"Blessed Black Wings"


01. Devilution
02. The Face of Oblivion
03. Brother In the Wind
04. Cometh Down Hessian
05. Blessed Black Wings
06. Anointing of Seer
07. To Cross the Bridge
08. Silver Back
09. Sons of Thunder

RATING: 9/10

Clattering right into the massive "Devilution", a drum-driven barn-burner worthy of MOTÖRHEAD, HIGH ON FIRE up the adrenaline level on third full-length, "Blessed Black Wings". The Steve Albini recording leaves all the rough edges, managing to sound massive and metallic and dirty and grimy all at once. And unlike the somewhat murky aura of "Surrounded By Thieves", "Blessed Black Wings" tosses Matt Pike's warts-and-all voice right up front, adding an authoritative and powerful sense of individuality to these songs, even as they maintain the Valhalla drone of past efforts.

At their best, HIGH ON FIRE just churn, like a thresher in hell or something. Des Kensel's propulsive beats flow like boulders clattering down a mountainside, and the guitar and bass grind over top of them, filthy but nuanced, primitive with some surprising flashes of ingenuity. Once you penetrate the dirt-caked exterior, you'll find a lot of diversity on "Blessed Black Wings", from the aforementioned Lemmy yowl to "Brother In the Wind", an ancient-sounding pounder where Pike sounds like a dying wizard. Pike's limitations as a singer actually work to his advantage — when he's stretching way too far, as on the end of "The Face of Oblivion", his anguished cry is made that much more compelling for all its cracks and straining. Music this primitive-minded and excavated from tar pits would be ill-served by a note-perfect singer — Pike's voice, like the rest of HIGH ON FIRE (not to discount the lava-thick tones of new bassist Joe Preston, late of MELVINS and THRONES among others) have evolved in sync and grown intertwined together.

Albini's set-it-and-forget-it method allows the crunge to seep out of the amps, rattling and humming as it lumbers across Zepplonian landscapes, ham-handedly obliterating large chunks of real estate. "Blessed Black Wings" is the analog evolution of the unwashed, unapologetic metal of the early '80s, VENOM and CIRITH UNGOL and CELTIC FROST and old DARK ANGEL, dragged through an alternate reality that never included quantizing or ProTools or click tracks. The sweat stink and basement ethos of those bands, if not their actual method of attack, lives in HIGH ON FIRE, and lies at the phlegmy heart of "Blessed Black Wings". A sooty, swarthy antidote to the robot metal being cranked out by the rest of the major indies, and one of the year's most welcome punches to the gut.


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