To call High on Fire's sound "punishing" would not be hyperbole. While it may seem unrelenting and repetitive at first, it's a pain that becomes addictive after multiple rotations. For fans of the band's early work (see 2002's Surrounded by Thieves), their latest is a welcome return to form.
This band is not your average power trio. Matt Pike's approach to rhythm guitar is to create riffs with rhythmic textures that are driving but not without a Sabbath-like groove. He plays chords so full, and often so fast and precise, that it's the equivalent of what many guitarists are only able to pull off with single notes. His work has earned him cult status in the metal underground. (He was a member of '90s drone-metal gods Sleep, who have seen a recent resurgence.)
Pike's vocals, however, are so gravelly and abrasive, and his lyrics so out there, that it's best to view them as a rhythmic appendage rather than a melodic one. Drummer Des Kensel and bassist Jeff Matz have more than enough chops to keep up.
Opener "Serums of Liao" leaves no time for introductions by jumping right into classic High on Fire attack mode. Aside from the brief halftime psychedelic jam of "Samsara," the band hardly lets up for the next 52 minutes.
High on Fire have succeeded in carving out a distinct sound. As with their previous releases, De Vermis may start out as a slab of granite, but when the smoke clears, it's a diamond—a loud and heavy one.