I first discovered High On Fire around the time of the release of Death Is This Communion and thanks to a lyric in the song Blonde Witch by Teaspoonriverneck. At that point they quickly became a band I had more than a healthy respect for thanks to their combination of heaviness and intensity, which is unlike any other band I’ve come across.
So we come to their sixth full-length album, De Vermis Mysteriis which in some ways carries on directly with the sounds developed on Death Is This Communion and Snakes for the Divine, but adds a harder and rougher edge to it.
The album starts off with a trio of tracks which more than ably demonstrate the band’s influences from the world of American hardcore punk. Bloody Knuckles in particular shows this with its intense wall of noise where guitars, bass, drums and vocals all serve to totally fill your ears for the duration without a break for breath.
This hardcore is tempered by a groove which comes from High On Fire’s pronounced stoner rock background which gives their slower, and in my opinion more successful, tracks a feeling of being the bastard offspring of Black Sabbath and Black Flag.
This slower, groovier, sound is clear on Madness of the Architect and King of Days in particular and it is here, where there is space within the music and the sounds open up, that the band really shine and their genuine musical ability comes to the fore.
Another track which shows off the band’s musicality is instrumental track Samara, which really serves to counterpoint the intensity of their more hardcore inflected songs.
One of the things that most fascinates me about High On Fire, on this and their earlier albums, is the way Matt Pike’s voice is used, in a way, as just another instrument. At no point do the vocals soar, in terms of volume or tone, above the music and it serves to add to the togetherness of the band’s sound.
Pike’s voice also has it own unique quality. While it may not be the most adventurous or versatile vocal style around, it sounds frankly astonishing in places and comes across as something like Motorhead’s Lemmy might sound if he had been in a DC hardcore band rather than a rock ‘n’ roll machine.
Across the album the production of De Vermis Mysteriis feels a lot more rough and ready than High On Fire’s last two albums, but this is no bad thing as it suits the mix of hardcore, doom and stoner sounds much better and adds a more punk feel while the previous two had something more controlled and prog-y to them.
In the end De Vermis Mysteriis is a crushing album in terms of heaviness but with this manages to be varied and dynamic at the same time leading to what is to me, at least the best of High On Fire’s three most recent albums.