High On Fire De Vermis Mysteriis. A review in two words? Skull cracking.
There you go job done, see you tomorrow.
Push off home, there’s nothing to see here.
Oh go on then. This is the only High On Fire I own on vinyl and I’ve penned this review as a chum of mine has just snagged their awesome Surrounded By Thieves on vinyl, which makes me rather jealous, which has caused me to unchain this particular beast from the dangerous end of my collection. This is as heavy as I can go without getting a nosebleed.
Matt Pike is heaviness personified, I love all his stuff with Sleep and that search for the ultimate heavy stoned riff and the sheer awesome bare-chested battle metal of High On Fire’s earlier LPs. No wonder the LP covers all featured winged demons and battle-axe wielding warriors, cleaving their enemies in twain – how else could you visualise this music? Just listen to the likes of ‘Bloody Knuckles’ and ‘Warhorn’* – this is metal straight from the imagination of Robert E Howard, Lin Carter & L Sprague de Camp. This is metal made from instruments fashioned from the bones of your enemies blasted through improvised amplifiers crafted from their melted-down weapons. Oh yes!
The sound of De Vermis Mysteriis is immense, especially impressive for a three-piece group, drummer Des Kensel and bassist Jeff Matz are awe-inspiring players, just listen to their interplay on ‘King Of Days’. However, the sound of High On Fire is not dry and technical metal at all, it just rages, solos are kept minimal. I really love the track ‘Fertile Green’ which just chugs like an engine of war, some terrifying spiked Orcish machine and manages to harness all the ferocity of Slayer without their shrillness** – just listen to those drums! Dave Lombardo would have been proud to have played like that, in his absolute pomp.
Funnily enough in and amongst all this ferocity my favourite track is hidden away at the end of the first side, the gently grooving instrumental ‘Samsara’. It features all the lyrical guitar soloing you could ever wish for and happily provides some light relief and shade, in this company. There’s something very apt about the way it just stops as well, as if severed. Although I have to say the track ‘King Of Days’ chases it pretty close for me too, again its a slower building number that spirals upwards and upwards into the night in a strangely melancholy, but elegiac way. It is just incredible.
Ferocious as De Vermis Mysteriis is, this is a concept album. It was news to me until tonight, but there you go. Okay the concept involves Jesus’ evil time-travelling twin, occupying bodies at moments of evil throughout history (‘Romulus and Remus’), having imbibed the juice of the black lotus (‘Serums Of Liao’). I suspect this is precisely what happens I think if you smoke enough dope for long enough, under loud enough conditions.
Another reason I love this sucker is the way in which it contrives to be both as heavy as mountains*^ and deals with, in the main, common metal subject matter and yet High On Fire totally avoid any and all metal clichés. Maybe it’s the stoner hardcore punk background of the musicians, but I really like that – it stops it becoming a bit too European, a bit too much like broadsword metal.
The spirits flights into a valley, a darkness that led them astray
An infant’s eyes now open, with it a tempter, allude and betray
You know your master’s leash is tight and keeps your death and your children at bay
The raging maniac aware and knows the cost of his earthly maze (King of days)
That’s damn good advice right there, always know the cost of your earthly maze, it helps you budget for the rest of the month ahead. Many’s the time I’ve got to the 18th of the month and realised, raging maniac that I am, I’m skint because I hadn’t factored in the cost of my earthly maze.
Anyway, as I may have mentioned before De Vermis Mysteriis is skull cracking stuff and right now, I really can’t get enough of it.
*I always thought this was a condition affecting conservative politicians during periods of military engagement.
**which puts me off some of their stuff occasionally.
*^which is the heaviest non-planetoid I could think of.