Some bands have so perfected their sound that major stylistic shifts aren’t necessary to keep pumping out quality records. Take High on Fire, for instance. The Oakland metal outfit recently released their seventh studio album, Luminiferous, and, honestly, it really isn’t that much of a departure from their debut, 2000’s The Art of Self Defense, and everything in between. But make no mistake, that’s definitely not a knock on the record. In fact, it’s a testament to the greatness of High on Fire. Their ability to consistently write fresh and exciting material while not straying too far from their thrash-y stoner metal comfort zone is impressive.
High on Fire does continually tweak, retool and improve upon their sound, however. Their previous release, 2012’s De Vermis Mysteriis, found guitarist Matt Pike really tapping into the sludgier side of his former band Sleep. That record’s heaviness resonated among fans as a logical progression from the band’s 2010 breakthrough, the masterpiece Snakes for the Divine.
This time around, there’s a vast melodic improvement in the vocals. Pike is definitely more known for his mighty riffage than vocal hooks, but perhaps that changes with Luminiferous. Instrumentally, “The Falconist” isn’t the most exhilarating number in the High on Fire catalogue. It’s a simple metal shuffle in the vein of Ozzy’s “Crazy Train”, but the vocals add a dark abrasiveness to it all that makes it much more effective. Plus, actually hearing Pike enunciate words is an added bonus. “The Cave” is another where the vocals take the reigns. While not a slight, “The Cave” might be the closest High on Fire has ever come to a power ballad. It trudges along and relies on quiet-loud-quiet dynamics to build momentum. Yet, it’s Pike’s guttural howls that really ups the song’s “devil horns” factor.
But Luminiferous isn’t all about the vocals. There are a number of tracks that prove High on Fire can still hang with the heaviest, thrashiest bands around. “Slave The Hive” features a real mind-fuck of a riff that goes forwards, then backwards, then forwards again. Drummer Des Kensel and bassist Jeff Matz dominate the moody rhythms of “The Dark Side of the Compass”. But it’s the title track that absolutely takes the award most relentless riff assault. “Luminiferous” features the perfect combination of scatterbrained metal riffs and unhinged screaming and will likely become a setlist staple on the band’s upcoming tour.
Overall, Luminiferous is simply the best team in the league doing what they do best. In most cases, that’s winning, but in this case, that’s producing some of the finest metal on the planet. Don’t be surprised if you’ve heard this before, but, with Luminiferous, High on Fire serve up a strong contender for best metal record of year.