High On Fire
HIGH ON FIRE
It was the late, great novelist and caffeine enthusiast Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) who said, "Power is not revealed by striking hard or often, but by striking true." And yet High On Fire have managed to do all three. Since the Oakland power trio's inception in 1998 they've released six earth-splitting albums, each seemingly more unstoppable than the last. Forever haunting the halls of the Iommic Templethe band's own philosophical monument to Black Sabbath riff master Tony IommiHigh On Fire have become legends in their own time. As bong-huffing genre music rises and falls around them like so much windborne detritus, guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike, drummer Des Kensel and bassist Jeff Matz comprise the all-seeing eye of a perpetual riff-storm, always looking toward a future in which The End is always near.
After unleashing one of the most momentous debuts in the history of heavy music with 2000's The Art Of Self-Defense, High On Fire doubled down in 2002 with the absolutely punishing Surrounded By Thieves, an album that even notoriously finicky music website Pitchfork rated an 8.8 out of 10. "Surrounded By Thieves pushes drones to its limits, with a crushing wall of bass tones guaranteed to alter heart rhythms and weaken building infrastructures," they gushed, before adding the obvious disclaimer: "If you've never experienced street drugs, it's a safe bet you probably won't enjoy this album."
And the hits just kept on coming: High On Fire's 2005 album, Blessed Black Wings, was named one of the top 50 albums of the 21st century by prominent UK music weekly Kerrang! In 2007, the band's Death Is This Communion ranked # 3 on Revolver magazine's year-end list, while landing the # 4 spot in Total Guitar. That same year, Matt Pike was named one of rock's "New Guitar Gods" by Rolling Stone.
Fast forward to 2012 and High On Fire's new album, De Vermis Mysteriis. Produced by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou at God City Studios in Salem, MA, the record marks the next devastating chapter in High On Fire's gloriously unhinged metal saga. "It's a fuckin' awesome album," Pike enthuses. "I think it's kind of a cross between the experimentation of Death Is This Communion and the driving darkness of Blessed Black Wings. There's plenty of thrashy stuff, but there's also a lot of Sabbathy doom-type stuff."
"We didn't try to plan it all out this time," he adds. "We kind of waited 'til we were on the spot and had to do something. We had the basic skeletons of the songswe were preparedbut there was a lot of improvisation. There's a lot of soul on this one, and it's got a rollercoaster kind of feel."
The album's title (translation: "The Mysteries of the Worm,") is a nod to a fictional grimoire conceived by the late, great Psycho author Robert Bloch in 1935 and later incorporated into horror master H.P. Lovecraft's renowned Cthulu Mythos. "It's a concept record, a little bit," Pike offers. "I got this idea about Jesus Christ and the Immaculate Conception: 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 lotuswhich is actually in Robert E. Howard's 'Conan' storiesand 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 whatevertime travel is a killer concept."
"Most people won't even get it, so I'm explaining it nowonce," he concludes. "After this, I'm done telling the story to people. So please make sure this gets printed."
Over the course of nearly 15 years and an incalculable amount of tour miles, New Orleans' own Goatwhore have inadvertently established themselves as one the most diligent and consistently ferocious bands of the 21st century. Forged in fire by ex Acid Bath/Crowbar guitarist Sammy Duet in '97, their storied legacy follows a dramatic and often traumatic series of lineup shifts, injuries, hauntings, natural disasters and an assortment of other mishaps large and small. But, driven by a blood oath to heavy metal and perhaps the powers of Satan himself, Goatwhore forever persevere.
