Every really good band has an album that either automatically or sooner or later becomes their masterpiece or at least pushes them into the class of legends. 'De Vermis Mysteriis' is that album for High on Fire. Now I admit that I am speaking with a decent amount of bias as I am a big fan of the band but this album is just spectacular and if you don't agree, I am sorry for you - maybe check all your vital signs because I just don't understand how you can't be impressed by this release. Now interestingly enough from a personal point of view, I still rate their first three albums as the better albums but this album comes so close that I could just as easily call it their best yet but I just can't do that - not yet anyway.
Now, some bands have huge guitar sounds, maybe huge cannon like drums or monstrous vocals but that is album has huge everything. The sound on this beast is a masterstroke, the kind of album that the production alone is enough to leave you begging for more, regardless of how good the songs are. What makes this even better is; the songs are incredible. While I think my favorite songs of theirs are on albums like 'The Art of Self Defense,' 'Surrounded by Thieves,' and 'Blessed Black Wings,' this album is their most consistent collection of killer riffage yet.
The album title translated means something like 'Mysteries Of The Worm' and comes from author Robert Bloch (Psycho) and was used by HP Lovecraft into the lore of Cthulhu. Going back to my opening comments for a second now; some bands who have put in the road-work and the amount of recording that High on Fire have done (this is album number six) are usually close to burning out by now but HOF seem to have so much fire in their collective bellies that I see them pouring out solid albums for at least the next 15 years. Comparing this album with all their others now and it is easy to hear that this is a logical progression from past works. It has ALL the elements from past albums all rolled into the one concise package but it is also the sound of a band moving forward and not content at all at just recording for the sake of product. What is also very strong about 'De Vermis Mysteriis' is each track has a personality all of its own. While other metal bands are happy with putting out albums of basically the same thing, High on Fire stretch themselves in different directions on each and every track. The musicianship of Pike and Co has now reached a peak while the songwriting has never been so strong as it is now.
The album kicks off with the tidal wave of power 'Serums of Liao' and it is six minutes of pure intensity. It is like a battle cry which has the band raping your eardrums with incredible riffing and some of the most aggressive vocals that Matt Pike has ever delivered. As I already mentioned, the production on this album is perfection with the mix being the most clear and precise production job that they have ever got and these songs really seem to benefit from it. The current leader in the Doommantia drummers poll is Des Kensel and it is no wonder; the drumming on this makes Dave Lombardo sound like Ringo Starr. High On Fire have now got a formula of kicking off albums with a longish, high energy riff fest and 'Serums of Liao' is no different. The track that follows, 'Bloody Knuckles' is less riffing barrage and more classic High On Fire filthy groove. The hooks are among the most infectious the band has ever come up with. Something has to be said about Matt Pike's vocals too at this point. He has developed a nasty growling voice that sounds deathly and angry but at the same time, full of charm. The only other vocalist out there that comes close is perhaps Lemmy. The sound of a voice that is affected by too much smoking and heavy drinking, yet somehow compliments the guitar sound perfectly.
Now I have to mention Kensel once again, the third track 'Fertile Green' has the kind of drumming that makes other drummers just simply quit trying. If you a drummer just starting out, check this track out but beware this might make you want to give-up before you have even started. 'Fertile Green' is classic HOF: a powerhouse of thick stoner-metal cranked up to sheer frightening levels of ferocity. Of course the band has always been the kind of band that is borderline thrash-metal and this is one of their most thrashy attacks yet. 'Madness of an Architect' is different again but somehow is the perfect follower to 'Fertile Green.' This two beautifully bleed together and on this tune, they just constantly throw the listener variations that will make you drool. Just the last couple of minutes alone of this almost 7 minute masterpiece is enough to leave you floored with Pike ripping insane leads like a man possessed. With grooves, hooks, leads and more hooks than the biggest tackle-box, this is another defining moment in this bands career. Simply inspirational tune!
