High on Fire

Death Is This Communion

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Album number four from High on Fire offers a few change-ups right out of the gate. For starters, it marks the debut of the band's third bassist, Jeff "Zeke" Matz. Secondly, it's thus far the most varied set in the batch. Matt Pike has always been a very texturally oriented guitarist. His strumming technique filled a lot of the space that can be the death knell of a power trio metal band. He's been inventive without having to be a guitar hero. (But in this sense, putting the sound of a band before his own ego gratification actually makes him one.) In producer and recording engineer Jack Endino -- who worked with both Soundgarden and Nirvana -- this crew found a very able and willing collaborator. Endino understands "heavy," but he also understands dynamics, and he encouraged Pike to explore some new sonic territory as a soloist as well. The slippery elements of strangeness on tracks like "Waste of Tiamat," where acoustic guitars strung high introduce the tune's opening bars before that crushing riff drops the hammer and is immediately followed by a brief but furious drum solo. Elsewhere, on the brief instrumental "Khanrad's Wall," a tambour and a 12-string acoustic (played by Matz) engage tom-tom heavy drumming, but it's followed by the speeded up near-Motörhead intensity of "Turk." The guitar solo in the middle, while mixed down just above the riff, is insane; just off the rails. That intense pace is furthered by the brief but well-paced drum orgy on "Headhunter," which gives way to "Rumors of War" in all its doomy (yet a bit quicker) riff-laden glory. Those who long for the old-school sounds of High on Fire will not be dismayed by this sound since there is plenty of the extreme doom riffing on "Dii" and extreme distortion of both guitars and bass in "Cyclopian Scape," after the 12-string intro that has its own strange resemblance to something off of Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti. For all the changes and advances, this is still High on Fire. No matter the proceeding, they are a band with a signature sound and it gets milked -- only with interesting colors, and textures added. Death Is This Communion is a step up from Blessed Black Wings, and just may be the band's finest and most focused moment yet.

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