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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

High on Fire

Snakes Of The Divine

Review by Mike Korn

I think High On Fire's Matt Pike is one of the most important guitarists ever in heavy metal. He's come up with a truly "signature" sound that's all his own, which is no easy thing to do these days. Using classic Black Sabbath and Motorhead as templates, he's engineered High On Fire into a rough and gritty beast that is not quite doom metal, definitely not thrash, but able to appeal to fans of either style.

High On Fire's last album Death Is This Communion struck many as a little bit too "composed" and lacking the spontaneous roughness that made early records like Surrounded By Thieves so classic. The good news is that spontaneity and rough-edged rawness has returned on Snakes of the Divine. Matt's guitar sound in unfettered and the bass/drum assault of Jeff Matz and Des Kensel provides the pummeling attack you'd expect from these guys. Yet the music retains a sense of dynamics, with some subdued and even melodic bits merged with the furious sludge.

Phony scenesters are already accusing High On Fire of "selling out" because Snakes Of The Divine is on a big label and the band is touring with Metallica in Europe this spring. Ignore such ignorant rubbish and pick this up if you like a sizable portion of "heavy" mixed in your metal.


This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2010  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Snakes Of The Divine

The title track kind of catches you off guard by opening with a guitar lick very similar to AC/DC's "Thunderstruck". Before long, sludgy riffs come hammering in and transform this into a real epic. This tune traverses quite a bit of territory but maintains its mean and moody feel. It's a clever tune that manages to show High On Fire's versatility as well as their heaviness.

Frost Hammer
The Viking longboats are on the horizon and ready to plunder. This is a sludgy riff-fest owing a lot to Celtic Frost and sure to please fans of High On Fire's older material. It's not exactly catchy, just an example of pure sonic barbarism.
Bastard Samurai
Beginning with some cool ominous tones, this whole song has a tense, dangerous feel. The verses are quiet but dark, with Pike's growling vocals sounding like he gargles with whiskey and ground glass. The chorus bursts into lumbering doom and Pike lets loose with his great guitar solos. This is a gruff and moody tune.
Ghost Neck
An up-tempo belter with a lot of energy to it, this one takes no prisoners. It's a fiery rocker that would go over great live. 
The Path
This brief instrumental is just a build-up to the following cut.
Fire, Flood and Plague

This is the album stand-out, a killer blast of almost thrash aggression based on classic riffs, thunderbolt drumming and a smoking guitar solo. It really does sound like exactly the title says...a cut to pillage and sack a major city to!

 

How Dark We Pray
Although heavy all the way through, this song kind of reminds me of what High On Fire were doing on their last album, Death Is This Communion. It's definitely more complex and melodic than the other tracks here, but this is a good thing in this case, because it's sandwiched between two all-out crushers. It runs a tad too long for my taste.
Holy Flames of the Fire Spitter

That's a classic title for sure. The song is pure High On Fire in their fast mode, driven by Des Kensel's intense drumming and featuring a cool "Hoo-Hah!" shout injected in the verses. This is a fun track that makes a good companion to "Fire, Flood and Plague".

 
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