Their journey began with the bestial Serenades To The Tides Of Blood demo and subsequent Eclipse Of Ages Into Black debut full-length unleashed over a decade ago. Then a five-piece comprised of Duet, Soilent Green vocalist Ben Falgoust, guitarist Ben Stout, bassist Patrick Bruders and drummer Zak Nolan, the band's stanch DIY work ethic, rigid tour schedule and the bludgeoning force of songs like "Invert The Virgin" and "Desolate Path To Apocalyptic Ruin" quickly spawned a maniacal cult following. By 2003, Goatwhore had systematically harvested a legion of followers possessed by the band's profound maze of unhallowed lyrics, Celtic Frostian rhythms, and blackened bayou swagger. Catastrophebrewed sophomore release, Funeral Dirge For The Rotting Sun, bore a slower, broodier brand of apocalyptic menace; onethat trailed a near-fatal van crash that left Falgoust temporarily paralyzed and the future of the band in disarray. Against all medical odds, Falgoust regained use of his legs and the band, now a four-piece with Duet taking on full guitar responsibilities, quickly returned to their rightful place on the road. Seemingly drawn to bouts of misfortune, A Haunting Curse found the revised Goatwhore lineup of Duet, Falgoust, drummer Zack Simmons (ex-Nachtmystium) and bassist Nathan Bergeron, fleeing the debilitating floodsof Hurricane Katrina. Delayed but undeterred, Goatwhore's first Metal Blade offering proved their most volatile yet. Relentless in speed, precision and barefaced animosity, Goatwhore had traveled well-beyond the confines of conventional black metal with a thrashier end product that fully-embraced their long-avowed Hellhammer and Venom devotion without ever plagiarizing it.
Released in 2009, the sinistral Carving Out The Eyes Of God hit with titanic urgency. Hailed among the year's most worthy metal albums by fans and critics nationwide, Goatwhore's fourth long-player shattered mainstream conventions. The recordbroke Billboard Top 200 ranking in at #190, debuted on the Billboard Hard Music chart at #33, the Billboard Top New Artist (Heatseekers) Albums chart at #16, and the Billboard Top Independent Albums chart at #34. Decibel magazine declared the production,"the band's tightest, most guitar-driven offering to date. An unholy smorgasbord of rigid tempo shifts, gargantuan hooks, blasting black mass anthems, and Falgoust's soot and venom snarl," while Outburn compared it to, "a modern day, 'roid-injected sword fight between Celtic Frost and Venom." High traffic web portal Blabbermouth crowned the production "one of 2009's purest metal albumsnefariously black and sadistically thrashing in a way that is uniquely Goatwhore," while MetalSucks proclaimed Carving Out The Eyes Of God "the catchiest album Goatwhore have ever released." Furtheralbumtriumphs included a spot on the 2010 edition of Ozzfest and two performances at the annual SXSW music conference enabling the horned collective to deliver their sadistic hymns of religious treachery to an even broader sect of listeners.
For the next two years, the band maintained an infamously unyielding tour cycle, leveling cities throughout the US, Canada, Europe and Australia with their universally praised live rituals. Further educating the potentially unversed, "Apocalyptic Havoc" appears on the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 game soundtracks for Splatterhouse and more recently, Saints Row 3, while the video for the song was featured in an episode of Last Call with Carson Daly. And as if to close out a near perfect run of riotous adventures, Goatwhore was named Best Hard Rock/Metal Artist of 2010 at The Big Easy Awards last April, a deserving honor based on performance throughout the year.
In 2012, Goatwhore again raise their cloven hoofs in salutation to Blood For The Master. Now featuring Duet, Falgoust, Simmons and bassist James Harvey, who joined the goaty ranks in 2009 following the departure of Nathan Bergeron, the record finds Louisiana's notorious metal horde at their most unified. Recorded and mixed at Mana Recording Studios in St. Petersburg, Florida with longtime friend/producer Erik Rutan, who worked with Goatwhore on both Carving and A Haunting Curse, the ten-track, 38-minute Blood For The Master is epic in sound, mind and execution.
Released through Decibel Magazine's flexi series, and later posted online for the masses to absorb, a cover of Motöhead's "(Don't Need) Religion" was presented as an album teaser in October. An appropriately infernal rendition of an often neglected classic, the song served as the perfect precursor to an album prevalent in its hailstorm of fist-pumping, heathen anthems and rhythmic devastation.
