Can we really blame the entrenched metal fan for getting ornery that blogs of a certain ilk offer a Liturgy thinkpiece and call it a year? Maybe salutary neglect is better than tertiary recognition, but sometimes you gotta feel for the kids who keep metal close to their heart. It’s why a yellow-belly indie-rock writer can muster the requisite, admittedly low-barrier chops to think hard about a High on Fire joint. You can hear the “metal for people who aren’t metal” sniggers a mile away.
The reasons I like High on Fire feel just as reductive. We use them like adrenaline dosage – the blithe, raunchy, and intentionally badass eruption to blow all the weenie indie-rock melodrama away for a few minutes. They remind us of youth, but they also remind us of a time where we didn’t feel embarrassed to rock out, to talk about guitar solos, to flip the flanger pedal, to get excited about Buckethead. High on Fire force us to remember that initial excitement about rock music, and they do it with earthshaking momentum. Perhaps it’s because they offer a brief, mild taste of a foreign universe, but that certainly doesn’t stop them from leaving residue.
De Vermis Mysteriis is not High on Fire’s best album, in fact it might not even be their third best. It doesn’t force your jaw closed with distilled recklessness, nor does it capture the same cataclysmic this-is-a-big-deal magnanimity of Snakes for the Divine. That record started with an endless drip of stringent titan-guitars before descending into a power-chord blistering biologically engineered to let you know that something evil is coming. This record starts with a brief stadium-drum pummel and a mainlined portal to their personal underworld. Despite all the conceptual buzz pre-release, this feels among their most economic albums yet.
According to the documentation, Mysteriis is an album that contains time-travel, dimensional-fucking, and a fabricated mythos centered on H.P. Lovecraft and Jesus Christ’s long lost twin. This is the sort of thing you’ll only be able to recognize if you spend time reading about records instead of listening to them. It’s all the same stuff. Torrential, grey-sky guitars, overreaching drum-fills – Matt Pike’s ruptured throat isn’t exactly the kind of thing that makes storytime a primary concern. This is an album about being loud, boorish and fun. In fact it plays directly into the criticism that’s been biting at High on Fire’s heels for a decade. Metal reduced to its primary colors, no genre-tripping or alchemistic departures apply. It is simple, it is pure, it is predictable, it is Another High on Fire Album.
Of course criticisms like that only apply if you’re deep within the band’s pocket already, and it’s depressing to think about De Vermis Mysteriss that way. Pretensions cast aside, name-dropping or interspaced comparisons left for the auteurs, we listen to High on Fire because they fucking rock. Which is something that can be easily taken for granted.