Two members of Sleep ( Chris Hakius and Justin Marler) formed the Sabians to play more conventional rock'n'roll
Beauty For Ashes (The Music Cartel, 2002)
Shiver (The Music Cartel, 2003)
Former Sleep's guitarist Matt Pike built a career out of stretching out
Black Sabbath's riffs in hyper-lysergic trances.
Enrolling George Rice on bass and (especially) virtuoso Des Kensel on drums,
Pike formed High On Fire and released
Art Of Self Defense (Man's Ruin, 2000 - Tee Pee, 2002), an
album of emphatic hard-rock. The trio roars out Baghdad and then
stretches out in the slower, more solemn, eight-minute 10,000 Years,
as well as in the cosmic-tribal Last One and the
eight-minute Fireface, that opens like a Led Zeppelin blues.
The trio pens songs such as Blood From Zion that are
both elegant and claustrophobic.
At the opposite end of the spectrum they craft the
agonizing ten-minute Master Of Fists, one ugly beast that ends with
a demonic coda.
Art Of Self Defense
was followed by the inferior Surrounded By Thieves (Relapse, 2002),
that was heaviness for the sake of claiming the title of heaviest band in
Blessed Black Wings (Relapse, 2005), instead, reestablished High On
Fire's reputation via an impeccable parade of earth-shaking riffs (thanks also
to Steve Albini's production).
At last, a song like Devilution displayed signs of life, charging
at the speed of death-metal. Cometh Down Hessian is pummeling
hardcore punk-rock with anthemic metal overtones.
Brother In The Wind is not only lively but even melodic.
At the other extreme,
To Cross The Bridge is sheer chaos and noise.
The seven-minute instrumental Sons Of Thunder is possibly the artistic
peak of the album and a show of instrumental dexterity, notably for
Des Kensel's tribal drumming and the post-Hendrixian guitar work.
The old principle of heaviness for the sake of heaviness dominates
the eight-minute Blessed Black Wings and little else.
Death Is This Communion (Relapse, 2007), more prosaically
produced by Jack Endino,
juxtaposed the crushing stoner-rock of Fury Whip and Turk and
the gloomy instrumental DII with the more sophisticated
eight-minute Death Is This Communion as well as with the
seven-minute Ethereal, an unlikely balance of gentle (melodic) vocals and heavy sound.
The glossy Snakes for the Divine (E1, 2010), fine-tuned by
mainstream producer Greg Fidelman, presented a radio-friendly version of
High On Fire's stoner-rock.
The track sequencing should be arranged more logically:
from the peaks of Ghost Neck and Fire Flood and Plague, the album quickly
Holy Flames of the Firespitter
descends towards the safer middle ground of Frost Hammer and Bastard Samurai,
lands onto the eight-minute metal complacency of Snakes for the Divine
and finally plunges into the lengthy power-ballad How Dark We Pray.
Sleep's bassist and vocalist Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Haklus
formed the guitar-less Om and recorded the three lengthy doom-laden tracks of
Variations on a Theme (Holy Mountain, 2005).
The 21-minute On The Mountain At Dawn is too derivative of Black Sabbath
(and repetitive) to stand on its own.
The 12-minute Kapila's Theme is a heavy and slow rumble, while
the third track (also 12-minute long), Annapurna, starts at a fast pace
only to collapse later on in a similarly catatonic rhythm. Nonetheless, it is
the third track that gives hope of hearing a more original variant on the
much abused Black Sabbath stereotype.
By the time they released the mini-album
Conference Of The Birds (Holy Mountain, 2006), the duo had mastered
the idea of playing without a guitar.
Unfortunately, Pilgrimage (2007) did not introduce any meaningful
element. It was even less understated.
After replacing Chris Hakius with new drummer Emil Amos,
Om's God Is Good (Drag City, 2009) included the
19-minute stoner raga Thebes but there was little to surprise or
entertain other than a different, more open, drumming style
(instead of the monolithic emphasis on groove and rhythm)
and the use of cello, flute and tambura.
Shrinebuilder (Neurot, 2009) was a supergroup consisting of Scott Kelly (Neurosis), Al Cisneros (Om, Sleep), Dale Crover (the Melvins), and Wino (Obsessed, Spirit Caravan, Saint Vitus) playing very old-fashioned doom-metal a` la Black Sabbath.
High On Fire changed producer again (Kurt Ballou of Converge) for the (obscurely
De Vermis Mysteriis (Entertainment One, 2011), returning them
to an appropriate rawer sound.
Crowned again by the
visceral, thundering Serums of Liao and Spiritual Rights, they can indulge
in progressive parts for Madness of an Architect and King of Days.
Alas the shorter songs (as well as the instrumental Samsara) feel like mere
filler, the kind of things a shop displays in the window but doesn't really
More than anything else, High On Fire had a fundamental meta-problem: they
had become a band that changes sound with each producer, just like those
silly dance-pop stars; a fact definitely not fitting a truculent metal act.
Om completed their transition to a new, lighter and more sophisticated sound on
Advaitic Songs (Drag City, 2012) thanks to the contributions of
cellist Jackie Perez Gratz, flutist Lorraine Rath and
Robert Lowe of the 90 Day Men and the Lichens, plus
tamboura drones, field recordings and female vocals.
This diverse collection of songs begins with the devotional hymn
Addis, continues with the bleak rumbling exoteric
State of Non-Return, halfway between
early medieval-tinged King Crimson and emphatic stoner-rock,
and the whispered eleven-minute Middle Eastern shuffle Haqq al-Yaqin.
Lacking moments of passion, and deprived of the old fire, the album often sounds
like a tedious and amateurish excursion in world-music by a group of
Western teenagers who have never heard the originals.
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