Despite the predicatable cliches and trappings of a double-live album, High on Fire's Spitting Fire provides a glimpse of a band near the height of its powers.
"Double-live album" is almost a punchline in rock music. In many cases, it's regarded as an overindulgent money grab on fans, primarily designed to burn off one album from a contractual obligation to a record company. However, the bombast that is packed into a double-live album has yielded some of the most beloved live albums in rock (see KISS's Alive!, Deep Purple's Made in Japan, Iron Maiden's Live After Death, and more recently, Wilco's Kicking Television).
In an interview with Exclaim!, lead singer Matt Pike said, "it was time for a live album." That statement pretty much sums up Spitting Fire. It gives listeners a two-hour punch of High on Fire's traditional furnace-intense sludge, but overall, it feels like the reflexive gesture of putting out a live album because that's just what bands do when they reach a certain number of albums.
Still, for reflexing gestures, Spitting Fire has the power and the subtlety of a pile-driver. To state the obvious, listeners get the live versions (in fairly equal representation) of High on Fire's albums. But unlike many live albums in the metal cannon, there are no extended guitar or drum solos, no reinventing of certain songs for the live environment, and virtually no crowd banter. The closest thing you get to banter in Spitting Fire is Pike screaming out the title of the next song, and him thanking the crowd before going into the final song, "Snakes for the Divine".
Spitting Fire was recorded from two shows in New York City: one at the Bowery Ballroom, the second at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Though both venues are far from an adversarial environment, the choice of venues seems like High on Fire's answer to fringe accusations from the metal community that High on Fire are less a metal band and fall more into the much-derided "hipster metal" category. The two hours on Spitting Fire seem like a bruising answer to such charges.
The loyal treatment High on Fire gives to almost all of their songs in the live environment doesn't yield much for new surprises. However, in terms of highlights, "DII", "Fury Whip", and the one-two closer of "Blood from Zion" and "Snakes for the Divine" are standouts, thanks not only to Pike's guitar work, but drummer Den Kensel and bassist Jeff Matz.
As a double-disc, Spitting Fire falls into the "recommended for fans" category. For new initiates, there are too many studio albums that could qualify as "greatest hits" collections (see Death Is the Communion and last year's De Vermis Mysteriis). But for a testament of what High on Fire are capable of doing in a live environment, Spitting Fire makes a helluva pitch for your concert-going budget if these guys are anywhere close to your area.