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CD Review: High on Fire – Blessed Black Wings

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Somewhere between heavily getting into jazz and buying the complete works of every band on Nuggets I & II, the typical music nerd starts listening to metal. For me, it was hard to come around to. Metal has a cultural stigma, not to mention the fact that bad metal is a very easy to accomplish and is an ubiquitous form, whereas good metal is an extreme rarity.

High on Fire is good metal. Yes, it’s still metal – blazing fast guitars and threatening, throaty vocals, but this band is so far ahead of the game in terms of song structure and production (thanks to Steve Albini on this effort) that even those who don’t “get” it must admit what a fine record Blessed Black Wings is.

Opening with the scorching “Devilution” and not letting up through it’s nearly hour-long playtime, Blessed Black Wings isn’t an album that one can just put on casually, but for fast driving, drinking, and general aggression/rage at the world, nothing beats it. Despite an obscene guitar sound and extremely dynamic vocals, it’s the percussion that really drives Blessed Black Wings. Every song lurches along at a workman-like pace, but there is enough room in the mix to let every devastating thump be heard in all it’s glory.

“The Face of Oblivion” is the second track on the record and at nearly seven minutes, it is a true epic. The distorted guitar solo around the four minute mark eventually builds to a reaching climax, replete with what sounds like acoustic guitar matching the fuzz note-for-note. Then the drums kick in, and everything goes to hell with a pulsing rhythmic climb that you can’t not nod your head along to.

It would take paragraph-upon-paragraph to deconstruct the nuance of every track here, so I will just say a few words about the incredible seven minute closer, “Sons of Thunder”. First we get about a minute-and-half of meandering solo guitar work that sets the scene and lays down some heavy, anticipatory tension. Then the full band kicks in, again with the incredibly powerful percussion. At about four minutes, despite the stunning display, patience is wearing thin. Then the guitars turn towards a very familiar and aggressive chugging sound, as if to say “We’re not gonna let you down.” The percussion comes to the forefront of the mix, and we get to really hear how incredible the drumming is. Finally, we are treated to a lengthy, punishing guitar solo and then – nothing. The song has exhausted it’s seven minutes and there is no relief – no vocals, no power chord breakdown, just the distinctive sound of High on Fire: all tension, no release.

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