Cometh The Storm

MNRK Heavy
rating icon 8.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. Lambsbread
02. Burning Down
03. Trismegistus
04. Cometh The Storm
05. Karanlik Yol
06. Sol's Golden Curse
07. The Beating
08. Tough Guy
09. Lightning Beard
10. Hunting Shadows
11. Darker Fleece

You may thank whichever implausible deity you favor for the fact that Matt Pike is still alive and still writing riffs. A new HIGH ON FIRE album always brings with it a profound sense of relief. It's okay, folks, they've sent in the professionals. Turn the volume up and prepare for the onslaught. Cometh the storm, and all that.

But as much as fans know largely what to expect from a new album, HIGH ON FIRE have always been more adventurous than their barbarous reputation suggests. Their finest efforts — "Blessed Black Wings" (2005) and "De Vermis Mysteriis" (2012) spring to mind — have offered much more than a relentless tsunami of cauterizing, MOTORHEAD-isms. HIGH ON FIRE have a progressive streak several yards wide, and at their best, the runaway bulldozer of their trademark sound comes painted in wild, psychedelic colors. The follow-up to the frequently ferocious "Electric Messiah" (2018),"Cometh The Storm" is another feast of Pike-led pugnacity that steadily reveals the subtlety beneath the scabby skin.

Before the subtlety arrives, HIGH ON FIRE deliver the punishment that their admirers crave. "Lambsbread" vigorously salutes the blistering chemistry that Matt Pike and bassist Jeff Matz have established with new drummer Coady Willis (BIG BUSINESS / ex-MELVINS): a classic, rumbling rager, it eventually takes a startling, lysergic detour, before building back up to fever pitch, shrouded in feedback and red-eyed mysticism. Pre-album single "Burning Down" feels spiritually connected to Pike's work with SLEEP, but HIGH ON FIRE have such earthiness and propensity for violence that even their most languorous jams are prickly with caveman rage. A bluesy soundtrack the end of all things, its driving, acid rock squall is as hypnotic as "Trismegistus" is pitch-black and punishing. A bleak, poisonous cyclone of riffs, it takes a hatchet to the idea that this band are amiable stoners, with relentless, locked-in intuition driving every note.

Things get weird on the title track. Pike's distorted voice floats around in a space rock haze, as Matz and Willis churn menacingly beneath him. The payoff — a huge, grotesque riff that must have made Pike feel pretty pleased with himself — is monstrous, but the journey there is truly unsettling. As ever, the trio's delivery is incredibly heavy-handed, but in such a way that serves to hammer every musical idea home with as much power as possible. Exotic instrumentals like "Karanlik Yol" provide oases of respite from HIGH ON FIRE's flame-thrower riffing, while adding textural depths and a hint of LED ZEP-like pomposity. But while it is obvious that Pike and his colleagues have had a wild time ensuring that "Cometh The Storm" is a richly layered and audacious experience, they are also self-aware enough to realize that the main reason to listen to HIGH ON FIRE is still the riffs.

"Cometh The Storm" becomes more direct and more succinct as it progresses, as songs like "Sol's Golden Curse" and "Lightning Beard" get to the point with punk rock efficiency, as Pike demonstrates his unerring ability to write riffs that make people want to bounce full cans of beer off other people's heads (while howling at the moon). For pure, distilled HIGH ON FIRE savagery, two-minute flesh-flayer "The Beating" will be hard to top. At the other end of the indulgence scale, the pendulous, THIN LIZZY-via-MASTODON sea shanty of "Hunting Shadows" and the devastating avalanche of doomed-out sludge shrapnel that propels "Darker Fleece" through nine overwhelming minutes are among the finest and most memorable things the band have ever done. Similarly, "Cometh The Storm" is a very obvious career highlight.

Author: Dom Lawson
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