without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
After years of relentless touring with various bands with a myriad of genre styles, High on Fire reached a point where their next album would be a make-or-break circumstance. The fact that they are fantastic live (seeing them blow every other band out of the water during the 2008 Gigantour made me want to give them another chance, despite being mostly indifferent to everything I had heard by them before) gave them fantastic exposure. Bands careers are made in situations like these. Some well-known examples of bands who made the most of this situation would be Metallica with The Black Album and Alice in Chains with "Dirt". An obvious failure would be Motorhead with 1992's "March or Die". So did "Snakes for the Divine" live up to its lofty expectations?
Commercially, the answer is a definite "YES". The album sold almost 7,000 copies in its first week in the USA and jumped almost 80 spots from where "Death is this Communion" debuted on the Billboard charts. The title track was released as a teaser for the album and a video was made for "Frost Hammer". Both served as extraordinary momentum builders (along with their killer live performances) and E1's distribution made it readily available at local retail stores (Best Buy even had a special display where a special-edition of the album was available for $7.99!).
Artistically, the answer is mostly a yes, as well. This is the first High on Fire album chronologically to feature songs that feel like more than just jams where the riffs are haphazardly thrown together with no thought to structure or hooks. The title track features an instantly memorable theme (hear it once and it will be stuck in your head) and a sick solo in the middle. It is immediately obvious that this is an entirely different beast than anything the band has put out before. This continues with "Frost Hammer" which has a catchy (yet no less effective) main riff and some clean singing/chanting in the middle from Jeff Matz. It really gives the song something unique, although I wish they would use Matz more often on vocals because some melody would certainly give their somewhat one-dimensional formula more memorability. Then we get "Bastard Samurai"...it starts out with one of the most METAL lines of this decade:
"Count my fingers ten
Dressed to kill and think again
Count my fingers nine
Do the math, your sacrifice
Son of a bitch should bleed awhile!!!"
That, along with the slow-yet-destructive main riff, makes me want to jump up and mosh with any people or furniture that happen to be in the room with me. Then the song speeds up (more of that "songwriting" thing that High on Fire is displaying for the first time on this album) and there's another fret-burning solo from Matt Pike. These three songs MAKE this album and are the highlights of High on Fire's career up until this point.
Surprisingly, the production is greatly improved. The low-budget muddy sound of the past is gone. Don't expect an Andy Sneap-like gloss, though. The band's sound is still intact but everything is mixed well and the bass can be heard, which is a major advantage because Jeff Matz's basslines make the songs that much heavier and gives them a solid groove. Even more surprisingly, this is the work of Greg Fidelman, who is responsible for butchering the sound of Death Magnetic and the past few Slayer albums.
The only real complaint is that the second half is much weaker than the first half. The criticisms that I have for the second half are similar to the ones I have for most of their discography: overlong songs that go nowhere and are not memorable. However, the strength of the first half outweighs the shortcomings of the second half. "Snakes for the Divine" is the perfect introduction to High on Fire and, as far as I'm concerned, the only album where they rise above mediocrity.
To escape the seemingly inescapable maze of over processed metal that I'd been dousing my spirit into, I reached out to a few friends. These heavy friends are the odd sort to whom Sir Lord Baltimore is a household name and early Mercyful Fate and Pentagram are given constant spinnage. They suggested I give High On Fire's "Snakes For The Divine" a chance. It was far from my usual meal, yet not too out of the realms of my comfort zones, so I gladly agreed.
I'd always known High On Fire as an ebullient gang of stoners, but after multiple listens of this piece of gold I have to say that barely scratches the surface. Frontman Matt Pike allegedly reveres the "colossal Eighties metal" of bands like Motorhead and this rages in that same spirit, but with more grit and elan than Lemmy and group can coax out these days. The music is dirty, unpolished, and fierce, exactly what anyone would need if they're desperately sick of the modern metal that sounds like its churned out by some supreme soulless machine merchant.
"Snakes For The Divine" is concise and neatly delivered. It takes you back to the good old days when the riff held grand presence and wasn't weighed down by a clutter of melodies and production guilty of nitpicking, yet it still sounds like now. The boys are on some bizarre trip glimpsing the apocalypse, bastard samurais, and other weird commodities, but they never lose the all-important connection with the listener. The music doesn't try to be desperately esoteric. It is only "cult" in the sense that it blissfully ignores today's trends and tags. It seems to gleefully dance across all sub-genres and markings. There's moments of doom and gloom captured in the bowel-shaking heavy riffs of Matt Pike a la "How Dark We Pray", an outlandish display of squealing psychedelic melodies as on the title track and the bludgeoning power of raw thrash metal that seems to grace every track. It could very well be the place Cathedral met Sodom.
