of the theme of the whole record and Phil Mucci put it to film.  i told him over the phone exactly what the song was about and he did the rest.

HM:  The Art of Self Defense definitely benefited from a facelift... are there any plans to re-master any of your other early records?

MP:  um, not as of now.  not yet.

HM:  you said you are taking things day by day... are there any plans at all for High on Fire in 2013?

MP:  yeah, there's some talk of tours, y'know, but yeah i'm just taking it slow at the moment.

~review, interview, and art by Kojak


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