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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.