If you have ever witnessed High On Fire live, then you will know them to be one of the most monolithically heavy bands on the planet. Singer / guitarist Matt Pike has existed at the forefront of the stoner metal scene for some years now having been one of the prime movers behind feted band Sleep, and age has dulled neither his furiously heavy riffs nor his ability to find just enough melody to guarantee his epic, swamp-fever-riddled sonic tapestries lodge themselves firmly in your cranium, seemingly in spite of the near overwhelming wall of guitars that he lays down. A mere three piece band, if you didn’t have the evidence in front of you, you’d swear an army of musicians were needed to create such an epic racket, and this double live LP set neatly captures HOF at their sweaty best.
Available as single volumes, or as a limited edition double 180 gr vinyl set, ‘Spitting fire’ is miles removed from the sonically corrected, atmospherically challenged material so many bands pass off as a live set these days. This is raw, vital, blood and thunder delivered with a ferocity that unbelievably manages to knock the studio versions clear out of the park. Throughout the recording Matt sounds deranged, his tar-soaked howl barely audible amidst the Iggy-challenging levels of distortion and thunderous bass. It’s not for the faint-hearted, then, but since when were HOF about subtlety? This is the warts and all truth of an HOF gig and its honesty is as refreshing as the naked sound is thrilling. Beautifully pressed and housed in a gatefold cover, vinyl is truly the way to enjoy this brutal, fifteen track set, the warmth of the vinyl providing a depth to the music that the cold, digital nature of CD can never fully replicate, and the pressing itself (as is common with Century Media LPs) is more or less flawless, with minimal obvious surface noise coming off the pristine black platters.
Opening with ‘Serums of Liao’ it is clear that we’re in for a blistering performance, as the guitars are unleashed with a feral energy that leaves one gasping and choking. The opening track from recent masterpiece ‘De Vermis Mysteriis’, it sounds utterly immense thanks to a fantastic mixing job courtesy of Greg Wilkinson and an equally monumental mastering from Alan Douches, a true artist when it comes to this sort of thing and whose credits include Converge, Monster Magnet, Ephel Duath and, of course, the most recent HOF album. This is not, it is fair to say, an album for HOF newcomers, it is too raw and unpolished for that, bit for those who caught the recent tour and who want a souvenir of those mind-blowing shows, this is a fine memento.
Of the tracks on offer, the firs side comprises two instant highlights – the aforementioned ‘serums…’ and a blistering rendition of ’10,000 years’, neatly giving drummer Des Kensel plenty of opportunities to show off his chops. Side B is similarly packed with unfeasibly brutal gems, most notably a teeth-rattling version of ‘Devolution’, these songs all taken from a full-sounding Bowery Ballroom in New York (recorded Nov 30th, with the remaining tracks drawn from the next day’s show in Brooklyn). Quite how the band conjure up such an unholy amount of volume is surely worthy of scientific study, but just one exposure to Jeff Matz’s furiously distorted bass and you’ll be lucky if your insides don’t spontaneously evacuate your body. Sludgy, heavily distorted, and yet with the tunes holding their own against the sonic battering, it is arguable that ‘spitting fire’ is one of the best live albums of recent years, the ambitious double set sounding all the better for being sonically unadjusted.
The second volume is no less impressive with side C opening on ‘rumours of war’, the bristling stoner/thrash classic from ‘Death is this communion’ whilst ‘DII’ from the same album has the kind of groove that most bands kill for. The sound, as raw as it is, has a warmth to it that is unassailable, and if you close your eyes as the guitars seep out of the speakers drenched in reverb, it’s as if you’re actually at the gig, so convincing is the mix. Side D offers much, opening as it does with the opiate groove of ‘face of oblivion’, Des’ drums taking on the aspect of rapidly advancing avalanche, their crushing thunder both portentous of impending fate and yet so sonically huge as to have an anaesthetic effect, leaving the listener wide-eyed and slack jawed as the whole weight of the frozen mass comes crashing down upon them. With the whole album set to stun, it is the closing track that finally pushes things over the edge. Performed with utter abandon, ‘snakes for the divine’, an easy highlight from an album so good it was rated near perfect by a frothing SonicAbuse writer it’s a devastating end to a live set so unashamedly raw and red-blooded you have to check yourself for claw marks every each and every track.
High on Fire are not about perfection, although listening here you do begin to appreciate how monstrously tight the band actually are, rather about the feel of any given performance. ‘Spitting fire’, a suitably apt title, is all about capturing that feel by steadfastly refusing to airbrush history or apply a self-consciously glossy sheen to proceedings. Throughout you can close your eyes and instantly picture Matt Pike, standing at the mic stand, stripped to the waste and roaring out these chest bursting anthems with all the fury of an evangelical priest. The sound is utterly immense, and it is hard to think of another live album that presents its subject in as honest and objective a light. If you saw HOF on their recent tour this is a fine souvenir whilst if you somehow missed them, this is an essential addition to your collection. Beautifully presented, perfectly recorded and with a set list that neatly draws from across the band’s feverishly impressive career, ‘spitting fire Vol 1 & 2’ is a perfect summation of HOF’s tumultuous career to date.