High On Fire: De Vermis Mysteriis – Review from Seismic Sound

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September 25, 2012 by hotdaddywags

A review I wrote for my friend Jason’s blog a little while back now. High On Fire’s headed back to Seattle — catch them December 14th at Neumos!

High On Fire
De Vermis Mysteriis
eOne Entertainment

Every now and then, you hear a record that sort of helps you separate the wheat from the chaff, the men from the boys, filter mighty from the meek. You get the idea. In fact, you can shove your pumped up kicks right up your ass. I got your Gotye right fucking HERE, pal. Simply put, people who listen to records like High On Fire’s face melting “De Vermis Mysteriis” are a different breed – part cockroach, part glutton, and 100% metal. Warriors. Survivors.

2012 finds High On Fire in a decidedly more whiplash-inducing mood than 2010’s stellar “Snakes For The Divine.” In fact, the band’s last offering is downright poppy by comparison – by degrees, pick your poison, would you rather be drawn and quartered or decapitated? “De Vermis Mysteriis” (Mysteries of the Worm) isn’t easy listening – Matt Pike and company have concocted a more dense, obtuse record here. Both musically and lyrically, it’s initially far less accessible, as great records often are. It’s clear there’s been more attention paid to every haunting detail – a dense underbed of swirling, ghostly distortion is pervasive, and Pike’s vocals are a desperate howl, lower in the mix and blending with the unsettling chaos.

The album’s first three tracks are absolutely devastating – ‘Serums of Liao,’ ‘Bloody Knuckles’ and ‘Fertile Green’ display High On Fire’s relentless, breathless tenacity and are where it seems they’re drawing a line in the sand – “you’re either with us or you’re against us.” (affirmative, check) Blistering slabs of thrash metal, tempered by accelerated Sabbath riffs and evil leads, all driven home by a mammoth rhythm section and doom/dirge bells and whistles — this shit is state of the art. Pike’s lyrical mysticism is also on display – weirder and more stoner Tolkien meets Cthulu than ever. If you’re into time travel, alchemy, or, in the case of “Fertile Green”, appreciate a sort of origin story of the kind bud, well, ‘Dopesmoker’ fans rejoice.

“Plant the seed, growing breed, within the turning weed, manifest oracles light
Harvest moon, Winter chills, strengthening breed that kills, fertile female gives sight
Sacrifice of males undone, slays to waste, what’s been called unsung
Manifestia, green girl gives the way to follow, growing hollow. Smoke weed!”

“De Vermis Mysteriis” isn’t a one-trick pony, either – the anthemic, plodding thunder of “Madness of an Architect” is an album highlight, showcasing a little more restraint from jackhammer drummer Des Kensel (for my money, one of rock’s finest players) and bassist Jeff Matz. Album closer “Warhorn” finds Pike at his most vulnerable – he sounds like a soldier bleeding out on the battlefield, short a limb or two – and also provides the best dynamic on the record, as the mounting chorus echoes: “Leading the charge, running them through, soldiers death be true.” It’s a dense, tangled, intense work, and one of the finest of the band’s career. It’s not for the candy-assed, the soft, or the pretty. If your kicks are, like, totally pumped up, look elsewhere.

(side note: my band Topsider played our last ever show opening for High On Fire at Sabala’s in Portland.  This was Halloween, 2004.  We didn’t have our best night, and they threw ping pong balls at us during our set.  They would have thrown ping pong balls at us even if we had been slaying dragons up there — I was lucky enough to play with those fellas when I was in High Tone Son Of A Bitch down in the Bay Area.  I was wearing an afro wig and sunglasses.  It was Halloween, afterall, and I recall it was an especially tense night for me, as my puppy Marshall was only about 10 weeks old and had severe pneumonia.  My Mom was at my house watching him for me, and I remember it was on my mind while we were on stage – I held up my end, but not without distraction.  It was also a Sunday night, and I had to work in the morning.  I knocked back two Budweisers and lit out for home to tend to the sick pup, and missed the High On Fire show altogether.  A week later, Topsider would call it a career, though rumors of a 2013 MFNW show persist.)

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