Matt Pike is quite simply a metal mastermind, and with 'Blessed Black Wings' he unleashes all his powers. For what this album tries to be, a gritty stoner/doom epic with a bit of classic metal and thrash thrown in, it pretty much passes with flying colours. This is my favourite release of 2005 without doubt in my mind.
Pike first became noticed for his powerful work with the stoner/doom legends 'Sleep' in which he crafted some mind-blowing riffs and improv passages. The 63-minute epic 'Dopesmoker' shows just how much talent this man has. The band was toiled with problems, line-up changes and band divisions constantly plagued them, heightened by an ongoing record battle with the current 'Dopesmoker' track that was released originally under the title 'Jerusalem' which the band hated due to poor editing, it simply drifted into obscurity until re-released. Now the band is something of a legend, and highly influential for modern day stoner/doom bands.
Pike reared his ugly head with the thundering HoF debut 'The Art of Self Defence' with the psychotic Des Kensel on drums and George Rice providing ominous low-end riffs. Pike, spearheading the band, found critical acclaim with what proved to be a nice re-emergence into the metal world. 'Surrounded By Thieves' became a huge success, Pike's writing had matured slightly, and effectively 'cut the fat' off the extended passages found on their debut. Which leads to 'Blessed Black Wings' where Pike has delivered a simply gorgeous album.
The opener 'Devilution' gives a strong idea of the new approach of the album. Kensel's drumming is more 'tribal' in feel, shown instantly with the raging drum pattern that starts things off. Then enters some fuzzy, massively distorted guitar playing and Pike's throaty vocals (reminiscent of Lemmy one might say). It's a driving opener that gets the adrenaline pumping fast and shows a new thrashier side, executed later in the ferocious 'Cometh Down Hessian' and the violent 'Silver Back'. The second track, 'The Face of Oblivion' is one of my favourites; it's a true metal epic. The first half of the song is relatively straightforward for HoF, heavy riffs and pounding drums complement a harsh yet catchy verse. Then the band turn a decent rocker into something simply amazing, they breakdown with acoustic guitars playing some sumptuous scales, which proceeds into one of the best riffs on the album to climatically finish a stunning piece.
'Brother In The Wind' follows a similar pattern to 'The Face of Oblivion', it also uses a rough two-part section, again utilising a fantastic final twist that creates another powerful climax with Pike's brutal vocals bellowing out 'where have I wandered my father/led like a lamb to my slaughter'. The title track is another Pike marathon of huge riffs and hammering drumming from Kensel; again the band know how to create a climax, this time the song suddenly picks up express speed and ends with the most brutal, thrashiest onslaught of guitars and drums on the album. Just perfectly executed metal. `Anointing of Seer' is a simple piece, mostly evolved around a simple yet powerful riff and a great vocal verse, very catchy song.
The end of the album is equally stellar, the twin guitar attack of 'To Cross the Bridge' is a fine intro, generally an area Pike and the gang certainly excel in throughout the album. The closer 'Sons of Thunder' is a monumental instrumental, starting with an elegant acoustic intro the band lead into massive power chords laced with more of Kensel's excellent tribal playing. This is certainly the trippiest song on the album, and will certainly please fans of Sleep's epic guitar onslaughts.
This album showcases the extraordinary talents of Matt Pike and his band. It's undeniably up there with his best work including his time with the legendary Sleep. For fans of metal in any form, this is definitely worth checking out. One of the best metal acts around.
For fans of Sleep, Electric Wizard, Black Sabbath and good ol' metal.
Extreme metal and decent songwriting do not go hand in hand. In a genre so obsessed with the power of the riff it's easy to overlook the power of the 'complete song' - the indefinable factor that dictates whether or not a piece of music will stay in your head after you've heard it. There are hordes of metal bands out there who think that all you need to do to write a good metal song is to write 5 great riffs and string them together. Not so. Ever wondered why 'Master Of Puppets' is so much better than '...Justice...'? It's not the riffs, it's the songwriting (and, of course, the production, but that's another review entirely...)
High On Fire have noticed this. And that's why 'Blessed Black Wings' is absolutely stunning. These mammoth, churning, brutal riffs are all interconnected and structured very carefully to keep the songs moving, and so when the band thrash their way through verses, choruses, bridges and solos, they do so with real purpose. They also do it with a ferocity that many of today's slickly-produced thrashers could only dream of. I attribute this mainly to Steve Albini's viciously loud production, although the brute force of the musicians' performances easily keep up with his sonic vision.
High On Fire are usually said to be a cross between Slayer and Motorhead, and that's pretty much on the mark. Except they're burning about five times the fuel of those two bands put together - and they're no fucking slouches themselves. High On Fire are brutal at any pace. Witness the astounding 'To Cross The Bridge' for proof - it's a song that never fails to make me want to rip off my steering wheel and assault the nearest pedestrian.
Basically, if you've ever had nagging doubts about heavy metal in the 21st century, buy this.
This is an unbelievable album. If you like heavy, aggressive, raw-sounding brutality that makes you want to start smashing things up then buy this. It is very energising music. I'd describe this as unapologetically 'dinosaur metal' in its lyrical obsessions - refreshingly unhindered by the irony and smirkiness of lots of modern music. I guess it's just reflective of a wider movement that is going on in music right now: people are fed up with standing on the sidelines and looking on, detached and superior. People want to enjoy themselves again and FEEL RAW POWER. High on Fire deliver thunderclouds of power and doom. I listened to this on a mate's amazing new stereo recently and it almost killed me it was so goddamn raw. Steve Albini has done a great job of the production -everything is in the right place and it's all heavier than Hell. Unbelievable. I bought this after I saw these guys touring with Mastodon last year in London - they play something I love: heavy, simple (ie not overcomplicated), powerful music. YEAH!