Exhibiting a labyrinth of moods and meticulous tempo shifts, Blood For The Master is streamlined without ever rendering itself predictable. As memorable as it is menacing, the band's fifth full-length quite literally writhes under the weight of its own deviant heaviness. Led by the traditionally iconoclastic sermons of the leather-throated Falgoust, and made whole by its mammoth guitar tone, unconditional drum/bass battery and Duet's intermittent snarls of wrath, the record again challenges god's legitimacy/authority while further exploring the ritual of death. Conveyed with a poetic, near occultish grace, songs like violent opener "Collapse In Eternal Worth," "Embodiment Of This Bitter Chaos," and "In Deathless Tradition" finds Falgoust, dubbed "one of the best live and recorded singers in metal history," by notable Canadian website Hellbound, in full domination mode. "I always have a lot of words," he elaborates. "I don't like repeating things but I've started doing more chorus-verse-chorus stuff. I started letting the music breath more."
"It's not like the new songs are a drastic change," Duet noted in an early interview with Decibel Magazine. "It's like an experimentation on how much more metal we can get I mean actual metal; the roots of heavy metal. But not in a way that it sounds like power metal or anything like that. It's like an extremely metal version of us."
"I thought this was a lot harder to write just because we didn't want to repeat ourselves," he further notes. "I mean, we could have easily gone and written another Carving Out The Eyes Of God but we didn't want to do that. There are still elements on the new album that we wouldn't normally do, but it definitely still sounds like us."
"It's definitely harder at this point," Falgoust agrees of the writing process, "because you start to get to the point where you're a little older and more conscious about your ideas and everything; you become more anal about things. I'm still getting used to it, but I really like it. I like the flow. When we write, we try to think of it in a live approach. A lot of people write records but they never really focus on playing it live but that's so important. We can do all of these songs live, which is something we did with Carving as well."
"I think sometimes we get slighted for stuff" Falgoust continues on where the band now fits within metal's ever expanding pantheon of subgenres. "Whatever terms people decide to lock us into black metal, death metal, black death metal, everyone's gotta have some kind of little blanket. It's almost like a social standing. To me, it's all just straight heavy metal."
There is a hidden world where ancient evil weaves a modern mystery. A world filled with the darkest magic's where all movement is caused by tensions between positive and negative furies. A world in which the furies, when out of balance, turn into demon and live forever. A creature of fast dark destructive power. Repulsive and evil existing only to plague the living as they do with LO-PAN, who is cursed. Cursed with rock and roll genius. Born out of a combination of dirty rock and roll, stale beer and an unhealthy obsession with "Big Trouble In Little China," Columbus's Lo-Pan have been tearing up the club circuit since 2005. Lo-Pan burst onto the local scene with their locally released self-titled album back in 2006. The local buzz gave way to more national attention as bands told bands and Lo-Pan began gracing venues big and small with names like Red Giant, Devil To Pay, Torche, Saviours, Year Long Disaster, Red Fang, Valkyrie, & the Atomic Bitchwax (just to name a few). Fast forward five years and there's hardly a band worth playing with that they haven't shared a stage with. Enter the sophomore release, " Sasquanaut ." Initial pressings on local indie Nice Life Records sold out quickly and as before the best praise is when one band on the road tells another "Hey, man you've got to check this out." Which brought them, album masters in hand to us here at Small Stone. " Sasquanaut " had all the makings of a classic, thunderous low ends, pummeling drums, riffs to die for and a voice that soars but for all the genius that shone through it was still rough around the edges (don't get us wrong we love rough around the edges). So we checked them in to a proper studio and left them in the capable hands of Benny Grotto for a little remixing, a little re-mastering and just ever so much re-recording. Enter Sasquanaut , mark 2: " Sasquanaut (Remixed & Re-mastered)." Heavier, more dynamic, louder and just that tiny bit more polished, this is the album that bands and fans new they could make. Mere words just can't do justice to the effect that a little more time and the proper equipment have had on these eight raging tracks. Maybe a quote from the bands namesake might sum it up. "When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like that: "Have ya paid your dues, Jack?" "Yessir, the check is in the mail." The boys heads back into the studio for a proper follow-up this fall and look for the band on tour this winter and remember IT'S ALL IN THE REFLEXES!
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