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High On Fire have come back with a thirst for vengeance. With the release of De Vermis Mysteriis, the first album by the band to hit number 16 on the Billboard Charts, High On Fire have defined themselves as the alpha and omega of the stoner metal genre.
Not every track here is exactly the same. The first three tracks (Serums of LIao, Bloody Knuckles and Fertile Green) offer arguably the best album open from this band since the days of Blessed Black Wings and Death Is This Communion. Early on, you'll notice that the production has been scaled back in some areas, which is a change of pace since the last album, Snakes for the Divine, an album that is wonderful in it's own right, but which I thought was a disappointment in the grand scheme of things. There, Greg Fidelman produced an unfamiliar, heretofore unknown version of High On Fire that was crisp and ultra clean. The music still kicked ass. But Matt Pike sounds cooler when his vocals are in the foreground, as if you're at a live show. That is how I interpreted the first several albums from this band, take it or leave it, but I think that bringing these elements back was a great decision on behalf of the band.
Madness of an Architect is the highlight on this album. It stands out because it takes down the pace quite a bit, but maintains the ass kicking brutality we expect from this trio. It improves on the formula of the title track of Death Is This Communion, where the song is taken down tempo and the rhythmic chops of the band members are showcased. But it "only" clocks in at 6:57, making it more streamlined and conscious of being catchy than many of HoF's longer epics like "DITC".
I am giving the album an 85%, mostly because I find that the HoF formula over the longevity of their career is being worn thin. Stoner metal is not dying, but I think that the dynamics of the genre-and the dynamic of the main bands within it- needs to change in order for it to still feel fresh. Crushing riffs and fuzzed out instruments with an emphasis on the boom are great ideas, but they aren't the only things that play to the sensibilities of the listeners of music such as this. But that doesn't mean this is a bad release from the band. It is the most brilliant piece, in my opinion, since the formative years of the band. However, this does not change the fact that I myself have grown weary of this particular strain of stoner metal.