“What if Jesus had a twin who died at birth to give Jesus his life? And then what if the twin became a time traveler right then? He lives his life only going forward until he finds this scroll from an ancient Chinese alchemist who derived a serum out of the black lotus—which is actually in Robert E. Howard’s ‘Conan’ stories—and then he starts traveling back in time. He can see the past through his ancestors’ eyes, but his enemies can kill him if they kill the ancestor that he’s seeing through at the time. Basically, he keeps waking up in other people’s bodies at bad times. It’s kinda like that old TV show Quantum Leap. Kurt actually pointed that out to me after I told him the idea. But whatever—time travel is a killer concept.” – Matt Pike (vox & guitar, High on Fire)
That’s Pike’s laid-back, California biker style explanation of the concept behind High on Fire‘s latest head-removal tool, De Vermis Mysteriis. It’s an aptly metal theme for an album of such infinite grit. And seriously, if Matt Pike gets any grizzlier, someone’s gonna have to set some traps. Listen to his vocals on the final track, “Warhorn”, where they’re spotlighted to stunning effect. All the gnarls, barbs, and bristles in his voice are in your face, naked, calling to mind a wounded Kodiak; a battle-hardened beast bleeding out but fighting mad. Matt’s big, filthy guitar–and those RIFFS–along with Jeff Matz’s dexterous, elephantine bass, and Des Kensel’s muscular drumming bear up (sorry) that crusty howl with the force of a natural disaster.
In other words, this is a High on Fire record. Really, I’ve come to expect nothing less from these three guys, and they deliver yet again with this one. As appears their custom, they chose a new producer, going this time with Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou. After the clarity and polish of 2010’s Snakes For The Divine (produced by Greg Fidelman), Ballou takes it back the other direction, roughing it up and making it more monolithic. This one is road-dog dirty, and that with the progression and growing sophistication on display here makes for an undeniably powerful combination. For my money, De Vermis Mysteriis is a strong, early contender for album of the year.