You can save your hero worship, Matt Pike isn’t interested. For sure he may be the progenitor of some of metal’s mightiest riffs, but the solid truth is that High On Fire is not a band of individuals, no, it is a merciless, multi-limbed killing machine that slays without mercy. Despite being on its seventh riff-strewn rampage through the darkest, heaviest catacombs of stoner rock, High on fire has yet to release a bad album, but the three year wait since ‘De Vermis Mysteriis’ surely has been sweet agony, interrupted only by the simultaneous release of ‘Spitting Fire’ volumes 1 & 2, a calamitously heavy double live album that painted a suitably anarchic portrait of High on fire on stage. Benefitting from a production job that strips the paint courtesy of Kurt Ballou, a legend in his own right, ‘Luminiferous’ is High on fire as judge jury and executioner, and, hard to believe as it sounds, it makes the stunning ‘Snakes for the divine’ sound positively sedate in comparison.
Before we get on to the music a brief nod must go to the packaging. Century Media has an impressive track record when it comes to releasing fine vinyl editions, and they have not skimped with ‘Luminiferous’. Housed in a sturdy gatefold sleeve with giant artwork and lyrics gracing the inner side, the real draw is the fact that Century Media have included the album on CD (why don’t more labels do this?) and the stunning etching on the D side of the record making this the ‘must have’ version for any die hard High on fire fan. With the spectacular artwork (Jordan Barlow) given the space it deserves, this vinyl edition looks and sounds killer and it’s definitely the way to go.
As you might expect from a High on Fire record, there is no polite introduction to ‘Luminiferous’. The snarling riff that greets the listener when they drop side A onto the deck sets the tone for the album. Feral, brutal and delivered with typical assurance, ‘the black plot’ is a stunning, jaw-dropping opener that draws a line in the sand between ‘snakes for the divine’ and Mastadon’s ‘blood mountain’, not least when the band unleash a skull-crushing chorus that tears out of the speakers with a terrible thirst for human flesh. Kurt imbues the whole thing with an impressive clarity given just how much distortion the band are in the habit of spitting out (clearly his experiences with Converge have paid off) and it’s hard not to stand agog at the stunning delivery of Des Kensel on drums as he successfully conjures up the sound of Armageddon upon his kit. Emerging without so much as a breath of air, ‘Carcosa’ is High on fire in full on groove mode, the guitars forming a solid wall that advances on the listener with crushing inevitability. It’s brutal in its single minded simplicity, the band simply putting their heads down and serving up this sonic maelstrom, whist the listener tries to brace against the potent brew of miasmic guitars and gut-churning bass. ‘The sunless years’, is a dark, literary tale of an acid-soaked protagonist who sits, brain fried, in solitary splendour contemplating the end times, whilst High on fire provide a suitably agitated soundtrack to match. These are lengthy compositions, but thanks to Matt’s perennially whiskey-scarred bark and the band’s peerless commitment to sonic acts of violence, there’s never a dull moment as huge surging riffs vie for the attention against mind-melting solos and that ever=present pummelling percussive barrage that makes you feel as if you’re caught in the heart of a rocket attack.
Side B is no less furious in its advance. ‘Slave the hive’ is a hyper-speed blast of toxic, doom-enhanced thrash that sounds like Slayer thrown into a cement mixer with Lemmy whilst ‘the falconist’ proves to be something of a relief with its dark groove, even if the lyrics offer scant comfort: “Some of us take the pain, and the monsters are real, I could lie but it’s hunting us.” Like Mastadon, with whom the song shares some sonic similarity, High on fire offer up lyrics that are as absorbing as the music and it’s as you drift off into the mesmerising depths of ‘the falconist’ that you realise your consciousness has been hijacked, only for the band to slam you rudely back to reality with the viscous sludge of ‘the dark side of the compass’, a tar thick trawl through some nameless abyss, lit only by Matt’s luminous guitar solos which wind through the track like a single shining thread leading out of the darkness.
Side C kicks off with ‘the cave’, a seven minute psychedelic epic that emerges dreamily from the speakers on the back of a somnambulant beat, only for a searing guitar line to mangle the mood. A dark, schizophrenic track, it showcases High on fire at their most progressive, experimenting with clean guitars and washing the whole thing in sparkling flanger, only to erupt into a full-blown metal tsunami at the slightest opportunity. It’s an album highlight and by introducing a shimmering psychedelic touch into the proceedings, it does much to emphasize the unyielding nature of high on fire in full blitzkrieg mode. The title track does not waste the opportunity, and as the strings scrape and Jeff Matz’s bass does its best to tear the secret of the brown note from the ether, Des sets to his kit like a man whose sole mission is to beat it into smithereens and the band explode once more into furious life. It’s another thrash-infused anthem of the damned and it does a grand job of paving the way for the extended album closer ‘the lethal chamber’, an eight minute epic that opens amidst a haze of feedback and proceeds to batter Black Sabbath to death with a particularly ugly club. It’s big, it’s clever and it is sure-as-hell ugly and it is the perfect closer to an album that delivers so much violence, it’s hard to know whether you feel real affection for it or whether you’re simply suffering from Stockholm syndrome.
Bearing in mind that High on fire have yet to deliver a poor album, it’s simply not true to say that High on fire are back on form. Rather it’s the case that High on fire have managed to up the ante just that little bit more once again, delivering an album that captures exactly what the band is about. It is an ugly, ungainly racket the band make, a searing, fuzz-laden stoner soup that leaves the listener with a contact high and some highly suspect bruises. A step forward from the stunning ‘snakes for the divine’, an album I honestly thought would remain the band’s peak achievement, ‘Luminiferous’ is a towering achievement of crushing stoner doom that may yet prove to be the band’s masterpiece.