Review: High On Fire are nostalgic without a wink on Electric Messiah


Rating: NNNN

Since their 2000 debut The Art Of Self Defense, Oakland heavy metal outfit High on Fire have proven themselves stalwarts of a sort of classicist heavy metal that can be traced back to genre pioneers like Motörhead, Saxon and Judas Priest. It’s to their considerable credit that they manage to feel, undeniably, like a heavy metal band in the purest sense without stooping to the self-conscious, quasi-ironized “old metal” revivalism of some of their contemporaries (Natur, High Spirits and, in a different register, the throwback doom metal of Pallbearer and Windhand). 

They are the rare band that feels nostalgic without seeming sly, crafting prototypical heavy (read: super heavy) metal records without winking or smirking. Like guitarist Matt Pike’s other band – the seminal stoner metal trio Sleep – they verge precariously on seeming like a joke band, without ever teetering over the edge. They are the kind of group that can get away with calling an album Electric Messiah without it seeming like they’re trying to be clever or cool. 

In this (and pretty much every) sense, Electric Messiah is a classic High on Fire affair. There’s the eminently hummable riff of the title track, Pike’s brain-rattling vocal caterwaul at the end of God Of The Godless and the slightly silly/mostly awesome song-titles (Sanctioned Annihilation, The Witch And The Christ). It also serves up an HOF cannon classic in the form of spirited closer Drowning Dog, which sees Pike experimenting with something approaching vocal melodics. 

It falls short of the band’s more certified classics like Death Is This Communion and Blessed Black Wings, but Electric Messiah feels basically satisfying – like a meal ordered from your favourite restaurant. A heavy, greasy, gut-ballasting meal.

Top track: Drowning Dog | @johnsemley3000



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