For some fans, the news that Steve Albini had been tapped to produce High on Fire's third long-player was a matter of great concern for many reasons -- chief among them, the renowned alternative rock producer's notoriety for ultra-compressed guitar sounds, which seemed utterly at odds with the California trio's most deadly weapon: guitarist and frontman Matt Pike's thundering riffage. Thankfully, such fears ultimately proved unjustified when the end result, 2005's Blessed Black Wings, wound up delivering galloping heavy metal with every bit as much volume and distortion as the band's breakthrough previous effort, Surrounded by Thieves. So much so that the million-dollar question now becomes: "Are the two albums too similar?" Aesthetically, the answer is most certainly yes, since High on Fire's rhythm section (now featuring new bassist Joe Preston, joining longtime drummer Des Kensel) remains every bit as pummeling, and Pike's six-string supremacy just as unchallenged, his solos ever prostrating themselves before the Neolithic power chord onslaught of his cross-the-neck slashing. Tracks like "Devilution," "Cometh Down Hessian," and "Silver Back" are all fire-breathing, semi-thrash rampages; the old-school metal pounding of the title track and closing instrumental "Sons of Thunder" is clearly reverential of Pike's beloved Celtic Frost; and the awe-inspiring, power chord colossus "Brother in the Wind" -- all rippling and tearing of muscle -- easily qualifies as a career highlight on par with anything offered by sterling predecessor Surrounded by Thieves. In fact, Blessed Black Wings could have used a few more overwhelming epics of this older stripe, since novelties like the clean, string-picking passages snuck into otherwise crushing tracks like "The Face of Oblivion" and much previewed live number "To Cross the Bridge," or the understated punk rock element found in the tighter riffs of "Anointing of Seer," prove all too subtle to constitute true innovation. In other words, the bulk of Blessed Black Wings follows the same formula that proved so successful for High on Fire in days past -- maybe a problem for those intent on forging ever forward, but hardly a bad thing when the point of origin was so damn good to begin with. And, truth is, few bands would be capable of achieving such a primal, yet thoroughly modern-sounding heavy metal album even on their most inspired moments.
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia