Lyrical inspiration can emanate from many sources, whether it be from personal experience, social issues, literature, or other entertainment fare. For "Snakes For The Divine
", High On Fire
's Matt Pike
chose a mixture of personal experience, and literature. One writer to have enamoured Pike
of late is David Icke
, whose conspiracy theories have garnered an unlikely following. Some take Icke
's theories as fact, while others view his assertions as entertaining stories.
Released in Europe by Century Media Records under exclusive license from E1 Music on March 8th, 2010 with its North American issue occurring slightly earlier on February 23rd, High On Fire
's fifth album "Snakes For The Divine
" was recorded at The Pass Studios with Greg Fidelman
, best known as the producer of November 2009 Slayer
album "World Painted Blood
". In its first week of release, the full-length shifted roughly 8, 600 copies in America, debuting at position sixty-three on the Billboard 200 chart. "Snakes For The Divine
"'s title cut was inspired by the writing of David Icke
, and longtime cover artist Arik Moonhawk Roper
designed an album cover to compliment this, artwork that features religious figure Lilith writhing in snakes.
The lyrics to "Frost Hammer
" were written by vocalist / guitarist Matt Pike
and bassist Jeff Matz
, their way of welcoming drummer Des Kensel
's child into the world. The track's music video was filmed on location in both Los Angeles, California and New York City with director Kevin Custer
for Toaster in the Tub. During mid May, High On Fire
will support Metallica
on several European dates.
On March 10th at 22:30 GMT, Hit The Lights
' Robert Gray
telephoned High On Fire
's manager, who passed her phone onto frontman Matt Pike
to discuss "Snakes For The Divine
UG: How are you Matt?
I'm alright. How are you, man?
I'm ok. Would it be alright if I began the interview?
Yeah, yeah - that'd be fine dude.
High On Fire issued its fifth studio album, 'Snakes for the Divine', in late February 2010. Could you talk about the songwriting process for that album, and how the album itself came to be?
"We all know that we're more than capable of doing great things."
I was reading some weird David Icke shit. We were working on music, and trying to make a new record - that's how it really came to be. The title 'Snakes for the Divine' is based on the premise that Adam and Eve weren't the first people on Earth, and Adam actually having a wife that was a Reptilian named Lilith. They were the first two people to actually take the reptilian DNA, and make shape shifting human beings that go between the fourth-dimensional, the Anunnaki, and human beings. Eventually, from ancient Mesopotamia, this spawned a thing called the Illuminati - the enlightened ones - coming up through the centuries, and choosing the kings, controlling your media, controlling your banking, blah blah blah. It's just theory at most points. I thought it'd make a great metal song, so I just went ahead and started writing about that. That's how the record came about, as far as the theme. We then had four hours of music on a digital recorder, which we sorted through and kept refining and refining. Then we found Greg Fidelman, and Greg Fidelman basically helped us turn that into a fifty-minute album or whatever it is. That's how 'Snakes for the Divine' came about.
During the songwriting process for 'Snakes for the Divine', you said that High On Fire collaborated a lot more?
Oh yeah. Jeff collaborated on 'Death Is This Communion'. He did a lot of writing, but I think he felt more comfortable on 'Snakes for the Divine'. Between me, Jeff and Des, everyone wrote a lot. It was good to experience that kinda bond as a band, I guess.
Did the songwriting process being more collaborative make 'Snakes for the Divine''s music possibly more varied?
Oh yeah - it definitely changed the sound a little bit. I think Jeff felt more comfortable. Des has gone through a couple of surgeries, so he had to stop and re-learn drums. I think that's made Des a better drummer because he's had to stop and then renew, and stop and renew, and stop and renew. I don't know. All of us are just a lot better at what we're doing, instead of getting old and burning out. I think we got old and got hungrier for what we've been trying to do all our lives. We all know that we're more than capable of doing great things.
So you feel that High On Fire is evolving with each and every record it releases?
I think we get better with every record (laughs). I'm totally astonished at this; I didn't think we could beat the last one, and I kinda feel like we did.
Is there more pressure with each and every record?
