If some sharks stop moving, they drown. The same could be said of metal bands. As long as they’re ripping through electrifying riffs and kicking ass, it’s all good. But if the tempo slows, suddenly a band’s weaknesses – rambling, nonsensical lyrics, questionable singing – might kill the group. Such is the case with High on Fire. The trio’s latest album, Snakes for the Divine, is a soaring bit of Motorhead-style thrash, the kind of metal that skate punks can enjoy. The Motorhead comparison sticks throughout – the bass parts are thick, the beats are rapid fire and vocalist/guitarist Matt Pike recalls the froggy, gravelly voice of one Lemmy Kilmister. As long as the trio sticks to that formula, they rock.
Whenever they deviate, like on the slowed down number “Bastard Samurai,” shit stinks. Without 88.8 gigawatts of rock, the tune comes off as maudlin and goofy. Plus, it’s six-and-a-half minutes long, which is a bit of a time commitment for something that isn’t very good. The crap-cherry is that the super-aggro-ultra-sweet title is wasted.
Ah, but when the band hits that sweet spot o’ rock, everything is beautiful. Take for example track two, “Frost Hammer.” The album’s lyrics are split between incoherent nonsense and painfully literal fantasy epics. “Frost Hammer” contains the latter. The chorus is “Plateau of Leng / Winter in veins / Hammers arise / To melt through the ice / Frost hammer.” That’s stupid. But there are so many spastic drum fills and searing guitar solos that it doesn’t matter. It’s fun, dang it. Intense, intricate musicianship makes the song a winner.
I feel bad being so backhanded about this album, because it’s an enjoyable high energy trip even though the critic in me takes issue with several factors. The production is slightly too glossy; it sounds clean but not live. But it’s fun. The album turns into a blur after a while. But it’s fun. I can’t relate to the record on a deeper emotional level. But it’s fun.
High on Fire succeeds at pummeling eardrums. That’s just what they do. They’re not opposed to reaching outside that comfort zone and entering stoner/sludge territory, which is commendable to an extent but unnecessary. Snakes for the Divine continues the band’s love of sick riffs and breakneck speeds, emphasizing the “power” in power trio. So while the album doesn’t make any Big Artistic Statements™, it doesn’t make any claim to do so. Snakes is, simply, a badass metal album.