Another in a recent batch of strong discs reviewed this week, HIGH ON FIRE's "Death is this Communion" sees the band expanding its sound, if only slightly, but continuing to serve up its patented smoke-billowing locomotive metal. The disc is the trio's most varied to date, weaving atmospheric elements throughout, changing up the pace, and coloring its compositions with Matt Pike's guitar prowess and Des Kensel's powerful drumming. The Jack Endino production offers both instrument clarity and a big, ominous sound.The last couple of HIGH ON FIRE releases offered more of an immediate impact. "Death is this Communion" by contrast is more of a grower, owing to the aforementioned increase in dynamics. The album features plenty of elephant stampede rockers, such as the classic fare of "Fury Whip" and "Return to Nod". It is the beginning acoustic section of "Waste of Tiamat" in which HIGH ON FIRE unveils its more textured approach though, albeit in this case one still infused with thunderous rhythms and a worthwhile melody to boot. The title track is driven by a rumbling bass line and a tribal-esque drum beat, and offers another one of the disc's more memorable choruses. Guitarist Matt Pike's vocals are at their most intelligible throughout, though still smoke-damaged and edgy.
The atmospheric vibes are out in full force for the lively acoustic/drum interlude "Khandrad's Wall" and earth-shaking drum interlude "Headhunter". Instrumental "DII" even includes subtle keyboard parts. The band blends a catchy melody with the slamming groove of "Rumors of War", the track one of the album highlights. A vaguely psychedelic vibe permeates the otherwise heavy "Cyclopian Scape", at least in part the result of a trippy acoustic introduction and a slow, bluesy ending. "Death is this Communion" will require a couple of extra spins to fully absorb, and that is a good thing. HIGH ON FIRE makes marginal steps forward with this one, yet is in no danger of alienating its fan base. The punters will certainly rejoice.