'Samsara' comes next and is the albums instrumental interlude for the want of a better description. This is a track that could either be a nice opening track for live performances as a way of breaking in an audience before bashing them around the head with so much potent riffage or it can be what it is here and that is a break from the intensity of it all. If this album has any misstep which it hasn't really but if it has, it might be this track. I personally love it but I wouldn't have minded the intensity continuing either. Of course it is no mellow, relaxing track and I don't think this band would have a clue how to do write such a tune anyway but it is a departure from the High On Fire norm and is further proof on how far this band has come as musicians and songwriters. The next track up is another masterpiece called 'Spiritual Rites' and it is another flawless barrage of riffing intensity. It actually has one of the albums most unleashed moments of energetic drumming/guitar interplay but it is yet again, catchy as hell.
'King of Days' comes up next in the running order and it is the albums only real "doom" track. It is not exactly slow and plodding or even chugging doom for that matter but if you want to hear thicker than wet-cement doomy guitar riffs, then this is a tune you must hear. This is also the albums longest track at 7:09 but with variation and variance plus the bands ability to throw out hooks like they are going out of fashion, this is one of the easiest 7 minutes of doom riffage you will ever hear. Fans of the early High On Fire tunes will gravitate towards this piece as it is a bit of a throwback to their early style and to Pike's earlier band Sleep. 'De Vermis Mysteriis,' the title track, and the albums shortest tune is up next and it is another showcase for the drumming of Kensel. I must say I can't think of another album released in the last couple of years where the drumming shares just as much of the limelight as the guitar work but this is truly a drummer's wet-dream come true. While this song doesn't supply any real surprises at this late stage of the album, it is still another irresistible track that will blow away what is left of your brain-cells at this 38 minute mark of the release.
'Romulus and Remus' showcases another side to the band and that is their black-metal side. Matt Pike has always been partial to the sounds of early black metal, especially bands like early Venom and this track seems to be pushing into that direction without getting there completely. What is amazing at this stage in the album is there is still not a trace of filler to be heard which is an achievement for even the best bands around these days. 'Romulus and Remus' also highlights the unsung hero in the band, bassist 'Jeff Matz.' The buzzing bass sound on this track is really pushed to the front of the band for this tune and it is lethal to the extreme. Then we get to the album last track called 'Warhorn' which is some interesting High On Fire but it is a more experimental approach and I think this is an ever so slight weak closer for the album. They seem to be going for a Melvins kind of weirdness and I am not totally convinced it has worked but I also feel it is still a more than decent track. I am guessing after the heavy-handed riffing assault that the rest of the album delivers, this one comes off at being just a little luke-warm but I still can't complain too much.
It has to be said that High On Fire are a band that people love to jump on the hate bandwagon for and that is something I have never understood. Out of all the bands to express your elitist attitude for; why pick on HOF? If you want to hate them, go ahead hate them, if you want to dig them, that is great too but if you are in the middle - get the fuck out, that is all I can say on that. 'De Vermis Mysteriis' will be an album that will get 10/10 ratings, it will end up at number one on 2012 best album lists but there will be some critics out there that will preach that it is weak without any constructive argument to back up the statement. I, for one think High On Fire are one of the "metal bands for the future." One band that does give metal some sense of credibility within the mainstream, god knows most other metal bands that have cracked the mainstream can't do that. 'De Vermis Mysteriis' is the album that will take the band to yet another level of appreciation and it is already obvious to me at least that High On Fire will be big news everywhere within a few months based on the greatness of this release. That appreciation and publicity will be well-deserved too. I stress once again that I am biased when it comes to HOF but all of us reviewers are biased about some bands but in my opinion, Pike, Kensel, and Matz can't do no wrong at the moment. I could give this a 10/10 just on the strength of nine of the ten songs but that wouldn't be fair on all the other bands I review so I am giving it a 9.5/10 but it is killing me!
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