There's a natural propellant feel to the music, generally speaking. It is searing and soaring and laden with soul. Jeff Matz's bass rings clearly even when dour and Des Kensel's drumming ably pieces things together. There's not a bad song - heck, there's not a bad moment. This is real gold! Ignore the ear-staining aggro-fare of Lamb Of God and reach for this instead. It just might change your perspective. It certainly did mine!
I loved this album a good deal when I first heard it, and the whole "falling out of love" process took a very long time. The production's utterly massive, Matt Pike is a genuine bro who's massive presence is felt throughout the album, the whole thing bends you over and whispers sweet, manly nothings into your ears as it enters you.
Yeah, the album almost, almost covers up it's shortcomings, but it doesn't bear up to repeated listenings. There's a few million vikings on massive woolly mammoths screaming in your ear as HoF make a hell of a racket, but it's that little whisper inside your head that eventually kills the album; peel away the bombast, strip away the many loud crashing instruments and the truth's revealed- this is a rather boring album.
The songwriting doesn't help but it's the lack of good riffs that are mostly what drags this album down. It's all very loud and all but how many of these riffs do you remember when you're done with the album? The lack of anything exceptional, or even "kinda good" is pretty remarkable, considering how long the whole album is. That lead/riff early on in Snakes of the Divine, Bastard Samurai's main riff, yeah it's pretty cool, perhaps the chorus bit in Firespitter? When things do click well here shit does get pretty good, but man is there a lot of awful filler in between- Fire Blood and Plague doesn't do anything but sit around and be angry, Frost Hammer similarly so, Ghost Neck as well. We could go on an on, but you get the point. All up it's a pretty deadly combination, the bad long thrash/stoner riffs, the fairly lame solos (not sure why Pike's trying to shred so hard, considering most of his best moments in the past have been when he's keeping his soloing loose and groovy), and yeah, the long, meandering songwriting.
Shit just hangs around, continues when it shouldn't, changes gear when it shouldn't, and likewise hangs around meandering when what's really needed is a faster section, or a build in tension. From what I can tell, this is mostly due to the fact- and this is probably the main problem of the album, really- that Snakes of the Divine doesn't really know what it's trying to be. It lacks the hazy vibe, huge blown out tones and long, slowburning tension of a quality stoner metal release, but the songwriting's too repetitive and lazy for a long thrash album. You get the feeling that Pike was attempting to make a real grand statement with this- some giant monolith of metal, something that everyone would dig- but he just bit off way more than he could chew, and the result is a fairly unfocused mess.
In general this isn't a very good album; not horrible but definitely somewhere below mediocre. I'd definitely recommend skipping this and just keeping to the earlier HoF releases.
The sound is a mix of stoner metal and sludge. The sludge parts are more obvious at first, but when they slow the pace down (as on "Bastard Samurai") you can hear how ultra-fuzzy the bass is. You can also hear the stoner metal on many of the solos, or if you listen closely to the bizarre lyrics.
The tempos are highly varied, with faster tracks such as the title track leading into some of the slower material. They seem equally adept at both speeds. The driving force behind the band, Matt Pike (formerly of legendary stoner doom band Sleep) shows that slow isn't the only thing he can do, as album highlights include both the slower tempo "How Dark We Pray", but also the faster "Fire, Flood & Plague".
The songs are catchy, but there's also a lot of instrumental virtuosity going on here. Every track is memorable and worthwhile. The only real downside to this album is that Pike's gravelly voice doesn't really add anything to the sound, getting lost in a wash of instruments which occupy the same sonic range and have the same rawness. Contrast this with a similar band, The Sword, whose vocalist (closer to the Ozzy range) contrasts with the music perfectly.
