Flaming sludge

Feb 22, 2006 at 12:00 am

It's ugly and alluring in one glance. It's loud, abrasive and dynamic in one listen. And it all works together well for the doomy, beautifully dreadful High on Fire, and its spokesman and singer-guitarist Matt Pike.

As a kid, Pike began his metal journey in true metal fashion — by getting high and listening to Sabbath.

"This guy that I grew up with, Danny Joe, made me do bong hits and put on Master of Reality. It kind of changed my life a little bit," Pike says, laughing.

Pike's first band, Sleep, disintegrated into a sort of bong haze back in 1998 after some individual and collective problems.

"Some really horrible things were happening to us then," Pike says. "My mom was dying of a brain tumor, and we had lost a member. It was just an emotionally draining period. I went insane during that part of my life."

High on Fire grew out of Pike's need to just play. "Everybody in Sleep quit all at once. I didn't want to fucking quit."

Along with Pike's weighty, nearly note-free vocal charge and thorny guitar shreds are Joe Preston's thunder-rumble bass and Des Kensel's tribal drumming.

Pike's voice is the first thing you notice when High on Fire hits the stage — picture Lemmy and Slayer's Tom Araya harmonizing in the same room.

Like the Motörhead shouter who's no stranger to speed jags, Pike has his own routine before stepping on stage. "I take a couple shots of whiskey," he says. "It warms you up a little bit."

Although a High on Fire song seems to be one skid mark of the same earthshaking sound, there's real skill and technique involved, even if it's a little fucked-up. Pike is known for his conjuring of demons and flip guitar theatrics, which, I can say, far exceed most so-called "virtuosos."

Though some jazz theory at the local community college helped the guitarist out, Pike says he "just sat around and learned how [to play]. It's a little abstract." Pike's a big Les Paul lover too: "My main concert guitars are Gibsons. I love 'em."

High on Fire scorch young minds on the group's three studio records, and even more so at live shows. If you've never seen the band in person, at least you can hear it: Live at the Containment Fest '03 (Relapse) simply smokes. It even ends with a cover of Venom's "Witching Hour."

"I love Venom," Pike says. "I got into them in the '80s when they were really big."

Beyond the bulldozing weight of his music — beyond the singer's booze-warm voice and overdriven Les Paul — Pike's a well-read, thoughtful, if not theologically minded dude. "I try to find the truth in what I read," he says. "The almighty exists in all of us. The more you let your light shine, it just reflects the holy being that you are. It's like the old saying: 'The kingdom of heaven is within us.' It's true."

In all, Pike and his two other horsemen of the apocalypse break ground in sludgy metal. They'll have you running for the toilet before you can begin to understand what you're hearing. It's that cool.


Vernon Reid & Masque
Other True Self
Favored Nations Entertainment

In the beginning you're hit with speeding guitars and keyboards. Later on, reggae shadows lurk in jazz and fusion corners. Infuse a bit more kickass guitar tomfoolery and you won't be close to grasping what the Living Colour guitarist is doing on his third solo joint. Reid and crew don't fuse everything though; rather, they blend jazz and reggae in novel ways. Reid's guitar appears throughout the album, usually in an overbearing, overdriven blare that always commands attention. Although Reid plays the most notes here, there's noble input from bassist Hank Schroy, and keyboardist Leon Gruenbaum manages to duel Reid at times. While Reid's not in his own little world full of dark ambient effects and moves, fusion lovers looking for a challenge should eat this up when it hits the streets in April.

Sixteen-year-old Kent Alexander is a Metro Times editorial intern. Sent comments to [email protected]