Music Reviews
De Vermis Mysteriis

High on Fire De Vermis Mysteriis

(E1) Rating - 8/10

An indistinguishable five second drum fill by High on Fire drummer Des Kensel is the only time given to bolt down your chair and buckle yourself into the pummeling assault of Serums of Liao. As far as album openers go, it turns the ignition and punches the accelerator whether you’re prepared for it or not, giving you a smooth but fast ride that trails a whiff of brimstone. There’s no need to dwell on explanations or make a glamorous first impression – used as a vicious warning, the Oakland trio makes sure to please its constituents first without even making the attempt to indoctrinate the uninitiated.

So the agenda High on Fire has kept for about fourteen years alludes to the Old Testament – their thick, powerhouse riffs and sneering strut is certainly sacred and undeniable, occasionally revised for its own benefit but stringent to any iniquitous change. De Vermis Mysteriis keeps the songwriting as sparse as possible and, up to a point, devoid of any manufactured mood or thematic atmosphere apart from its H.P. Lovecraft inspired concept. Keeping it abrasive and sincerely metal in execution is its strength, in which crimson-cheeked Matt Pike’s throaty, hard grit – which gets even rougher and more forceful with age - makes it clear that maintaining a less is more approach brings about a classic-by-design fineness.

This leaves room for High on Fire to spend less time on schematics and concentrate more on tweaking every spine-shattering wallop with a small, rice-sized dab of variation. They all work in full collaboration and, since they all have serious chops, amicably brawl over who has the most technical flair – take Bloody Knuckles, which begins with a muscle milk pounding snare-tom shuffle and doom-laden spliced riffs until it motors away into a feral, blistering bombast that goes through varying slow/fast levels of slopes and curbs. When Fertile Green immediately follows by going full on thrash, and immediately betraying itself in a matter of seconds to fully stop it, throw in a lick and a solo for good measure AND insist on going back to it, it just makes every sludge metal apprentice look bad. And this is just the third track.

Once High on Fire hit their stride with that premium-quality trifecta, the next batch of tracks slows down a few BPM. The tenebrous, Sleep recalling Madness of an Architect trudges at the pace of an escaped ankle-shackled prisoner seeking refuge, moving the plot further to that of him being detained by the authorities once it breaks into a bevy of bludgeoning stoner riffage. The instrumental Interlude serves a similar purpose to Baroness’ Ogeechee Hymnal, in which a histrionic, even pretty solo swathes and adds some sheen to its preceding toughened layers. It all culminates to the album centerpiece King of Days, a monolithic, downright cataclysmic seven-minute slug that has Pike shredding to his heart’s content at different tonalities; lest not forget a dueling bass solo by Jeff Matz that’s simply majestic, which ends on an epic high note with Des Kensel reprising the same marching beat heard that started Fertile Green.

De Vermis Mysteriis does play its cards straight throughout and, as with ever High on Fire release, changes its production output to one that’s more attuned and responsive. It also sounds cleaner, which actually emphasizes both the rawness and intensity at play with a welcome perspicuity. It’s been plenty documented how a band like High on Fire has influenced the new class of well-respected sludge virtuosos like Mastodon and Kylesa; especially Pike, who is like a godfather to them. It even crosses paths with their younger graduates at times – but in a way, they remain untouchable, iconic statuettes that continue to give their back at accessibility whilst being as flexible as possible towards change, especially if it’ll suit them. The songwriting has always been of an upper tier, and they’re damn well aware of it.