HIGH ON FIRE - Blessed Black Wings

By Robot - No Sleep Til Bedtime - 02/01/2005

I thought I’d better review this one before somebody else at CJLO does, ‘cause it’s looking like it’s gonna be the hottest record in the Metal department for at least a month, and I bet at least a few rock/punk/alt shows will be playing it (I can name names).

When promo copies began circulating, there was a lot of bitching (or cheering) about Mötörhead-isms and ‘progression’. The power-trio possibilities of High On Fire only dawned on me while watching them do a RIPPING cover of "Witching Hour" on the Contaminated DVD last year, and I was all set to embrace any old-school angle they might go for.

With the real thing in my hands and a LOT of plays under my belt (that’s right ladies!) I can say there is a definite nod to Lemmy (and Venom!), but also plenty of the broasted rock/doom of Surrounded By Thieves. And thanks to producer (ok, ENGINEER) Steve Albini, it sounds cleaner and leaner than ever, but with enough grit in all the right places.

Lead track "Devilution" (stuuuuupid title) is probably the main cause for the Lemmy-phobics to groan, but it’s just a THUNDERING rocker so heavy and rhythmically right-on that it prompted normally staid CJLO Jazzmaster Chris Bussmann to exclaim, awestruck, “Yeah!! Metal needs more 2/4 parts like this!!”. Whatever, Mr. Time Signature. "To Cross the Bridge", previewed live for years (and demo’ed on the High Volume comp) might be High On Fire’s greatest moment yet, with a sweet acoustic intro, the most bestial (yes, bestial) vocals Matt Pike ever laid to tape, some clever clean parts, and a great punked-out ending. Still, my favorite track is "Cometh Down Hessian", with nothing clever or experimental about it, just a willingness to pound down everything in its path.

This review is a little late coming because I went without a CD player for a few weeks, and, coming back to this record, even the songs I didn’t immediately love are starting to sink in. The spacey/strummy part at end of "The Face of Oblivion", and the riding-on-horseback-to-smite-thine-enemy vibe of "Sons of Thunder" took a bit of getting used to, but now I wouldn’t have them any other way. Track 3 ("Brother in the Wind", another stupid title) was a write-off for a while, until I came to accept that, hey, you can make a song work with just two riffs and a little heart. Just ask Omar, y’know, from Superheater.

If this all seems a little kiss-ass, it’s because something about this record makes me want to believe in METAL, even with its guitar wanking Viking wannabees. It’s like the E.T. of dumbasses.

P.S. Was anybody else expecting the bass to really stand out a little more? New bassist Joe Preston has played on records by Earth, the Melvins, and Sunn0))) for chrissakes! I wasn’t really expecting High On (fuckin’) Fire to start sounding like Preston’s solo abstract-nerd-glitch-sludge project Thrones, but at least gimme SOMETHING. Maybe next time.

Blessed Black Wings is out now on Relapse Records. Thrones have stuff coming out soon via Southern Lord.