Sound — 7
High On Fire is a metal band founded by Sleep guitarist Matt Pike. When Sleep first broke up in the late '90s, Pike formed High On Fire with drummer Des Kensel and bassist George Rice. Since releasing their first album in 2000, the band has consistently toured and written new material. "Luminiferous," produced by mathcore guitarist Kurt Ballou, is High On Fire's seventh studio album. This is also the fourth album to feature bassist Jeff Matz, the band's third.
The focus of this album is its guitar work. Not only are the guitars the clearest and loudest elements of the mix, they are also the most interesting. The riffs are huge and oddly enough, melodic despite this being predominantly a thrash album. The largest impediment to the riffs becoming hummable is that few, if any, of them are played repetitively enough to be memorized. Each riff may be repeated for a couple of bars, but once the section changes, the song will likely never return to the riff. As a result, this album is not very chorus friendly. I wish Matt Pike had trusted his songwriting enough to create well-defined, repetitive sections because his current approach makes it hard for the songs to be memorable.
Matt Pike's guitar tone is full and meaty. It has none of the low-fi buzz that characterizes many thrash guitar tones. Instead, it is filled with the midrange that one can usually only get by cranking the power section of a good tube amp.
As to Pike's musicianship, I would describe it as above average thrash guitar. Most of his time is spent riffing, which makes the album sound much more melodic than it would otherwise. Still, the general tone of the album is harsh and biting.
An enigmatic trait of this album is its variety. All of the songs sound different, which gives the album a good deal of variety, however, since most of the riffs are not catchy, it can feel like the album is a long, drawn out haze. Furthermore, the album's lack of dynamics could easily bore a listener. This is why a more relaxed song like "The Cave" can sound so appealing; Pike takes a different, softer approach that makes the song stand out from the rest of the album. The lack of dynamics could also be a result of choices made by the producer. Yet, the producer somehow managed to make each instrument clear in the mix, which is no small feat given the punishing, unrepentant tones of the guitars and drums.
Lyrics — 6
Matt Pike's vocals add another element to the madness that is High On Fire. He sings loud and proud, sometimes exhausting his voice to the point that everything sounds raspy. He also often sounds incoherent, but this is almost a positive in that it adds to the volatile atmosphere of the album. Nevertheless, it would have been nice to see how the album could have turned out if there was more of a contrast between the sounds, since the guitar, drums, and vocals are born from similar breeds of mayhem.
Lyrics wise, I have read that High Щn Fire songs deal with exotic topics, maybe even alien invasions. But honestly, with this album, I can't pick out any lyrics except for maybe the title of each song. The main cause of this, aside from Matt Pike's beaten-up voice, is the mixing, which buries the vocals beneath the guitars. Of course, maybe there is a good reason why the vocals needed to be buried. Nevertheless, the circumstances of the vocals make it hard to give the album more points because of Matt Pike's vocal skill.
Overall Impression — 7
It's sad to think that this album will get little recognition in the thrash world. Sure, the album is not anywhere near perfect, but it contains some of the best thrash guitar work that I have heard in a while. With fast drums to keep the album charging ahead despite the meandering nature of the guitars, this album grabs the listener and never lets go. For me, the three best songs on this album are "The Black Pot," "The Cave," and the title track, "Luminiferous."