Published Feb 20, 2010Celebrated for their primal barrages of apocalyptic acerbity, Oakland, CA's High On Fire have become one of the decade's foremost doom-laden groove metal acts. Dense but staunch, the trio of vocalist/guitarist Matt Pike, bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensel unleash some truly ominous dirges, an experience that reaches new levels of intensity with fifth outing Snakes For The Divine. The maniacal songwriting Pike and Matz displayed on 2007's Death Is This Communion has solidified into a ferocious onslaught of intricate, yet dominant, riffs, scorching vocal patterns and merciless rhythms that batter and maim with unwavering bluntness. Factor in some of Pike's most inventive, yet strange, lyrics and dynamic tunes, revolving from full-bore grind to borderline-serene passages, and the entire package is endlessly captivating. While never at a loss for great producers, Greg Fidelman (Slayer, Metallica) has a lofty accomplishment with Snakes For The Divine, seizing the band's most vicious, vigorous performances, reminiscent of their imposing live atmosphere. In that way, Snakes For The Divine accomplishes a rare duality: hitting new creative apexes that are fortified by, not detractive to, High On Fire's instinctively raw severity. Snakes For The Divine assures the past decade was only a warm-up for the brilliance and explosive menace possible with High On Fire.
What the hell are these lyrics about?
Matt Pike: A lot of them are real David Icke shit, like Adam and Eve being the first people inseminated by the reptilian agenda, and Lilith, Adam's first wife, eating her young. "Frost Hammer" is a welcome lullaby to the world. I have a dark chain of thought when it comes to music. It's how I exorcise my demons, so a lot of it's hateful or dark. I read a lot of comic books growing up, Poe and Lovecraft. When I get into my reading mode, I get all of these ideas. There are certain times of year when I don't want to read shit and just hang around playing guitar.
Is that where these insanely colossal riffs come from? Avoiding literature?
Maybe. [This album] is challenging: tough to sing and play that at the same time. It's out of control, but we're really proud of it. We had four hours of music we had to squeeze into 40 minutes, 'cause we're just machines about writing. It got confusing at a point. I was like, "Fuck, dude, I don't even know what sounds good anymore." Fidelman stepped in and pointed out the stuff he found the most interesting. It was good to have a fourth ear because I was going fucking crazy, dude.
I guess you and Jeff write really well together.
You could give him a lunch pail and he'd make music out of it.
I love that High On Fire have that Zeke connection.
That's where we noticed him. We were on tour together and realized how killer he was as a bassist. Once the other guys were out of the band, he jumped at it. Zeke weren't doing much, so he came down with us. We started jamming, because the guy can play guitar exactly like me, so why not?
You must have surprised yourselves after realizing you had four hours of music to work with.
I was, but I was also getting really frustrated. Not with the songs or music but the arrangements. It was really hard and without arrangements I can't put vocals on or do the details. I was like, "Guys, we need to find arrangements so I can figure out how the fuckin' lyrics go and then I can start practising singing and playing at the same time." Fidelman lightened that up though. I'm still learning the songs. It's fuckin' ridiculous. It's so hard to sing and play some of this shit, but I'm getting it down, slowly but surely.
So you wrote and recorded an album that you still have to learn how to play?
Pretty much. We knew all the parts; we'd just never put them together.
I'd honestly never thought of Fidelman as a potential High On Fire producer before he was announced, but he keeps up with, and maybe surpasses, what Jack Endino and Steve Albini accomplished
I love those dudes and they're amazing motherfuckers. They have different touches and approaches. Albini knows how to get drum sounds, where Jack's really creative about the tonality of the guitars and bass. He's a little more hands-on. Albini either thinks you got a good take or you didn't and I could tell if I did or not. He'll look up at you while he's doing math problems or reading some boring science magazine. If he looks at you that means you didn't get a good take. If you actually take his attention away from something so boring, well, fuck. That's his theory. Jack's just like a mad professor, going in there with ideas he'll bounce off you. Fidelman's like, "No, there's something missing." He's got a great ear and nine times out of ten, if I try his idea, I like it. Dude's pretty talented.
It works. Everything is so smooth and full.
Yeah, but sometimes Fidelman would be like, "There needs to be something there." I'd be like, "What the fuck needs to be there? Why are you trying to torture me, bro?" We were going back-and-forth like that but I knew we'd done a good job every time when he'd light up a cigar. If I belted out this insane, ridiculous lyric and he lit up his cigar, it was good.
He does fit in well with your history of awesome producers. How'd you find each other?
He came up to watch us jam and I think we blew his face off. We definitely don't have the budget that fuckin' U2, Slayer or Metallica have. Yeah, right. I'd pay you if I could, bro. I think he was interested in it because he found the music interesting. He's a guitar player at heart and me being the guitar player, that kind of turned him on a bit. I think he believed in the project, so he's taking a chance. Plus, once we get big, we'll give him millions of dollars and all will be hunky-dory, or something. (E1)