(In this post Wil Cifer reviews the new album by High On Fire.)
I caught these guys back in 2004ish when Planesmistakenforstars opened for them, and I grew to appreciate this band more as their musicianship and songwriting have matured over the years. The opener reminds me of “Leave No Cross Unturned” by Darkthrone. Matt Pike seems to be singing more than roaring, but this is marginal. The song hammers like a freight train.
There is more a sludge groove to the second track that is more rock ‘n’ roll, in the same sense Clutch is rock ‘n’ roll — thick, stoned distortion too up-tempo to be doom. On their last album they reminded me of a mix of Motörhead and Venom. Here it is more like old Mastodon without any of the guitar tricks.
The song “The Sunless Years” blunders by with volume and fury, and the war machine keeps thundering with overblown rock ‘n’ roll being pounded out on “Slave the Hive”. The guitar solos that crop up are well-played and placed.
My rule is cool riffs alone don’t make a good song, but these guys are capable of bending that rule with the the chug to “The Falconist”, which takes on a Thin Lizzy-like swagger in the vocals department. At times I begin to wonder if this more streamlined and accessible song with an emphasis placed on the vocals is their stab at following in Mastodon’s footsteps.
After a few listens I didn’t come up with an answer to that speculation, but I can hear that what this band does best is fully realized on “The Dark Side of the Compass”. The riff is big and driving, but it works well for the song to form around it. The chorus has grit, but also tangible melody. The drummer pulls all of this together with his best playing to date.
They pull a surprisingly melodic song out of nowhere with “The Cave”, one that sounds like Neurosis playing an upbeat version of “Planet Caravan”. The dynamics are just right. While some of their older fans might balk at this, there is no denying this is a good song.
The album improves as it progresses. The drums come in with sweeping tom rolls on the title track. They bring the album to an end with the more Sabbath-like doom of “The Lethal Chamber”, which finds its way into a more Celtic Frost groove, with some cool yet tasteful effects that show up to coat the vocals from time to time.
With Luminiferous, High On Fire have taken another ballsy step forward and continue to earn their place in the hallowed halls of metal history.
Luminiferous will be released by eOne Music on June 16. It can be streamed in its entirety courtesy of NPR, below or here.