Oh yeah. We're always raising the bar on ourselves. This one is definitely difficult (laughs). It's so hard to play and perform and entertain, and do all of it all at once. It's fucking challenging, and I like the challenge of it, actually. Shit; it's time to fucking hit it or quit it, and we're not quitting it.
You also said that 'Snakes for the Divine' is more aggressive than 'Death Is This Communion'.
It's definitely different to me, and harder to play. The challenge part of it, to me, is a little bit better in terms of the songwriting process. I thought 'Death Is This Communion' was amazing, so don't get me wrong. I think with every album, we get better and better and better. I go back and listen to some of the stuff that we were doing, and I think "Oh my God dude; we can put that together now" (laughs).
Also, you said that 'Snakes for the Divine' is "a little less psychedelic" than 'Death Is This Communion'. Was there a reason for that?
I don't know. To me, every album is like painting a picture; you don't really know how the picture's gonna turn out until you've done it. It definitely took a different shape. I think it's a little more dark and heavy, and a little less psychedelic. The last one was a little bit psychedelic, but it was still dark, like H. P. Lovecraft. 'Snakes for the Divine' is more focused on the here and now, and a little more of a reality check.
With future albums, could you see High On Fire becoming heavier yet again?
Definitely. I never doubt that (laughs). Jeff, Des and I are just the fucking heaviest team you'll ever meet. They have me as the fucking wildman (laughs). We're pretty much soulmates, as far as music goes. We definitely have a rapport, something special that not a lot of people have.
How did Greg Fidelman come onboard to produce 'Snakes for the Divine'?
Greg came onboard through management, and actually, he was such a cool dude man and had so many good ideas. He's a great match for us, too. I would definitely work with him again; he was definitely the fourth gear on a lot of stuff that we were second guessing. Just with his experience in music, he's got a way of putting things together, and that's definitely one of his talents. When it comes to recording, he's definitely got an ear, and him having that made this album what it is.
So Greg was a great help in cutting down that four hours worth of music into what eventually made it onto 'Snakes for the Divine'?
Yeah. He definitely helped shave off the fat - he was kinda like the carver (laughs), and it wasn't forced on us at all. He just has a really open mind, and a very smart mind. He knows what he's doing man. We've never had a producer like him; everything he'd say or come up with, I'd say "Oh dude.. yeah.. good. Thank you", more so than "Oh dude, I don't wanna do that". He definitely put things into perspective.
How would you compare Greg Fidelman to Jack Endino for example, who High On Fire worked with on 'Death Is This Communion'?
"The title is based on the premise that Adam and Eve weren't the first people on Earth, and Adam actually having a wife that was a Reptilian named Lilith."
Jack's fucking great - the guy's fucking awesome. I think everybody we've worked with just has different styles. I definitely appreciated all the stuff that we did with Billy (Anderson, who produced 2000's 'The Art of Self Defense' and 2002's 'Surrounded by Thieves'), (Steve) Albini (who produced 2005's 'Blessed Black Wings'), and Endino, and now Fidelman. They all have their own thing; they all have their own strengths, and they all have their own weaknesses. You just gotta elaborate on your band and who you're working with, and constantly tailor it to what you're doing. It's good to experiment, and it's good to improv. You can't get better until you take a gamble, and changing it up here and there is definitely a good way of doing it.
Will High On Fire eventually settle on a specific producer, and have a long term relationship with that producer, recording several albums with them?
Yeah. I could see us recording several albums with Greg for sure - the guy's a fucking genius.
So you could see High On Fire settling on Greg Fidelman as its chosen producer?
Could do. I dunno. I never fucking plan my life; I just let things happen man - more and more of the improv (laughs).
Obviously, you've spoken about 'Snakes for the Divine''s title track. Lyrically speaking, what are some of the album's other tracks about?
