High on Fire: Surrounded by Thieves

High on Fire
Surrounded by Thieves

One need only look at High on Fire's stage setup--a bass drum the size of a small Clydesdale, multiple full-stack amplifiers--to know that they're not messing around. They WILL blow your eardrums straight out of your head. They WILL fell you with sheer sonic force. You WILL feel their music--and not in the soul-stirring way, but in the bowel-stirring one.

Live, they're a force to be contended with, to be sure. But in album form things are a little dicier for the longhaired Oakland trio. What the hell is lead axman Matt Pike, formerly of stoner-rock legend Sleep, growling about? On the sci-fi/fantasy quasi concept album Surrounded by Thieves, the followup to 2000's The Art of Self-Defense, the stoner doom-metal superstar blusters about all manner of epic dorky things like wolves, yetis, and the tundra. Apparently, if you can understand the lyrics to closing track "Razorhoof," you can understand the whole concept behind the album. We tried. Somehow "Razorhoof coming down/Coming down/Coming down/Antlers sharp, sharp to kill...Fearless wolf, bring it on/Bring it down, bring it down" didn't exactly make it all clear for us.

Regardless, High on Fire make music that hits you like a kidney punch. Pike favors tones so low they'd give whales boners. For this reason, the first track, "Eyes and Teeth" is deceptive: The intro is so low you'll be tempted to keep cranking the volume. Resist the impulse, or you'll get blown clear across the room when the audible-to-humans portion starts, exploding with unforgiving drums that snap and crush, brain-blistering guitar licks, satanic caterwauls, a bass that pulses like gurgling lava, and low-end bolstered riffs that are so relentless, beefy, and hypnotic they seem oblivious to the rest of the universe. Imagine a spindly, wheedling Guitar Center geek being jumped by a gang of cinder-block-wielding street thugs and you still won't get how brutal--and yet really good--High on Fire are. Pike may have smoked enough pot to kill a donkey, but he's got all his senses at work here.

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