High On Fire - Snakes For The Divine
The Oakland, California, trio have surpassed their own limits and sonic possibilities yet again
Those who recall the tremor-inducing heaviness of 07s ‘Death Is This Communion’ would be forgiven for thinking there could be none more weighty. But, riding in on thunderous drumming that evokes the oncoming hooves of the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, riffs capable of parting the Seven Seas and topped with a vocal scrape that even the demons of the deep cower in fear of, the Oakland, California, trio have surpassed their own limits and sonic possibilities yet again with album number five.
Produced by Greg Fidelman, the man responsible for Slayer’s latest, ‘Snakes For The Divine’ is here to give metal a right kick up the asp. Holy fuck. When axe-toting vocalist Matt Pike told Rock Sound that this latest effort was going to be “pretty intense” he certainly wasn’t kidding.
‘Snakes For The Divine’ takes everything the band have done before to new levels: the doom elements are ramped up to ominous proportions, they’ve upped the octane on the fast-paced, ‘Ace Of Spades’-style hair-whippers, making for a faster and dirtier, amphetamine-laced ride, while the use of more unusual instruments explored on the previous release is pursued further. And, despite Pike’s earlier declaration of being “cursed with a Lemmy voice”, his broken-toothed, whiskey-soaked war cry is fury incarnate as he explodes into an eye-popping rage, barking blackened Lovecraftian tales of icy wastes, pestilence, ancient warriors and the fucked up, doomed and desecrated, using each vowel like a mallet blow.
The title track opener sidles up like a dirty sonic harpy, luring listeners in with an exotic display of impossibly arpeggiated fretwork before the bowels of the mutha of all serpents open up and envelop all in some of the most colossal, ball-busting and filth-laden grooves known to man and beast. Drummer Des Kensel seamlessly switches from tribal, tom-heavy slams and heavy-handed slow motion battering to fast-as-fuck pounding, pinning down the backbone while Pike’s guitar work rears and spits cobra-style one moment and gyrates in a hypnotic, slithering solo the next.
‘Frost Hammer’ is tempered by Jeff Matz’s solid-as-a-rock bass, so hefty in parts it could be a contributory force in the shattering of the polar ice caps, while an icy-smooth, mid-tempo waltz that crops up midway through has the whiff of early tour buddies Mastodon.
Veering away from the all-out assault, ‘Bastard Samurai’ is a blade-sharp and menacing slow-step which, like dancing with death, will send chills up the spine, while, pulling in with a tempo as fast and driving as pistons on a steam train to Hell, ‘Ghost Neck’ (which takes its title from the cadaver bone which sits in Kensel’s spinal column as a result of surgery for slipped discs and bone spurs) is a teeth-gritting gallop. If that’s not enough, then the unrelenting and unforgiving ‘Fire, Flood And Plague’ spews out more destruction than the plague and Great Fire and that ruined London in the 1600s.
Monolithic, streamlined and straight from the underworld, ‘Snakes For The Divine’ is High On Fire’s finest hour thus far.