The Verdict: Snakes for the Divine is catchy, great stoner/sludge with a lot of meat on the bone.
originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/
High On Fire continues to refine their sound with each successive album. Though they've mainlined their most direct influences (Motorhead, Sabbath, Venom), they aren't content to just rehash their predecessors templates. Each HOF record is a distinct and unique beast, showing a range of flexibility and experimentation without alienating their core principals. This is no sell-out record despite what some fans have been saying. Nothing has been forsaken by Greg Fidelman's production -- it is full, clear and crisp, sonically deep. Whatever mistakes he made with Metallica and Slayer have been rectified here. I honestly don't think the band has ever sounded better. You can actually hear Jeff Matz' bass and Des Kensel's drums aren't so far forward that they overwhelm the sound. Whatever trepidation I may have had, Fidelman proved all fears wrong.
None of this would've mattered though if the songs weren't good. Fortunately, they are stellar. Once again, HOF has taken their songwriting to yet another level, sheering off the excesses that hindered "Death Is This Communion" in favor of a stripped-down, straight-forward approach. It pays off in dividends. 'Frost Hammer' is a stomping Viking epic, conjuring images of Frazetta paintings. 'Bastard Samurai' is a pounding Sabbath dirge, creepy and wholly unforgettable. They've never recorded anything quite like it. 'Ghost Neck' wallops you over the head, building incredible amounts of tension in the opening riff. Once Des's drums kick-in, well, necks are snapping! An absolute ripper. Highest praise though goes to the title track as it explodes with a clear, ringing power metal riff before descending into pure gritty thrash hell. It's a spectacular song, specifically when all the components come together towards the end.
There is not a single piece of filler on this record, even 'The Path' serves as an effective transition into 'Fire, Flood, & Plague,' another kick-ass tune. For all the cries of "sell-out" surrounding this record, there is nothing to justify the fuss. This record is everything High On Fire is and always has been -- ruthlessly heavy, authentically metal.
With High On Fire seemingly getting more popular in recent years, a good deal of speculation was aroused when contemplating how their fifth album would compare to their past efforts. This question seemed to become even harder to answer when Greg Fidelman, the controversial man behind "Death Magnetic" and "World Painted Blood," was named as the producer. Fortunately the band managed to release another solid album with some particularly bitchin' song titles to boot!
Musically, you could say that this is one of the band's most straightforward and aggressive albums to date. For the most part, the experimental touches that dominated 2007's "Death Is This Communion" have been downplayed and the songs are mostly executed in the band's signature thrash/doom sound. Of course, there are plenty of ambitious moments to be found in places such as the impressive title track and the slower "Bastard Samurai."
While nothing really seems to change when looking at the band members' respective performances, it could be argued that the production does help make the listener look at things from a different perspective. Matt Pike's guitar playing is still the band's biggest driving force but his Lemmy-inspired snarl seems to have gotten a little more focused this time around. The production also seems to bring the bass playing out more than usual and the drums are still pretty strong. Bottom line: You don't have to worry about the production on here. Nothing has been ruined!
The songs also manage to show a decent amount of variety in spite of the album's eight-track duration. They mostly consist of fast paced thrashers similar to "Devilution" and "Fury Whip," but there are also a couple slower songs ("Bastard Samurai" and "How Dark We Pray") and a brief interlude/introduction ("The Path") thrown into the mix. As previously stated, the title track and "Bastard Samurai" are definitely my favorite tracks on here though "How Dark We Pray" and "Holy Flames of the Fire Spitter" are make for memorable songs. On the flip side, "The Path" comes off as filler due to it not really standing out in the way that the interludes on "Death Is This Communion" managed to do so.
All in all, this album is another great album worthy of the High On Fire catalogue. It might not as powerful as "Blessed Black Wings" but it does feature its share of good songs and band performances. Come to think of it, it could also be a good first album to get for more speed-oriented listeners.
My Current Favorites:
"Snakes For The Divine," "Frost Hammer," "Bastard Samurai," "How Dark We Pray," and "Holy Flames Of The Fire Spitter"
This is a terrible record, sure--but it's an interesting case, because unlike other famous terrible metal albums by great bands (Metallica's Black Album, Celtic Frost's Cold Lake), there is no obviou$ rea$on why High on Fire should make this particular album in any bid for popularity. It basically sounds the same as their earlier records (although more on that later)--they have not made any concessions to pop hooks, or even trends in the underground (thuggish metalcore, grungey post-emo, technicality).
The main observable difference is that the songs are more streamlined, and generally faster. Neither of these are good or bad in themselves. The incredible guitar tone achieved on their second album, Surrounded by Thieves, is not to be found here, and neither is the particular clarity that Steve Albini brought to Blessed Black Wings.
