High on Fire - Death Is This Communion
(Relapse Records) Keith Boyd 9.27.07
From the first blasting crack of chords that launches "Fury Whip" out of the speaker and down your spine High on Fire's new album is a super-charged trip to the outer reaches of heavy. This full-throttle sound somehow manages to be both crisp and clotted at the same time. Producer Jack Endino performed some serious audio-alchemy on this one and the result is something like high-definition swamp water. On their last album, "Blessed Black Wings" Steve Albini started this process. Their former molasses was honed into sharper focus and the result was an over all improvement in attack and power. Endino's work with the likes of Mudhoney and Nirvana shows here in a better balance of sound and a broader range of dynamics. None of this however is at the expense of HOF 's sheer brutality. This music is the flexed and trembling arm muscle of a mutant Orc wielding a battleaxe in to some epic combat.
HOF is now in its' fourth incarnation in as many albums and this time out bass duties have been taken over by Jeff Matz formerly of the Hard-Core Punk/Sludge band Zeke. Given that this position was formerly held by bass monster Joe Preston it was an understandable worry about how the bottom-line would fare on this album. Well the answer is right there in the grooves. If anything the lower depths of this music are even more chest thumping and mighty. While not straying too far from their signature sound, HOF manages to incorporate a wider sonic palette and use these new sounds to great effect. On "Khanrad's Wall" there is a distinct Middle-Eastern modal groove that hypnotizes with its' fizzy, searing push and pull. Acoustic guitars pop up on a few tracks as do slower, more sophisticated time signatures. Overall though it must be said that "Death Is This Communion" incorporates these new features rather than is driven by them. For the Head-Bangers there are still plenty of chugging riffs and thundering noise. Singer/Guitarist Matt Pike vocals have become even more blacksmith bellows-like but he mixes this up as he revisits the chant/sing style of his former band "Sleep" on the title track.
High on Fire have accomplished an enormous feat here. They have managed to improve with every album, change just enough to keep thing interesting and yet remain true to their underlying vision. In the vast field of new heavy music they stand out with a deep and intense sound that is crushing and beautiful all at once.