REVIEW: HIGH ON FIRE – “Electric Messiah”
‘Electric Messiah’ is “Spewn from the Earth” with a wrecking ball of a track in the vein of ‘Blessed Black Wings’ standout “Devolution.” Fast and aggressive, it makes it clear that the new record, which singer/guitarist Matt Pike calls “the best record I’ve ever made with the High on Fire stamp,” will be the yin to the new Sleep record’s yang. For those living under a rock, the seminal Sleep is Pike’s other band. While Sleep’s excellent new record ‘The Sciences’ finds Pike at his slow Iommian best, ‘Electric Messiah’ is the sound of Pike at his most aggressive.
The ascending intro riff of “Firebooter” leads into a breakneck rhythm complete with several awesomely unhinged lead breaks. The song briefly stops to catch its breath three-quarters of the way through via a refreshing semi-melodic plea before lumbering back into the sonic maelstrom.
The title track, a tribute to Lemmy Kilmister, who Pike “wanted to pay homage to in a great way,” is hurled into the world with all the subtlety of a bulldozer. While the perpetually shirtless Pike bears his teeth, his chest and his chops, bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensel do a lot of the heavy lifting, here and throughout the record, with their tight, pummeling, rhythmic blitzkrieg.
While de facto leader Pike serves as the band’s focal point, the heavy swing of “Pallid Mask” further illustrates how important Matz and Kensel are to the High on Fire sound. Kensel, who generally favors toms over brass, incorporates some intricate hi-hat work into the verses of the otherwise plodding monster of a track. The verses highlight Pike’s tendency towards semi-melodic singing, a nice trick that allows him scream like a Viking berserker while simultaneously injecting hooks.
Sound-wise, producer Kurt Ballou (Converge, God City Studios) opts for a live sounding record that does a decent job of capturing the aggressiveness of High on Fire’s live show. This is a record that sidesteps the canned, heavily compressed modern metal sound in favor of cacophonous sonics seemingly planned to intentionally cause ear-fatigue.
Standout track “Steps of the Ziggurat/House of Enlil,” breathes life into Enlil, the Mesopotamian god of wind, air, earth and storms. The slow dirge of the riff, the pounding tribal drums, and the seething chant-like vocals simulate a ritual procession. Halfway through, a psychedelic guitar solo breaks the trance and ups the intensity, leading into a double-kick heavy outro twisted by Pike’s macabre vocals.
“Drowning Dog,” perhaps the best thing on here, scratches the itch for that breed of more tuneful High on Fire songs. Like “The Falconer” from 2016’s ‘Luminiferous,’ the song finds the band at their most straightforward. The mid-tempo slog with feet firmly planted in a more traditional metal song structure marries emotive guitar arpeggios to equally moving vocal melodies, effectually pulling the curtain on full-length number eight.
With ‘Electric Messiah,’ High on Fire have crafted a solid record that plays it safe by the band’s own inimitable standards. The record succeeds overall on the strength of Matt Pike and company’s ability to effectively crank up the tempos, aggression, and general metal-as-fuck-ness of the lyrics and delivery.