High On Fire has been amassing a catalog of good metal albums—each one better than the last one—but there was a growing concern that the band might not have that great album in them. It has been three years since the band’s last effort, Death Is This Communion, and for a band that makes their bread and butter on the road like High On Fire, I began to wonder just what the band was doing with their seclusion.
The answer is: secretly creating their first truly great album.
Snakes For The Divine was totally worth the wait, and it only takes seconds into the first track—the eight-minute long title track—before you realize it. Vocalist/guitarist Matt Pike has used the time off the road to streamline High On Fire’s already enviable approach to metal onto an aural pallet that should appeal to long-time supporters and novice metalheads.
Producer Greg Fidelman—yes, the same guy that turned Death Magnetic into a migraine-inducing ball of compression—is the man responsible for helping High On Fire achieve what Steve Albini and Jack Endino could not do: capturing the band at the height of their aggression in the studio. He worked similar magic with Slayer‘s World Painted Blood, but Snakes For the Divine may be the more impressive handiwork for Mr. Fidelman. With Slayer (and even Metallica), there were royal achievements to strive for. With High On Fire, he has pushed them to a category where you can now place the band in the same breath as those legendary acts without enduring eye-rolling glances from metal purists or the inevitable lift from the hot air blown out of indie elitists.
This is metal achieved the old-fashioned way: double-kick drums (a first for HOF), a bass guitar sound that can crush concrete, Pike’s larynx raping vocals, and tunes about motherfucking samurais.
For real: when I first saw the track listing for Snakes For The Divine, I chuckled at the title “Bastard Samurai,” but as soon as I heard Pike slow burn to the chorus of “sunnavabitch should bleed awhiiiillle!!” I knew this shit was as real as it gets.
There’s more too: “Holy Flames Of The Fire Spitter” comes with a gnarly “Hoo Ha!” chant, “Frost Hammer” proves that you can never have too many songs about vikings, and then there’s the obligatory religious swipe of “How Dark We Pray.” It’s all here, it’s all great, and it comes packaged inside some totally killer album art.
With Pike approaching forty, Snakes For The Divine almost sounds like he’s just now beginning to focus his attention on the legacy he wants to leave for the world of metal. That makes all of the aforementioned clichés so inviting, because even as his head is clearly looking for new ways to clear-cut a path to metal infamy, his heart is still tied to the genre’s history of escapism.
My favorite aspect of Snakes For The Divine is that it really isn’t extremely different from the approach that the band has been taking all along; it’s just a lot better. While bands like Baroness and Mastodon have a virtual chokehold on technical, progressive-infused metal, High On Fire finally proves that you can achieve similar brilliance with three simple words: loud fast rules.