High On Fire- De Vermis Mysteriis

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April 13, 2012 by Dan Swinhoe

“In the story, Jesus Christ has a twin [named Liao], and his twin died so that Jesus Christ could live,” Pike says. “But his twin instantly becomes a time traveler. Now, you can only go forward through time, but he comes across a scroll that was taken from ancient Stygia —and this is where I go into Robert E. Howard. Stygia was a land of black magic and witchcraft. The Vanirs, a race of warlords came and killed all the Stygians and burned all the scrolls, but some of the scrolls were smuggled out.” – Matt Pike on the concept behind De Vermis Mysteriis

As concepts go, that’s pretty out there. Add an apocalyptic soundtrack and you’ve got High on Fire’s new album De Vermis Mysteriis.

Through their last few albums High on Fire have become one of the best Metal outfits in the world. Pike’s reptilian bark, huge riffs and Des Kensel’s pummeling drum work have become the band’s trademark, if they were a Tesco value range, the label would simply read “Riffs and Drums.” The Black Sabbath meets Motorhead description has been used to death, but still absolutely true. On this, their sixth release, they’ve raised the bar once again. Frontman and guitarist Matt Pike has always had a bit of a thing for H. P. Lovecraft and the arcane and as you can see, the theme continues here. But the lyrics are secondary to the HOF experience, Pike has said he can’t wait for the singing to be over so he can get on with the shredding.

“In ancient China, Liao found a scroll that’s about how to make black lotus into a serum, which allows you to travel back through time and look at the past through your ancestor’s eyes. Now, Liao puts his name on the serum and he goes on a quest to find why his brother is this religious icon in the future that’s caused all this destruction and massive war.” -Matt Pike again…

Opener Serums of Liao sets the standard. No messing about, no pomp, just a quick drum fill and a massive riff before the vocals kick for an intense six minutes. Bloody Knuckles and Fertile Green up the tempo and the ferocity, giving the Motorhead comparisons credence for those who were unsure. In the past the one flaw with HOF albums has been that though there is very rarely a crap song, the peaks reduced the impact of some of the other tracks. But not so here, every track is killer.

You won’t find a bad word anywhere about new album De Vermis Mysteriis. This is for a very good reason. It’s downright amazing. High on Fire have created a beast faster, more aggressive, and catchier than any album that you will hear all year, all the while retaining its ability to be dynamic and take left turns. HoF transcend genre tags and trends into pure metal, and have created a solid gold record. It’s very easy to fall back on superlatives like monolithic, colossal and sledgehammer, because it feels so epic.

“Basically, he answers his own question [about why Jesus Christ caused chaos and war] using the serum, but each time he uses it he wakes up in these different fucked up situation. There’s a song about witch burnings called ‘Spiritual Rights.’ And there’s one about a female oracle that makes him sacrifice a male baby. She takes the baby into the weeds with her…”Matt Pike, RE teacher

It seems odd but the highlights are the slower, more adventurous tracks Madness of an Architect and King of Days. Madness… is the closest thing Pike has come to sounding like previous outfit Sleep, a seven minute beast with some groove that still manages to sound huge while King…sees a more restrained vocal approach, showing the band still can floor you even when they’re being subtle. 

Much was made by certain circles of the sound quality on previous effort Snakes For The Divine. A tragedy of …And Justice For All sized proportions it was not, in fact the only weakness on the record was not all the songs were instant classics but merely just fucking good. Either way, De Vermis Mysteriis’s sound is perfect, capturing all the intensity of the live shows without becoming bogged down in a sludgey mess.

After King Of Days the album begins to wind down, the title track and Romulus and Remus both good ol’fashioned mid-paced numbers drenched in feeback and solos that could have been taken from any of the last few albums. Warhorn builds slowly from Pike’s vision of war towards a crescendo of wild, almost Slayer-like solos and brings the experience to a nice end.

Does she kill the baby? Of course, but in the world of the Pike all is not as it seems. “She’s actually a pot plant,” he explains. “If you’ve ever lived on a pot farm you’ll know what I’m talking about. The males get burned and taken out because they fuck up all the females, but they have to fertilize them first. That’s the whole ‘Fertile Green’ song. Then ‘Madness of an Architect’ is about the Stygians and the Vanirs killing the Stygians and the scroll being saved.” -Plant pots and infanticide with Matt Pike 

From 2005’s Blessed Black Wings onwards, the hazey layers of smoke that surrounded the earlier records has been blown away bit by bit. In its place is dynamic, relentless and timeless music. Each album sees HOF make a slow but steady progression towards making the perfect heavy metal album, and De Vermis Mysteriis is about as close to perfection as Jesus’ time travelling twin can get. Pike has been on the scene for over twenty years, but since High On Fire formed from the ashes of Sleep, his influence on some of the biggest bands today is massive; Baroness, The Sword, Black Cobra and Kylesa all over a massive debt to the sludgey groove of Pike & Co. Even the mighty Mastodon formed at a High on Fire concert. The band’s importance can’t be overstated and hopefully with this release they’ll reach a wider audience.  Strong contender for album of the year.

New improved playlist [Open Spotify first]: https://embed.spotify.com/?uri=spotify:user:tres-bien:playlist:2CrAEnXleMtGYwwOd9HiNN

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