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This review is from: Snakes For The Divine [Digipack] (Audio CD)
On hearing the opening bars of 'Snakes for the Divine' I was initially disappointed. I have been an avid fan of High On Fire since their debut, 'The Art of Self Defense' came out in 2000. It was an absolute monolith of a stoner rock record; propelled by massive mid-tempo riffs and stomping drums. High On Fire, through out their discography, have slowly been speeding up and getting more an more furious. On the opening title track on Snakes for the Divine, our protagonist, Matt Pike kicks off with an uber-cheesy progressive metal lick that made me cringe. How can this be the same band that gave us the slow bludgeon of '10,000 Years' and 'Thraft of Caanan'??
But because it was still High On Fire, there's an unstoppable, elemental force compelling you to listen. After listening through a couple more times, I realised; why the hell am I bothered if it's cheesy or not? What does it matter? Once this thought has settled and you can listen to this album without an objective viewpoint or without preconceptions (yes the cover art is cheesy, yes it's pretty much as "metal" as you can get but;) it's one of the most enjoyable albums I've heard in years.
The whole album is a perfectly executed exercise in displaying pure and unashamed disregard for subtlety. High On Fire pummel you with monster riffs for 49 minutes and 53 seconds. The title track is just immense - 8 minutes of frenetic, adrenaline fueled madness. That cheesy metal lick builds up with the rest of the band in an explosion of chugging fuzz and tribal drumming. It's utterly cathartic.
The whole reason people listen to metal - as with a lot of types of music, including dubstep & drum & bass - is for transcendence; for the music to take you somewhere else or to make you feel & respond to it in some way. The most effective music does this easily. Metal is meant to evoke a primal reaction; it doesn't need to be clever or complex or subtle to be effective; but the best metal does all of this. Think of 'Master of Puppets' by Metallica; it's an 8minute long progressive masterpiece. The complex structure; the mellow harmonised guitar section mid-way through, and it has that riff... THAT riff. That riff which makes the hair stand on end every time you hear the opening attack; "DA! DA, DA, DAAAAAAA.....". High On Fire, with Snakes for the Divine, have touched upon this magic formula that seemingly only a few bands have found. Power, adrenaline and a hint of restraint which makes the heavy bits all the more effective.
Nothing demonstrates this more than the third track; 'Bastard Samurai'. After the pulverising you're received from the opening salvo of the title track & 'Frost Hammer', B*stard Samurai begins a lot slower & more menacing rather than steamrolling your ear drums. The verse has a more contemplative delayed guitar line and allows the band to breathe and Matt Pike actually sings the verses. This builds up until Pike roars; "son of a bitch will bleed a whiiiiiiile!" and all hell breaks loose. It's utter, simple catharsis & is all the more effective because of the first two tracks. These simple, yet clever dynamics make B*stard Samurai one of the highlights of the album, and indeed High On Fire's back catalogue. How Dark We Pray is also a more stripped back number in contrast to the body of the album's frenetic stampede of riffs & drums. Here, Matt Pike demonstrates some great melodic guitar lines which serve to further break up the album and make the heavy parts all the more forceful.
Snakes for the Divine is a massive surprise for me as I was beginning to write off High On Fire as morphing into just another metal band. But with this new album they've reinvigorated my interest and appreciation of quality heavy music. Even if you're not really into metal; give this album a chance and even at it's basic level; simply have a damn good time listening to it.