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High On Fire's sixth full-length finds the band in fine muscular form. Aided and abetted by an excellent production job from Godcity Studio's Kurt Ballou, the band roars through a strong set of heavy psychedelics. De Vermis Mysteriis features some of the strongest songwriting of the band's career. From the slow burn groove of "Serum Of Liao" through the thrashing assault of "Spiritual Rites" to the mournful call of the "Warhorn," High On Fire display a passion and intention that few other bands can currently match.
Most long-lived bands flame-out, front-loading their careers before tottering into a painful obsolescence. Not so High On Fire. Though their recorded output has taken some less than stellar turns, they have continually managed to hone their craft, offering new and innovative twists even in their mistakes and never once settling down to just go through the motions. De Vermis Mysteriis continues that pattern yet deepens it.
Clearly challenged in the studio, everyone steps up: Matt Pike lets loose with some deep 70's psychedelics, channeling a diverse cosmos through his fretboard. Check out "Madness Of An Architect" or the instrumental "Samsara" for some of his best soloing ever. Jeff Matz's bass is thick and he loosens his grip on the riffs, bring more flow to his playing. Between him and Des Kensel, the rhythmic swing is stronger than ever. The drums are also extraordinarily well-captured. On previous recordings, he was either too distant or completely overwhelming. Here the balance is flawless, dominant and muscular without blowing the others away. I can't say enough good things about the production -- it really brings out the best in High On Fire's playing.
Unlike previous albums, my quibbles here are marginal. I dislike the chorus on "King Of Days," it really brings out the worst in Pike's voice, that strained off-key kinda bellow he affects when trying to actually sing. That the song drags too doesn't help. Otherwise, his voice is in fine fettle throughout. The title track is also drag. I keep waiting for it to open up but it never does. These criticisms aside, De Vermis Mysteriis is High On Fire's best album since Surrounded By Thieves.