Everyone has their favorite High on Fire album, and it's not because the band are constantly throwing polarizing curve balls (for the record, the only correct answer is Blessed Black Wings, but why suffer the tyranny of correctness?). The Oakland sludge trio celebrate the 15th anniversary of their debut album this year, and during that time they've largely adhered to a shopworn template of bruising stoner riffs and relentless, juggernaut percussion, yet while that template may not represent the most outré heavy metal out there, HOF have consistently captivated audiences with the same formula without ever seeming like they're spinning their wheels.
The closest the band have experienced to a significant backlash came with 2010's Snakes for the Divine, which some fans found to be too soft or radio-friendly for its own good (that's debatable, but even a forgiving analysis of the record would have to include the admission that it lacked the sophistication of previous material, if not also backsliding a bit on the songwriting as well). Not to fear; High on Fire rebounded strongly in 2012 with the universally beloved De Vermis Mysteriis and show no signs of slacking three years on with their upcoming epic, Luminiferous.
Astute fans may recall "Slave to the Hive", here rescued from obscurity after having previously been offered as a free, Scion A/V-sponsored download all the way back in December of 2013. Sporting a high flying, take-no-prisoners velocity reminiscent of band classic "Devilution", the track is textbook anthemic High on Fire: chugging, Motorhead-meets-Venom riffs, frenetic percussion and Matt Pike spitting so many rapid fire lyrics per line that you can practically hear the vein in his forehead pop. "Slave to the Hive" is only matched in speed by the title track, which is even more beholden to modern style hardcore in the Southern Lord mold, although it somewhat lacks the earworm quality of the former.
Laying off the accelerator only ever so slightly, the first official single "The Black Plot" slows down just enough to give Pike's lyrics a chance to breathe, although his David Icke-inspired tale of society being clandestinely infiltrated by "reptilians" may be either captivating theater or a mildly bemusing yet ultimately disposable vehicle for the more compelling music itself, as your personal preferences may be.
For me, the meat and potatoes of any great High on Fire album resides in the slower, more moody tracks, and oh boy does Luniniferous deliver on that promise. "The Falconist" is one of the best songs the band have ever done in this milieu, an almost swinging lope through Pike's weary resignation… one can't help but read a bit of the man's past troubles with addiction into the song's "hunted" metaphor and its attendant inevitability. "Carcosa", no doubt inspired by the Yellow King references in HBO's recent True Detective, features some of Pike's most strident singing on the album over an Iommi-derived epic riff.
Finally, "The Lethal Chamber" splits the difference between in the two in completing the album, nine minutes of teeth rattling sludge that seethes along at a hardcore menace with the languid pace of a progressive doom workout. It's more of a Dude rug tying the room together than mandatory mixtape fodder, but in service to the rest of the album it's a fitting dénouement to the preceding 45 minutes, a decompression of sorts for those surfacing from the depth's of Matt Pike's soul.
In spite of a few tracks that hold their own only insofar as they supplement the pace and grandeur of the album, Luniniferous should go down as one of High on Fire's finest efforts. Do they upend their own apple cart musically? Oh, fuck no. More of the same, then? Delightfully so, yes.