High on Fire

Snakes for the Divine

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Three-year gaps between studio albums are no big deal if your heavy metal band happens to be named Metallica or Slayer, but it's bound to raise a few eyebrows when applied to mere mortals -- even mighty ones like High on Fire. For starters, such a span might go by in the blink of an eye for someone pushing 40 (e.g. Metallica and Slayer fans), but it represents an absolute age to a teenager or early-twenty-something (closer to HoF's core audience); and when the leader of said group -- Matt Pike -- already has one infamously undelivered album on his résumé (Sleep's long lost, hour-long song cycle, Dopesmoker, which effectively led to that band's demise), one can almost imagine the nervous hand-wringing at High on Fire's new label, E1 Music, while they footed the bills and waited for 2010's belated Snakes for the Divine. Luckily for all involved, when it finally did arrive, the album was, if not quite worth the painful wait, then certainly satisfying enough to erase its memories pretty quickly, since High on Fire's wildly engaging brand of pulverizing, apocalyptic battle metal returned unchanged and utterly undiminished. If anything, the long layoff inspired some the group's most perfectly realized songs since 2002's watershed, Surrounded by Thieves, including the devastatingly epic title track (featuring slashing leads from Pike, moshing gallops from drummer Des Kensel, and distinctive bass work from new member Jeff Matz), the breakneck turbo-thrasher "Ghost Neck," and the spectacularly titled "Holy Flames of the Firespitter" which fully lives up to its billing and is crowned by Orc battalions straight out of The Lord of the Rings bellowing "HOO-HA!" Amid the chaos and din of bloody combat, HoF virgins may understandably gravitate towards the somewhat less challenging qualities of first single, "Frost Hammer," featuring D&D lyrics evocative enough to shrivel up the false metal zucchinis tucked inside Manowar's leather thongs, or perhaps even the doomy throwback, "Bastard Samurai," which boasts an unnaturally quiet, restrained first half that may well qualify as High on Fire's first power ballad -- NOT! Indeed, the toothsome trio is on such a roll here, that not even those oft-times second-rate album cuts tucked away towards the end are anything but awe-inspiring, with both the biblically inclined double-kick-drum onslaught of "Fire, Flood and Plague" and the inexorably marching, impossibly evil "How Dark We Pray" practically bursting at the seams with endlessly unpredictable riff sequences and merciless metallic muscle. In short: Snakes for the Divine is another physically punishing tour de force from a band whose fans will settle for nothing less, and have rarely been let down -- certainly not this time around. What was that about a long wait again?

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