If HIGH ON FIRE released albums once a year, I bet there wouldn't be all this division and hand-wringing about whether each record lived up to the hype, or progressed enough from the last one, or was worthy to sniff the same air as frontman Matt Pike's previous combo, SLEEP (a great band, but — admit it — one that pretty much defines "overrated" at this point). If we got eight more songs of Pike's filth-caked proto-metal howl as often as we get, say, new MOTÖRHEAD records, people would be more content to rock out and knock off the overthinking.But we don't, so we do. And at first, it seems there's a bit of a point to it. After all, three years and a new record deal later, the first impression one takes away from "Snakes For the Divine" is that it's more of the same, another bone-scraping dirt sandwich of raw-nerve metal informed by VENOM and MOTORHEAD, chock full of Pike's pungent yowl and propelled by a lurching, lumbering rhythm section. While MASTODON and BARONESS take beardo metal into technical or progressive realms, HIGH ON FIRE remain committed to being epic through sheer wild-eyed, ham-fisted bludgeon and song length, jams like "How Dark We Pray" clattering like a rockslide down a mountain, churning and roiling with murky riffs and the most rudimentary melodies. The title cut, before it devolves into an album side all its own, pulls the same trick that the awesome "Devilution" did on "Blessed Black Wings" — a little hook, a little extra shot of trucker speed, and we think HIGH ON FIRE have reinvented themselves. At the very least, we credit them for having taken their HIGH ON FIRE-ness to a new and more intense level. They did, and they do, but it remains familiar — a fairly predictable sludgy crunge, all paint-peeling warbles and godly riff lurch. There's the chugging faster parts, the collapsing slow crumbles, and the ludicrous Robert Howard lyrics — check! It sounds like I'm dissing HIGH ON FIRE, but make no mistake, I'm happy with "Snakes For the Divine". "Frost Hammer"'s insistent pedal-to-the-floor quasi-thrash, with some amazing drumming from secret weapon Des Kensel, has made it arguably my favorite tune from the band to date, with "Fire Flood and Plague" a close second for the same reasons. Even when they use up all their tricks and return to their more typical sound, it's hard to front on the sheer brooding teeth-gritted intensity of "Bastard Samurai", the thrash of "Ghost Neck", or the sheer ice-blasted scope of the massive "How Dark We Pray". Is it enough to make "Snakes For the Divine" a mandatory purchase? I say yes. After all, for all the years they've been around, this is only their fifth album. The old adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" comes to mind — and if "progression" in the world of HIGH ON FIRE means ratcheting up the intensity and going for it, who's to say that's wrong? If it's not hitting you yet, give it some undivided attention, and let the barbaric, visceral throb get into your guts. Eventually, you'll get it.
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