Monday, April 30, 2012

REVIEW: High on Fire -- De Vermis Mysteriis

Hey, all you internet reviewerati, you don't need to bag on a band's last album in order to buttress your suggestion that their new one may be the album of the year in its genre, or album of the year in any genre.  So cut it out with High on Fire, dammit. Snakes for the Divine was one of the best records of 2010. Hell, it even made my top ten. And if you bothered to read my comment on it then, you know what you didn't see in there?  Any whining about production. And you know who else didn't whine about production back then? You and everyone else.

Snakes is a great album, and everyone agrees or should agree with that.  But it's not nearlly as great as the Oakland trio's new one, De Vermis Mysteriis, released earlier this month on eOne Music (f/k/a Koch Records). Here's the evidence, in the form of the title track:

Well, it's not whining about production on some other record to note that a good deal of what makes De Vermis Mysteriis so enjoyable can be traced to producer Kurt Ballou, who is becoming as respected for his knob twiddling as he is for being a member of metal-hardcore titans Converge. My theory of what happened in the studio is not complicated. Hof frontman Matt Pike is one of the great guitarists of his generation. Ballou, who is a terrific guitar player himself, decided to kick back and let Matt play. With this approach, that apocalyptic grandiosity we're accustomed to gives way, in great measure, to oldschool tube amp grooviness, all supported by the thunderous rhythm section of Des Kensel (drums) and Jeff Matz (bass). You hear it all over the record, but maybe the clearest example of the beauty of Ballou's approach here is in the opening and then the solos in "Madness of an Architect."

I bought this album the day it came out, and the feeling I had early on -- that this very well could be the finest album of Matt Pike's 20 year Sleep / High on Fire career -- has gained traction each time I've put it on. There's great new-sounding stuff, but like the best metal, the soul of the music never strays far from the core. You see this in a song like the opener, "Serums of Liao," which in structure and certain themes strongly recalls what is to me the greatest metal song of the past 10 years, "Brother in the Wind" from 2005's Blessed Black Wings.  Have a listen:

I don't have the cred to be suggesting this or that metal album for inclusion in the canon, but dang folks, if skull-splitting perfection is what you're looking for, I believe you've found it.

High on Fire

HoF on Facebook

No comments: