High on Fire
De Vermis Mysteriis
Despite seemingly continuous revelry, it feels as though in some quarters, High on Fire have yet to please all the purists, despite increasing acclaim for their work. Some would argue ‘Snakes for the Divine‘ was lacking High on Fire’s true raw power, beckoning for another ‘Blessed Black Wings‘. Others, myself included, would argue High on Fire don’t need another one of those albums, or indeed another ‘Surrounded by Thieves‘. They seem to gamely go about their task with the requisite menace and intensity without any need to shift their approach for an audience which widens a little more with each release. Nevertheless, there will always be a few who can never be fully satisfied.
Moving swiftly onward, the sixth High on Fire album, ‘De Vermis Mysteriis‘ will likely possess a minority splinter cell of people who will stroke their (bearded) chins with a slight collective shrug, just as before. It doesn’t matter that it still sounds like an army of hellish demoniacs riding forth on horseback, hooves pounding the earth, slaying and pillaging for all its worth, or that its the most varied and arguably most complete High on Fire record yet.
Taking its name from Robert Bloch’s fictional grimoire of the same name and mixing Lovecraftian themes, time travel, Jesus Christ and the Immaculate Conception – and heck knows what else – ‘De Vermis Mysteriis‘ begins in atypical fashion for the band, reeling off three tracks at the beginning that wouldn’t sound out of place on any High on Fire record. The track ‘Bloody Knuckles’ is entirely apt, as it is a particularly bruising encounter. And later in the album, ‘Spiritual Rites’ picks up the whip and cracks it with fury, driven by a cracking double bass-driven beat from Des Kensel.
The clearest sign of Pike’s recent role in the Sleep reunion holding sway over High on Fire’s matters is evident in ‘Madness of the Architect’, a perfect marriage between Sleep’s groove and High on Fire’s metallic intensity, a relatively slow lurker compared to the pace of the initial onslaught. As if that wasn’t enough, ‘Samsara’, track five, is a solid stoner jam, complete free of vocals, and, thanks to the skills of bassist Jeff Matz, just a hint of the spirit of Cliff Burton being alive and well here.
Though the remainder of the record bears the band’s individuality, the slower jams keep coming, punctuated by the incredible ‘King of Days’, surely one of Pike’s most accomplished vocal performances and a truly monumental song in all respects. The decision by High on Fire to not necessarily drop the pace, but certainly to diversify, pays huge dividends and the album has a whole roars quality in its entirety.
‘De Vermis Mysteriis‘ will stand out as one of High on Fire’s finest works for its diversity, but the interplay between Kensel, Pike and Matz should not be overlooked’. If any three men should come to define ‘power trio’ in 2012 its these, though it is power blended with precision and a touch of finesse. For me, High on Fire have never lost their edge, but this is as accomplished a record as ‘Blessed Black Wings‘ or ‘Surrounded by Thieves‘, and one that should be only be sneered upon at your own peril.