Once more they’ve turned sludge, slime and slurry into heavy metal gold.
Alex Deller 2012
It always feels like a new album from High on Fire should be heralded by battle drums, natural cataclysms or a stirring of ancient deities. While many metal acts lose their edge as the years take their toll, it seems theirs has never been keener.
Much of the responsibility for this rests on the shoulders of rock‘n'roll lifer Matt Pike, who, despite being a rather cheerful, unassuming fella sounds like he’s had to weather frost, fire and the grasping claws of giant scorpions on the way to the recording studio.
His is a commanding voice that rumbles between Lemmy-ish grunts of discontent and the hymnal commands of a tentacled Old One, while his musicianship foregoes guitar store wizardry and instead suggests the swarthy physicality of a barbarian warlord wrassling some mythic beast to the floor before pummelling its thorny skull with the haft of a broadsword.
This said, the album doesn’t quite start by putting its best hoof forward. Opener Serums of Liao is perhaps the album’s sole weak point, a borderline rote number that thunders along but doesn’t quite click. Thankfully this false start quickly shifts into the roiling torrents and avalanche percussion of Bloody Knuckles, a resounding hammer blow of a track that sets a far better precedent for the heavy metal mastery to follow.
As with each of the band’s albums, De Vermis Mysteriis showcases a gauntletful of subtle evolutions while the essential Motörhead-meets-Celtic Frost kernel remains untouched. Madness of an Architect, for instance, indicates a slow, smoke-fugged nod towards Pike’s previous – and semi-resuscitated – outfit Sleep, while the instrumental Samsara has Jeff Matz in full Cliff Burton bass demigod mode.
Maybe the most significant departure, though, comes with King of Days, whose unfamiliar baritone and funereal countenance see the band grappling with the trad-doom of Candlemass or modern upstarts Pallbearer.
Combining such songcraft and impeccable riffmanship with a frankly lunatic narrative arc (hint: it involves Jesus’ dead-in-the-womb twin and the kind of space-time continuum-defying logic that’d have Scott Bakula weeping as he repeatedly tries and fails to strangle Dean Stockwell’s hologram) it’d be hard to see how De Vermis Mysteriis could possibly disappoint and, put simply, it doesn’t. Once more they’ve turned sludge, slime and slurry into heavy metal gold with alchemical prowess, proving beyond all doubt that this, right here, is a band you can truly believe in.