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Music Review: High on Fire – Death Is This Communion

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In fall of 2007 Relapse Records unleashed one of the best metal albums to ever come out of their roster of artists. It was High on Fire's fourth full-length release, and it was titled Death Is This Communion. The band was gambling with their sound by sampling new veins within which to build songs, a new producer, a new bass player, and a different approach to recording. They were ambitious, and it paid off.

High on Fire is a thrashy, kind-of-stoner metal band that slowly materialized out of the haze left behind by seminal doom metal group Sleep. However, it's hard to hear the connection between the two bands, and it's difficult to affix a particular label on what HoF plays because there just isn't another musical entity that does what they do. They've succeeded in carving out their own niche within the metal world, and as a result, it's netted them praise from peers and critics alike.

Matt Pike — HoF's vocalist/guitarist — was a founding member of the aforementioned Sleep, and since 1998, he has led his new troop through four albums worth of material and incessant touring. By his side the entire time has been the group's powerhouse drummer, Des Kensel. Throughout the life of their band they've been host to a revolving lineup of bass players, but as it stands right now, their low end man is former Zeke member Jeff Matz.

The ensemble's past releases have been monolithically heavy with song after song of heavy-handed, riff-laden metal, but Death Is This Communion is different in that all the brutal bits normally found on a HoF record have been interspersed with moderately lighter musical fare. That's not to say the band is losing its edge, though. If anything these interludes serve to make the heavy parts all the more brutal, and often, they're used to great effect to diffuse or build intensity and offer a perfect segue into the next piece of music.

The changes don't stop there, though. They were able to get three times as much recording time as they've had before, and the longer stint in the studio appears to have served them well. Also, the band seems to have fallen into the habit of swapping out producers with each new release, and with Death Is This Communion they roped in pseudo-legend Jack Endino for production responsibilities. For this offering and their previous one — Blessed Black Wings, their selection of producers reveals a concerted effort by the band to move away from the muddy-sounding recordings of the first two albums.

Pike is the chief songwriter and lyricist for the group, and it seems as though he is doing nothing but improving upon his craft. In all honesty, "Turk" is easily one of my favorite metal songs of the past 10 years. For lyrical inspiration, he hit the books. Many of the themes found within this record's tunes are lifted from David Icke conspiracy theories and the writings of H.P. Lovecraft if not from his own twisted head.

He isn't afraid to sit back and let his fellow band members take the reins, however. Kensel is thankfully allowed to let loose on occasion, and when he does it's like thunder erupting from the speakers. The new bassist gets time to shine as well with "Khanrad's Wall," which he wrote on his own, and Pike even bowed out on its recording and let Matz handle all the guitar duties on his first HoF contribution.

Without a doubt this is my favorite release from High on Fire. It has the same ferocious guitar riffs and crushing drums that fans have come to know and love, but there are extra flavors thrown in. They've painted themselves as multi-dimensional artists, and with each new canvas their colors become more vibrant. I'm thoroughly excited to see what's to come from them in the future.

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