High On Fire : Death Is This Communion
Metal fans don’t need the calendar to dictate when to listen to metal. Anytime is a fine occasion to crank up the face melting solos and volcanic riffs, for the most part. And yet one could argue that season dictates what kind of metal graces your sound system. The bleak atmosphere of black metal seems primed for winter, while thrash and sludge are best fit for summer head banging. Spring is arguably a time for lighter fare, maybe some Queens of The Stone Age just for a change of pace, but as Halloween approaches, nothing seems to better complement the pagan mischief than the unholy low-end of doom metal, namely that of High On Fire’s fourth offering, Death Is This Communion.
Taking great strides from their Steve Albini-produced 2005 effort, Blessed Black Wings, High On Fire keep their strings tuned low, but their ambition soaring. With the aid of producer Jack Endino, High On Fire have served up their best album on a flaming platter. Death Is This Communion is an epic, utilizing more versatile structures than ever, lengthy songs, showy instrumentals, Middle Eastern influenced interludes and a dynamic that’s impressively wide in scope. Yet these songs still pummel every bit as hard as one would expect them to, maybe even more so. Matt Pike, Des Kensel and Jeff Matz haven’t so much razed the foundation so much as built higher turrets and ramparts, constructing a formidable fortress of an album, enormous and fearsome.
Any apprehension should be well quashed from the crushing first riffs of opening track “Fury Whip,” chugging like a sledgehammer through the gates of hell. Just as it seems the Bay Area trio is gearing up for a slow, stoned rumble into the inferno, Kensel speeds up the beat and that sledgehammer becomes jackhammer, furiously cranking away. Yet a Jimmy Page-like twelve-string strum intro opens second track “Waste of Tiamat” only to be blasted away by crushing distortion and Kensel’s steady, heavy pounding. Pike howls like Lemmy from Hell, bellowing a nuclear themed tome: “twisting, falling/ the eagles they drop from the sky/ without warning/ the nuclear beast shows its eyes.”
The eight minute title track slows to a painful crawl, Kensel’s militaristic tom tom beatings setting the pace for the brutal trudge, yet the shorter instrumental “Khanrad’s Wall” is far more exotic, an acoustic foray into Middle Eastern realms no less heavy beneath its distortion-less exterior. Yet another short diversion, “Headhunter” is little more than a minute of drum soloing, but it’s immense power conquers regardless. “Rumors of War” is the shortest song on the album to feature Pike’s vocals, and gets straight to the point, rocking a punk-metal groove Motorhead style. Suffice to say it kicks ass.
As a matter of fact, all of Death Is This Communion kicks ass, which should really come as no surprise. That’s High On Fire’s M.O., they just came equipped with greater weaponry this time around. No band today better combines a classic metal sound with such forward momentum and progression, and with an arsenal like this, they’re set to conquer anyone who dares challenge that notion.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.