Album Review: HIGH ON FIRE Electric Messiah
“When Lemmy was still alive I always got compared to Lemmy, so I had this dream where he got pissed at me," Matt Pike said in the buildup to Electric Messiah, High on Fire's eighth studio album. The sludgy and stoned trio's vocalist and guitarist's comparisons to the late Mötörhead mastermind are certainly fitting. Pike's grisly howl shares commonplace with Lemmy's gritty snarl—both look damn good without a shirt. In addition to those mentioned, both bands have longevity and a legacy. On Electric Messiah, Pike and his brothers in riffs, Des Kensel (drums) and Jeff Matz (bass) further cement that legacy as one of metal's consistently great bands.
High on Fire has gotten consistently better as well. Especially since they began working with Kurt Ballou on 2012's De Vermis Mysteriis. The collaboration between the famed producer and the Oakland trio continues on Electric Messiah. Like De Vermis Mysteriis and Luminiferous before it, the new album features some of the band's most infectious tracks yet. Given their 20-year history and stacked discography, that seems like a tall order. However, songs like the title track and "Freebooter" fit feverish riffing and undeniable groove into sub-five minute samples. They rival classic tracks like "Rumors of War" and "Snakes for the Divine," which are staples in their live sets.
In addition to these quick rippers, High on Fire delves into long-form epics like "Steps of the Ziggurat/House of Enlil" and "Sanctioned Annihilation"—the former is perhaps the album's strongest moment. Pike describes the track as his rock opera. “The song is the creation story of the Sumerians, the weird dichotomy of two gods fighting over power. I put it into two parts because it’s my Sumerian rock opera," Pike describes. "At the end, I play three different characters: I play the two brothers that clash, and I play Isis, and there’s a high, medium, and low part. It’s very theatrical. I felt like Meat Loaf doing it, but at the same time Bryan Sours at the studio went, ‘I don’t know what you just did, but that’s fucking cool, just keep doing that!”
In that quote, it reveals something about Pike, his bandmates, and his collaborators. They're having fun. 20 years into this project and they're still having a blast making music and trying new things. It certainly shows in the quality as well. Time passes and for some musicians, they become jaded, complacent, or unable to write or play like they used to. Yet, High on Fire pushes onward with the same vigor and intensity that came with The Art of Self Defense and Surrounded by Thieves.
Where some great classic bands falter by the two-decade mark, High on Fire is seemingly at their strongest point. It's their best album yet, according to Pike, and it would be hard pressed to disagree with him completely. It does make a stiff competition though. Pike and company have never released a dud—that's another thing he and Lemmy have in common. Electric Messiah stands as High on Fire's most diverse and energetic album in recent years and the band is tighter and powerful as ever. It's as if the spirit of Lemmy now resides in Matt Pike.