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There’s a phrase I like to use in my reviews. Maybe you’ve noticed it yourself (that’s assuming anyone actually takes time to read my rants). It’s not a phrase I use on a continual basis, but rather it is saved for particular albums that are truly worthy of the tag. That phrase is something I like to call ‘upping the ante’. It is a description that fits a band that, whilst always demonstrating tremendous promise within a flawed blueprint, finally makes good and delivers their ‘piece de-resistance’. Oakland’s ‘High on Fire’ are one such band.
Two and a half years have passed since the excellent ‘Surrounded by Thieves’ and with a shit load of touring under their belt and a natural progression and maturation in their songwriting High On Fire are on the cusp of becoming serious major players. I’ve always had a bit of time for this band but to be quite honest, I wasn’t expecting such a massive step up in quality. With expectations exceeded, ‘Blessed Black Wings’ has simply floored me. You want evidence of a band upping the ante? This is it folks - A molten, hard as nails metal beast that oozes energy and passion from every pore of its sweaty carcass.
So why is BBW the best thing HOF has ever done? Well, aside from the natural maturation mentioned earlier, notwithstanding the inclusion of bassist Joe Preston (The Melvins) to the band (replacing George Rice), the addition of one Steve Albini to the production duties was always going to make this an album worth hearing. The sound of this album is incredible. Oh, it still totally representative of the usual High on Fire ethic, but on a much fuller scale. Everything about this bands music has been amplified and tweaked to another level (or two). The song writing is stronger, the musicianship is more manic, the solos more wicked. If they were dangerous before, ‘BBW’ now gives rise to a band that is just about certifiable such is its impact.
The other (and probably most impressive) aspect about BBW’ is that via Albini’s awesome production, High on Fire have become a more ‘metallic’ sounding band. The sloppy sludgy Motorhead meets Slayer influence is still very much a given - however with a darker and undoubtedly more aggressive, go-for-the-throat pacing throughout, High on Fire are a much heavier proposition. Everything about BBW is just so much more hard-hitting and involved than ever before. Add the raw forceful vocal from Matt Pike (whose resemblance to a pissed off Wino (doom god from The Obsessed) on speed meets Lemmy) and ‘BBW’s’ quite gritty and thunderous appeal is perfectly sealed.
With a clutch of superbly written (and quite diverse) set of tracks, High on Fire has delivered a killer disc. It seriously rips with ferocious abandon. A more powerful and musically captivating album you might not hear again this year. There’s a long way to go, but at this point in time I’m putting this at the top of the pack. Upping the fucking ante indeed, it’ll take on all comers.
Krozza: written for www.pyromusic.net and walls of fire