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Album Review
De Vermis Mysteriis

De Vermis Mysteriis
by High On Fire

E1 Music

Review Date
3rd May 2012
Reviewed by
Michael Harvey

What is immediately evident from the beginning of Oakland, California metallers High On Fire's sixth album De Vermis Mysteriis (Latin for "Mysteries of the worm") is the thunderous and utterly locked in rhythm section of Des Kensel and Jeff Matz. A massive drum intro is then joined by Matt Pike's instantly recognisable and gritty guitar and Matz' furious bass, completing the aural triptych with aplomb. Compared to the great shredding intro that opened 2010's Snakes For The Divine and showcased Pike's nine-string skills, "Serums of Laio" is more a statement of intent from the band as a whole: "we are not gonna let up for this entire album". And they certainly do not. 

The loose concept behind the album is definitely worth a quick summation, because it is clear that Pike and the band are not just into summoning Lovecraftian riff geometry: "What if Jesus had a twin who died at birth to give Jesus his life? And then what if the twin became a time traveler right then? He lives his life only going forward until he finds this scroll from an ancient Chinese alchemist who derived a serum out of the black lotus." Over the top, amazing and metal-as-fuck all at the same time. Pike's guttural Lemmy-meets-chainsaw bark is more tightly honed here, due to the incredible job that producer and engineer Kurt Ballou has done on capturing the band. The way the sinewy guitar of "Bloody Knuckles" descends over Kensel's unrelenting drumming is exactly the kind of moment that makes great metal albums such a thrill to hear - the riffs bring drama to the rhythmic maelstrom, and combined with Pike's roar, the tumult the band create is simply overwhelming at times. 

Album centrepiece "King Of Days" throws into the mix the kind of slow-cooked riff sandwich that Pike's old (and recently reformed) band Sleep used to serve up, except here maybe not on as quite an epic scale. Coming as it does mid-album, it provides a bit of breather from the more Slayer-paced likes of "Spiritual Rites". Pike's command of the higher register of his guitar is becoming more and more ambitious, careening solos and melodic fills that go from blistering ("Fertile Green") to soulful, in a craggy-faced-mountain way ("Samsara"). The bluesy "Warhorn" concludes the album with Pike's vocals front and centre and a more dynamic delivery, giving one of the finest riffs on the album pride of place in the chorus. 

On De Vermis Mysteriis, High On Fire ably represent the energy and momentum that makes their live performances so incredible. Ballou's production deserves credit for this, to be sure, but the band are also one of the most ferocious power trios operating in heavy music right now. Their songwriting has always had a marked consistency, and the scope just gets grander across every album. Whilst High On Fire are not going to release anything on the colossal scale of Sleep's opus "Dopesmoker", they are not likely to run out of steam for crafting truly bludgeoning metal anytime soon. 


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