Is it finally safe to say that High on Fire is an institution in the genre? The Oakland-based power trio has been blazing trails and scorching the earth beneath their feet for over 15 years and have one of the most consistent discographies in the modern age of metal, no questions asked. Frontman and burly demigod Matt Pike has also been juggling this steadily-growing project with the reformation of doom legends Sleep and becoming one of the most influential figures in riffdom along the way. Now with so many accolades and albums later, what was left for the band? Since the release of their last record, De Vermis Mysteriis, Pike kicked booze to the curb, discovered a fascination with the extraterrestrial, and managed to come out with Luminiferous, one of the band’s most impressively-consistent and melodically adventurous LPs yet.
Despite the clichéd concerns of musicians “going soft” when they enter any sort of rehabilitation program, Luminiferous is still just as paranoid, psychedelic, and choked with smoke as ever. Songs like “Carcosa” and “The Lethal Chamber” should satisfy the fans of the band’s more down-tempo assaults, and Kurt Ballou’s (Converge) mixing and production makes sure every single tone is absolutely massive and swimming in fuzz. The combination of bassist Jeff Matz’s thunderous tone with drummer Des Kensel’s galloping beats could very well be the thickest-sounding rhythm section you’ll hear this year. Everything feels completely natural throughout, there aren’t gratuitous guitar overdubs, and you won’t see many impressive studio tricks here. Everything feels just as natural as anything off of Black Sabbath’s first four records, but even burlier and spattered with LSD-fueled fascinations with conspiracy and the mental enslavement of religion.
While these traits and ideas might not shock longtime supporters of the band, there are still a fair amount of surprises in Luminiferous while still being undeniably true to the core sound. The biggest surprise to many fans will inevitably be Pike’s increasingly melodic vocals, particularly in songs like “The Sunless Years” and “The Cave.” The latter shows the band at their most ballad-esque yet, essentially performing their own version of Pantera’s “Cemetery Gates” for most of the track, and to great effect. Don’t think for a second that the band has gone radio-friendly, though. “Slave the Hive” and the title track definitely kick things into high gear and should please circle-pit enthusiasts worldwide and “The Dark Side of the Compass’”’ Lovecraftian lyrical perspective on The Bermuda Triangle paired with the ambient guitar leads in the chorus is absolutely bone-chilling. High on Fire definitely haven’t softened up (the title track’s ending scream should silence any naysayers), they’ve just expanded their bag of tricks. Whether it’s the clever stop-and-start feel of “The Black Plot” or the classic rock vibes of “The Falconist,” there are still plenty of things you haven’t heard the band do until now.
It really seems like there will never be a day when High on Fire releases a bad album and doesn’t make you feel like an orc warrior swinging a battle axe into the skull of your enemies while riding a Harley in a hurricane. Luminiferous is pure adrenaline. It’s the metal equivalent of this year’s Mad Max remake, and will probably end up on many year-end lists from a wide variety of publications. Few bands these days have flawlessly managed to stick to their guns and never stray from the vision that they began with while still maintaining a loyal fanbase and artistic integrity. Metal needs more bands like this. Hell, music needs more bands like this.
High on Fire – Luminiferous gets…