Sunday, 22 April 2012

Review: High on Fire - De Vermis Mysteriis

 After stoner metal legends Sleep came to an end and going out on a high note with the release of the sprawling hour long stoner epic Dopesmoker, the most recognized and widely-regarded band to rise from the ashes has been guitarist Matt Pike's High On Fire, which has seen Pike up the tempo and pace from his previous group's dwindling manner but keep Sleep's almighty monolithic crunch overwhelmingly intact. Of course, being almost fifteen years since Sleep said goodnight, (Make some kind of pun out of it.) High On Fire have come into their own aura and hold their own legendary status over the world of metal today. And it's with this status and sense of ambition that they've created their sixth album De Vermis Mysteriis, a concept album based around the time traveling twin brother of Jesus Christ, who according to Pike: "lives his life only going forward until he finds this scroll from an ancient Chinese alchemist who derived a serum out of the black lotus and then he starts traveling back in time. He can see the past through his ancestors’ eyes, but his enemies can kill him if they kill the ancestor that he’s seeing through at the time. Basically, he keeps waking up in other people’s bodies at bad times." I think I'll write a review where I talk about riffs.

 Needless to say, it's the kind of album where the performance itself is every bit as important to talk about. Quite simply, it's a breathtaking display of varying metallic riffs played with an air of seething grimness. We move from the juggernaut stoner grooves that make up Bloody Knuckles and Spiritual Rights to the cataclysmic jagged thrash riffing of Fertile Green to the much gloomier and mournful King of Days a song that is very much rooted in total bleakness. So we're pretty much taken from the sound of Electric Wizard, through to Corrosion of Conformity through to Saint Vitus. And much like with UK stoner representatives Orange Goblin's Ben Ward, the resemblance between the vocals of Pike and Lemmy Kilmister is undeniable and shows off High On Fire's devotion and influence from the metallers that rode before them.
 While even after several listens the concept of the time travelling sibling of Jesus is still a bit difficult to get one's head around, the full-throttled passion and strength identified within the band across the album in delivering their concept is very much apparent. Wither it's in the atmospheric grandness heard throughout opener Serum of Liao or the overwhelming fury of the album's title track, the entire album clearly features the sound of a band unleashing the fire dwelling within their hearts and guts and creating a musical soundscape that is thunderous as a result. While violently charging through the more furious moments of the album, the band are also unafraid to use tracks like Madness of an Architect and Romulus and Remus to create music of dwindling pace and an atmosphere of unrelenting bleakness with which readers can revel within the bitter chaos.
 Consequently, De Vermis Mysteriis reveals itself to be the full stoner metal package. Packed with a selection of monolithic slabs of heavy riffs, a major atmosphere of twisted aggression and doom and a fronting performance filled with charging passion that really drives the songs and the concepts home no matter how off-the-wall they are. This could well be one of the albums that Matt Pike has put the most effort into making and it's certainly paid off.

 High On Fire's De Vermis Mysteriis is out now via E1 Music. 

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