One's about the loss of my mother and losing my faith, which is "How Dark We Pray". There's one about a friend stealing a girlfriend of mine and getting her hooked on heroin. He used to be a friend of mine, but he's not anymore. I never got that off my chest, so I just totally belted it out, which was therapy for me. It is therapy to me. I'm a little harsh in my music; it takes me a little while to take a different shape later in life. "Fire, Flood and Plague" is definitely about war and famine. There's so many different things. "Bastard Samurai" is pretty simple; the song's about a samurai that pretty much gets ambushed by ninjas all the time, and just kills everything in his way. Shit, what other ones are there? "Holy Flames of the Fire Spitter"'s premise was based off of a Pharaoh scribe who had himself buried when he died with his family, and they died in his tomb with him. Through his writing, he instigated a revolution in Egypt for the next Pharaoh who took over in that country. It was just some weird shit I was writing. There's a bunch of different themes on 'Snakes for the Divine'. I took too many drugs to fucking be precise, sorry (laughs).
(Laughs) That's ok. Considering "How Dark We Pray" was about the loss of your mother, and another track was about how your girlfriend was stolen from you by an ex-friend and ended up hooked on heroin, was it quite emotional for you recording such vocals?
Yeah. I get very emotional when I record lyrics - that's a fact, for sure.
For you, how does it feel when High On Fire plays those types of songs live?
All that shit is about exorcising my own personal demons. As far as lyrics go, I write pretty much ninety-five percent of the lyrics. Jeff wrote some stuff too, but that was a collaboration because me and Jeff were welcoming Des' kid into the world. A lot of things come about like this, but we had this joke; I called Des' kid a frost hammer, so that's how "Frost Hammer" came about.
In terms of 'Snakes for the Divine''s cover art, designed by Arik Roper, what was High On Fire searching for?
That's Adam's first wife Lilith who's writhing in snakes, and she was actually a Reptoid who ate her own daughter because the Reptoid DNA did not take right. Adam did with Eve what he couldn't do with Lilith. I just thought it was a really cool story.
Why did High On Fire opt to discontinue its relationship with Relapse Records?
We didn't discontinue the relationship - we still have a relationship with them. Our contract was sold, and that found a better deal for us. They got us to where we're at.
I didn't mean my question the way it came across. What I meant was: why did High On Fire opt to not release 'Snakes for the Divine' through Relapse, but through another record label?
We released a few records through Relapse, bought our contract out, and went to somewhere else. It's a pretty formal thing for someone to do in the business.
Thus far, how is High On Fire's relationship with E1 Music and Century Media going?
It's great man. Century Media is doing us over there, so we have a really good relationship with Century Media and E1. They're correlating and working together, which is really weird, but it makes sense to me because when the record industry starts going down, if people can combine and figure out different ways of marketing something, it's good business sense. There's strength in numbers.
You voiced a character on 'Metalocalypse' for the third season episode "FatherKlok".
Yeah. Skwisgaar Skwigelf quits Dethklok to find out who his father is, but there's no way of telling.
What was voicing a character for 'Metalocalypse' like?
It was great. I think Brendon Small is a genius; that guy's awesome, funny as shit. We're gonna be on tour with them for awhile, which is great because my good friend Gene - Gene Hoglan - actually drums for Dethklok. Once I knew who was playing drums in that band, I thought "Yes dude - that makes all the sense in the world".
Is there the possibility that you might contribute further voice work for 'Metalocalypse' in future?
"I think we got old and got hungrier for what we've been trying to do all our lives."
If Brendan asks, I guess so. I loved doing it. I just thought I could've probably done better than I did, but it came off pretty good. Dude, when you start talking stupid, that's when you know it's good; I said "That's a little stupid now - did I do ok?" (laughs).
(Laughs) And finally, what do you feel the future holds for High On Fire?
I don't know. I'm just gonna do my thing. I'll probably end up broken, dead, or in a rest home or something, but at least I did what I could to be part of a great band.
So you just intend to have fun? Rock 'n' roll?
Yeah, big time. Rock 'n' roll, and sex and drugs.
Thanks for the interview Matt, which is really appreciated.
Yeah. Thank you too.
And all the best with High On Fire.
And all the best with you - I'll see you when we're in the UK.
Yeah, definitely. Take care.
And you take care.
Interview by Robert Gray