High On Fire – Death Is This Communion

First notes hit like cannons. Fury Whip  starts out on full, fire fueled guitar crushing over the massive kicks pounding away through the complete assault that is the opening track. Welcome to the world of High On Fire, where everything is loud and big, all the time. The band came to existence in 1998, founded by guitarist and lead vocalist Matt Pike. Hailing from California, High On Fire takes much influence from the godfathers of Metal themselves, Black Sabbath, as they pride themselves on the heaviest riffs imaginable. Death Is This Communion  is one of the strongest offerings from the band, as it experiments with more nontraditional sounds and instruments, creating an ethereal experience as you move from song to song.

The first few tracks are typically heavy and dark, keeping with the sludge metal theme with the title track running well over 8 minutes long. With long sustained notes, raw screaming vocals, and a tone that shakes the ground, High On Fire drags you through the sludge by the ears, kicking and screaming for more. But it’s the cleaner cut songs which really make this album particularly interesting.

Throughout the album are interlude tracks which help progress the music to different directions over time. Interspersed with 12 strings guitars and a more acoustic take on percussion, Khanrad’s Wall  delivers a stark contrast to the following track Turk, a more traditional but very well laid out sludge tune. Headhunter  is nothing but drums, a slowly evolving wall of cannons firing on all cylinders, making the perfect lead into Rumors Of War.

Something that really stands out is the unique style of double tracking on the guitars. Not to say it’s not a common place practice, but some songs are done so through the entire track, including solos. Most of the solos seem improvised to an extent, so we get this back and forth communication between guitars, as they follow the same motif but travel different paths. Patterns play back and forth across the stereo spectrum, working off each other to tell a story.

One of my favourite moments is the song DII, an improvised track born in the recording process of the album. It’s a great example of what happens when musicians utilize the studio as the instrument, drawing on influences otherwise not available to them. The organ playing in the song was found collecting dust in one of the rooms of the studio, so the band decided to drag it out and use it, creating the haunting melody which permeates the completely instrumental tune.

Between the use of acoustic interludes complimenting the brutally heavy tracks, unique 9-string guitar (top three strings are doubled), and the earth shattering rhythm section, High On Fire delivers an astounding performance on this record. Through the low rumblings of the gigantic kick drum, subsonic vibrations of the bass guitar, and the thick mud pouring out of the guitar amps, Death Is This Communion  takes you through a religious experience, one best enjoyed with a high powered sub woofer.

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