No, the problem seems to lie in the band's misconception of themselves as muscular, overpowering thrashers with long guitar solos and huge "epic" songs. But this was never the case. High on Fire were about one thing: constructing tension. Because Matt Pike came out of the most tedious of genres, doom metal, he knew a thing or two about how to maintain a listener's interest when nothing much was going on.
None of the songs here, though, build to anything. This might be too damning, but a lot of this is just vaguely thrashy and super-generic. It is certainly *someone's* idea of Metal. They are built out of disposable parts, much like newer Immortal albums. A six-minute long song is largely repetitive, has no big payoff, and the Worst Metal Sin of all: really bad guitar solos. When I put on some fantasy metal record, take me on a journey, dude...
In one sense, saying why this record is as tedious as the record itself. My job as a reviewer of metal is basically to evaluate RIFFS. To sum up everything real quick: the riffs here are not great.
But apart from all this, I feel there is a bigger problem: we are supposed to be enjoying how HUGE and AWESOME and METAAAAL this record is. But none of that can express itself or stand in for itself. All these signposts of awesomeness are not the thing itself.
A youtube comment for their new video: "I feel like a viking standing atop a mountain of fucking skulls whilst crushing faces and hurling boulders at my enemies below."
I guess that is what I am supposed to feel. But previously High On Fire accomplished this, not by substituting hugeness and repetitiveness, but by actually being awesome. By creating tension, by making every part of the song count, by writing vocal hooks--well, the same vocal hook for every song, etc.
One-word review: boring. Energy better spent discovering what made previous High on Fire albums true journeys into a dream world.
score: 2 stars (**)/ 5
best song: weirdly, the CD bonus track "Mystery of Helm."
It's taken me ages to get round to reviewing this album, not only because I had been looking forward to it greatly but also due to difficulties in making my mind up with regards "Snakes For the Divine"'s overall quality, as I believe it's predecessor, "Death Is This Communion", was one of the last decade's very best metal albums. In case you didn't know, High on Fire are the perfect definition of a power trio in the metal world of today, full of bad ass riffs and bad ass song titles and with the gravelly vocal spite of mainman Matt Pike an aura that would be destined to supersede Lemmy and his band of Motörheads should that particular warhorse ever call it a day.
High on Fire straddle the line between doom, classic and thrash metal but as the aforementioned Mr. Lemmy would say, it's all goddamn rock'n'roll, and it is that spirit which seeps out of every crevice of High on Fire. Like the days of old the album cover is brilliant and one that pleads to be bought on vinyl, but HoF's biggest nod to the likes of Motörhead and the old-school is their approach to the music. It really is refreshingly simple: High on Fire hit you with riff after riff via the medium of guitar, bass and drums. If you don't like that formula then you simply cannot call yourself a fan of metal and should hand back your membership card immediately.
This sacrifice to the riff is evident from note one of the title track which begins the album, showcasing exactly how HoF will entertain, no frills style. The production job is great for the style; a little less bite (unfortunately) than "Death Is This Communion" but all three instruments are so clearly audible I can't decide which I'm liking the most - Jeff Matz' rampant and heavy bass tone, the dirt-rich sound of Matt Pike's guitar or Des Kensel's drums which sound like, erm, a set of drums. Something not frequent enough today. "Frost Hammer" (one of those bad ass song titles) is the possessor of a fantastically catchy tempo to it, as does "Fire, Flood & Plague" which reaches the near point of thrash while never sounding like that was it's intention. This infact merely sums up how natural the sound and feel of HoF's work is, which given how few other bands can say the same about themselves today is all the better for the respect in which these Californian's are held.
I need not elaborate much about the vocals of Matt Pike these days. He doesn't have the greatest voice per se but his hoarse and throaty yell is befitting to the rough and heavy songs his band blast out and coupled with his skilful riff-writing and soloing in the likes of "How Dark We Pray" surely earns his place in the annals of metal legend (incase his work with legendary stoners Sleep had been forgotten). Despite all my praise and adulation of the entire concept of this band I will not be declaring "Snakes for the Divine" as better than "Death Is This Communion". There is no single track quite as good as that album's title track, "Fury Whip" or "Cyclopian Scape" though "Holy Flames Of The Firespitter" (bad ass title alert) and "Frost Hammer" do give them a run for their money.
