As BBC4’s recent Heavy Metal Britannia suggested, mainstream culture as a whole is moving wholesale towards an acceptance – if not a fundamental understanding – of all things beefy and loud.
Metal has always been big business and seen a certain level of critical acceptance, and it’s the likes of Baroness and Oakland’s High on Fire who are fighting this new front: journeymen bands who have existed and flourished for years but who are now finding themselves under a new spotlight. Matt Pike, High on Fire’s frontman, served time in the legendary stoner trio Sleep. But with Snakes for the Divine he’s making his strongest case yet for why people who aren’t into metal should at the very least appreciate music this… nasty.
The most impressive aspect of what is a boundlessly impressive album is Snakes for the Divine’s deft summation of various different metallic styles. Frost Hammer’s irresistible head-bang rhythm complements the opening title-track’s spiralling, galloping riffery, while the likes of Holy Flames of the Fire Spitter’s theatricality and Ghost Neck’s bass-heavy assault provide outlets for Pike’s seemingly endless creativity. And the biggest change of pace and most Sleep-like track here, Bastard Samurai – blessed as it is with a fabulous name that is as evocative as it is ridiculous – is a masterpiece of sludge metal brutality, slowly but inexorably rolling forward like a landslide.
Drummer Des Kensel and bassist Jeff Matz deserve credit for not only keeping up with Pike but ensuring he teeters at the top of his game via their own evident ability. The richness and depth of sound on the frenetic Fire, Flood and the Plague burns with the excitement and hunger of a band half their age and, like the rest of the album, liberally drips with ideas.
It’s tight, concise and thrillingly sharp – what makes High on Fire’s fifth album such a success is its intricacy and balance that allows it to appeal to more than your friendly neighbourhood metalhead. Those in the know will nod in approval; everyone else hitherto untouched by the gnarled clutch of Californian metal can consider themselves very much invited to get involved. --Ben Patashnik
Find more music at the BBC This link will take you off Amazon in a new window