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High On Fire Cometh The Storm


Album Review: HIGH ON FIRE Cometh The Storm

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It's been a busy half-decade for High On Fire. After winning their first Grammy for Electric Messiah back in 2019, they went their separate ways to pursue other projects. Matt Pike released a solo album under the moniker Pike vs. The Automaton in 2022, bassist Jeff Matz has been jamming with Mutoid Man and Des Kensel announced his departure after more than twenty years behind the drumkit. With so much going on it would have been easy to worry that High On Fire might never return. But return they have, roaring back to form with their ninth album Cometh The Storm.

When Coady Willis was announced as the permanent replacement for Des Kensel, expectations were high. Aside from his work with Big Business and The Murder City Devils, Willis sat behind the kit on some of Melvins most memorable albums, including 2006's dual-drummer masterpiece (A) Senile Animal. A Melvins/High On Fire collab might have seemed like the product of a permanently stoned mind several years ago, but it's a reality now. It's a match made in sludge metal heaven, made all the better by the obvious chemistry Willis shares with the other two members of the band. It's his drumming that kicks this album into high gear and keeps it there.

Matt Pike, who recently joined Iggy Pop as a member of the Guys Who Look Weird With A Shirt On Club, is on top form. Years of yelling over distorted guitars has allowed his voice to mature from a hoarse grunt into a Lemmy-style roar and the influence of Mötorhead hangs heavy over Cometh The Storm. It's the most energetic High On Fire has ever sounded as we get flashes over and over of the punkier thrash metal side of the group, especially on shorter songs like "The Beating" and the awesomely named "Lightning Beard". But it's still driven (or overdriven) by Matt Pike's insane guitar tone. On the early track "Burning Down", listeners get a reminder that this is the man who helped write Dopesmoker all those years ago.

Cometh The Storm avoids the pitfalls that many of High On Fire's imitators have stumbled into, mainly letting the music relax into a slow motion dirge. The Middle-Eastern inspired interlude "Karanlık Yol" wouldn't be out of place on the Dune soundtrack and heavier material like "Lambsbread" and "Tough Guy" makes the band sound like they are chomping at the bit to go faster, not slow down. Even the ten-minute closer "Darker Fleece", which leans farther into High On Fire's older material than anything else on Cometh The Storm, keeps the momentum going with drum fills, crashing cymbals and an absolutely ripping guitar solo.

This is the band's fourth team-up with metal superproducer and Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou. Ballou's production has tended to steal some of his bands' thunder on previous efforts, burying new ideas under his signature squall of sound. But High On Fire have been doing this too long to be derailed. Ballou takes a back seat on this one, putting Matt Pike's tone center stage and allowing the rumble of the bass and drums to support rather than overpower. It's a strictly old-school mindset at odds with Ballou's usual output of this subgenre.

In fact, Cometh The Storm sounds more like a stoner metal album in the vein of early Mastodon, Weedeater or Down than anything from this decade. This is a good fit as it sidesteps some of the Black Sabbath worship that has defined stoner rock in recent years. Matt Pike's voice couldn't be further from Ozzy or Dio and he's got more ideas in his head than just copying his original idols (other than Mötorhead of course.) Things are still firmly rooted in the 20th century, but it's not out of date quite yet.

Cometh The Storm is more likely to have listeners throwing horns with a hearty "Hell Yeah!" then it is to help them relax on the couch with a bong. The new drummer fits like a glove and improves the entire band. If this album is a sign of things to come, then High On Fire aren't getting old. They've just become legends.

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