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High on Fire's Breakthrough - 78%

pinpals, December 29th, 2012

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.