High On Fire
Death Is This Communion

San Francisco aggro-doom trio High on Fire check in with their latest, Death Is This Communion. This marks the departure of Smilin’ Joe Preston (show of hands, who didn’t see that coming?), bassist extraordinaire from Thrones, Melvins, Earth, et al. but not quite metal enough to handle such a thunderous mantle. Enter Holy Terror axeman Jeff Katz, who holds down the low-end extremely well on what is arguably the band’s best album yet.

After a power-prog workout, opener “Fury Whip” rips into a Sleep-inspired groove. “Waste of Tiamat” rears up with slightly different but no less punishing riffage, punctuated by vocalist/guitarist Matt Pike’s acoustic guitar and (later) his Malmsteen-esque soloing. The exceptional title track offers an evenly paced tune that highlights the more tribal aspect of drummer Des Kensel’s lower tom work—plus Pike’s gruff vocals sound more like Lemmy Kilmister, as if Motörhead went doom all of a sudden. “Khanrad’s Wall” is a pummeling Middle Eastern-tinged instrumental that prefaces the punishing “Turk,” which in turn sounds like the band is joined by Slayer.

On the downside of Pike’s comparisons to Lemmy, “Rumors of War” sounds like a cheap Motörhead cover. “DII” is an instrumental that seems out of place on this album: what sounds like incidental music to an ABC afterschool special—a terse, teenaged drama about the dangers of streetcar racing—also features a mellotron (or a similar sounding pedal effect), probably the first time in the band’s history. Prefaced by some intriguing acoustic pickings, “Cycolpian Scape” takes a slower, more satisfying tack, allowing Pike to stretch out his solo during the bridge. He also wails on the solos during “Ethereal,” and “Return to Nod” closes the album on similar ground. Along with Baroness’ Red Album, Relapse is once again at the forefront of the neo-doom movement with High on Fire.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Chris Ayers
December 31st, 2007

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