High On Fire – “De Vermis Mysteriis” Review

High On Fire – “De Vermis Mysteriis”
Genre – Sludge/Stoner metal

Label: E1 Music

High On Fire is the sludge metal brainchild Matt Pike, of recently reformed doom giants Sleep, and this is their fifth studio album. The band came from the ashes of the unfortunate demise of Sleep in 1998, and has since been a more direct and aggressive way of music for Pike, almost a Motorhead equivalent in the doom/sludge genre. High On Fire is a band known for its fast-pace, and Pike’s signature guitar-shredding and snarling vocals.

Matt Pike has stated that the theme of “De Vermis Mysteriis” is based grimoire fantasy. The album’s concept came from Pike pondering an idea of what if Jesus had a twin who died so Jesus could live, and then the twin’s death turned him/her into a time traveller, and could only move forward in time but eventually finds a scroll from an ancient Chinese alchemist who devised a serum of some sort, and then the time traveller starts going back in time. THEN the time traveller sees the past through different ancestors’ eyes, all who are seemingly under threat in some way, which also puts the time traveller’s life at stake. Now you can take a breath, that’s the concept.

So as you can tell, this is an ambitious album, which becomes even clearer as “De Vermis Mysteriis” goes on. For the most part, the drums are fast and tribal, there’s face-melting solos, roaring vocals and some really great basslines at parts.

The first track, Serums Of Liao, explodes like a train, smashing and plowing through sound barriers. The solo in particular is crazy and just awe-inspiring – a lot of wah-ing, a lot of fast scaling, a lot of tremolo. Soon after, we’re hurled into Bloody Knuckles, the riff being just as ugly and hard as the name. Pike just barks at the listener, as if leading you into battle, while the kick drum just goes like a galloping  horse. Fertile Green has a similar sense of urgency and has this low end riff for the most part, but when the solo kicks in, the extremely high notes contrast so far that it just shoots at you. It’s almost upsetting to hear it end!

Madness Of An Architect opens with this fuzzy drone/doom piece, which is a good break for the fast-pace you’re hurled through so far. The drums kick into a roll, and eventually leads into the main part, which just makes you want to nod slowly while air-guitaring with a crazy-eyed smug. Samara is an instrumental track and is the most peaceful. This doesn’t mean that it’s lacking in quality though, it’s quite the opposite – you have a chance to really notice the magnificent talent of each musician in the band. The bassline has a chance to shine forward too, which unfortunately is not so clear on the mix for most of the album, and has this Black Sabbath sort of feel. Pike solos throughout the song while not only making his masterful guitar chops obvious, but also augmenting beauty and emotion into it too.

Spiritual Rites returns to the 100mph approach, which begins with this fast, low, muted chugging riff which eventually pauses just for the drum to almost lick the song into full motion. And at one point, there’s a goosebump-inducing tortured scream which catches you off-guard. King Of Days has this mammoth riff, slow and heavy, setting a sense of mourning and remembering, as the drums slowly thumps to the heart and compliment the setting perfectly. The guitar solo, at parts, has these nice synthy-keyboard-like sounds too. The whole song just kind of resembles the Crowbar sound.

Title-track De Vermis Mysteriis unfortunately, doesn’t really stand out as you would expect it, and is more or less similar to the first few tracks. Romulus And Remus fortunately brings it back with loud, slow and heavy chugging. The opening drums just smash like fists stone through a weak metal wall, and the bass is so deep and almost stalking in this track like an alligator in a lake, making it stand out a lot more than usual. Warhorn has this old-school doom feel, lacking guitar at parts while the bass and Pike’s voice echoes into empty caverns, to be broken by bursts from the whole band.

The downfall of this album is that it can be a little too much for for too long becoming overbearing and repetitive. Although there are tracks in the album that break away from the full-on tempo that seems vital to High On Fire’s sound, it can prove to get a little boring and even hard to really notice the difference in riffs in some of the faster songs. The mix is sometimes a little blurry as well, especially due to the bass being hard to hear for a lot of the album.

But, for a person who is more of a riff-lover than a solo-man, Matt Pike just forces jaws to drop when he kicks into a solo on some tracks. They alone can revive the wavering interest and keep you anxious on what he’s going to do next, because he really mixes it up on this album and makes some moments feel like a reawakening. The drums are also superb, the energy and rhythms are massive and full of endless energy, it’s really hard not to feel blown away by them at times.

In conclusion, “De Vermis Mysteriis” is a warrior’s album. It’s something you’d expect Braveheart to listen to if he was preparing for battle; or was alive in our era – almost every track is a call to arms of its own. It’s for people who dream of slaying dragons or overthrowing corrupt kings… and probably not for those who enjoy sessions of knitting. Overall, it’s a good album if a little tiring, and if you don’t know High On Fire already then I definitely suggest this the third album, “Death Is This Communion”, to get a good insight of what the band is about. A definite listen for all sludge and stoner metal fans.

Favourite songs: Samsara, Madness Of An Architect, King Of Days.

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