In the end this is still a good album, and a good High on Fire album is something most band's could only dream of, but for reasons borne purely of the quality riff found within "Snakes for the Divine" is a small step down from the masterpiece of 2007. However if there is any justice in this world we should see High on Fire continue to rise through the pantheons of metal with this new album and cement their place as one of the most important bands on the modern era as with "Snakes for the Divine" they certainly haven't let us all down.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net
Ever since viewing the first live video of “Frost Hammer” that was posted onto the internet months before the release of this album, I was eagerly awaiting its release. With this one, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I wasn’t sure how it would compare to ‘Death Is This Communion’, or ‘Surrounded by Thieves’ for the matter. I was a bit frightened that it would not live up to the mighty High on Fire’s standards. But whenever I first put the disc into the computer to import it and to give it a first listen, those expectations were blown out of the water, and I’ve been listening to it nonstop since then.
First off, this album is continued in the same vein as all of the other High on Fire albums have been. As far as the riffs go, they’re basically what you would expect from High on Fire at this point. However, there are a few new things going on as far as guitars go. The intro and chorus riff to “Snakes for the Divine”, the first riff on the whole album, is a new experiment for High on Fire. It’s very melodic with high notes, and carries out a feeling of victory when it’s played. Matt Pike’s guitar solos are also incredible. The album is very bass heavy, in order to make up for only having one guitar I suppose, and it works very well. The bass is most apparent in the song “Bastard Samurai”, which is another new venture for the band. After explosive riffs and drums everything quiets down to a thundering bass riff, and echoing, tremolo-effect guitars, with Pike’s deep vocals roaring with intensity over top.
As far as I can tell, “Bastard Samurai” and some parts of the title track are the larger experiments of the album. The rest is basically how High on Fire has always been. “Frost Hammer”, “Ghost Neck”, “Fire, Flood and Plague”, and “Holy Flames of the Fire Spitter” are the more punishing assaults of the album, with blazing fast riffs and battering drums. “Frost Hammer” is an epic warcry, and brings to the mind visions of Vikings fighting in some mystical, frozen tundra, while the lead riff in “Ghost Neck” bleeds technicality and aggression. “How Dark We Pray” and “Bastard Samurai” are the more mid-paced songs on the album, and they’re two of the best, especially the latter. “Bastard Samurai”, (I know I mentioned it earlier, but it deserves to be mentioned again!) is probably my favorite on the album. At first I was a little put off by it, just because I had never heard High on Fire play any song like this, but after I bought the album and heard it, I was in shock at how great of a song it actually was. Much like “Frost Hammer”, it could be called another battle hymn.
Once again, like all the albums before this one, Des Kensel is the true backbone of the band. The drums are as heavy as can be, and every fill compliments every riff it’s played behind. The drums in “How Dark We Pray” and “Snakes for the Divine” seem to stick to me the most. On this album he definitely continued his tradition of being a drumming powerhouse.
I’m sure a lot of fans were worried whenever they saw that the album was being produced by Greg Fidelman, who some may despise because of his work on Metallica’s ‘Death Magnetic’ and Slayer’s ‘World Painted Blood’. Personally I don’t know why people didn’t like his production on those albums, and I certainly shouldn’t hear anyone complaining about his production on this one. The production fits High on Fire perfectly. At times it is a bit rough sounding, a bit crunchy sounding, or just a bit loud, but all of these things contribute to the band’s sound, just as they always have. I think that he was a great pick for this album, and if Fidelman, or just his production methods, are used in the future, it is completely fine by me.
I personally own the Best Buy version, so I got the three bonus tracks. “Mystery of Helm” is another faster song with some pretty awesome riffs. Not too much stands out about it though. Also included were live versions of two High on Fire classics, “Eyes and Teeth” from ‘Surrounded by Thieves’ and “Cometh Down Hessian” from ‘Blessed Black Wings’, and those are both great additions to the album. But you could easily get by with the eight songs that make up the actually album.
Is this High on Fire’s best? I’m not completely sure. Is it their worst? Certainly not. But what I am completely sure about is that it is a killer addition to the High on Fire catalogue and that it ranks right up there with all of their other albums. This being said, it is a great addition to your collection whether you are a High on Fire fan or not. If you’ve never experience the mighty High on Fire before, this would be a great place to start, and it’s definitely worth the money you spend on it. It’s very early in the year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was possibly the Best Metal Album of 2010.