Northern Quarter Live used to be Moho Live. Re-brand. Why don’t they call it The Tool Shed or Mr Donger’s or The Fanny Dungeon? Much better names. Anyway, I paid £3.90 for a small bottle of luke-warm Peroni (why oh why???? Not like £1.50 for a pint of Sam Smiths like the 1in12 Club) and surveyed the action. I can’t really be arsed talking about the support bands that the record label had foolishly stuffed on the bill in order to plug their tedious product. Go on then, I will. Both bands were really fucking dull brother – they oozed that kind of ‘sign us up to a major label now, we are crazy muthas, we love ourselves and live to pose in photos and dream of moodily pouting on the cover of Kerrang!’- type vibe. I found myself leaning warily on the pillars and yawning and rubbing my face and wishing I had turned up later and wondering what I was missing on telly. Sorry about that, but I am an independent reviewer and I’m not in the habit of writing lies because I’m expected to by record companies and other insidious non-impartial institutions.
Lizzard had a kind of ultra-polished nineties Incubus-type sound, which I loathe anyway. Radio-friendly proper rock for people that don’t like extreme stuff or indeed anything that is remotely ‘interesting’. Jumping Jack (oh good name lads – very cool) were a little more impressive in terms of the boundless sweat and energy that they thrust into their metal, but Jesus X. Christ this kind of lame macho rock makes me want to give up on music full stop. It reminded me of how far I am psychologically and spiritually from the roaring fist-pumping world of mainstream metal and rock. The Jumping Jack t-shirt being sold on the stall said the band’s name and then proclaimed the title of their ep ‘Cows and Whiskey’ underneath. That says it all really. Crap. But let’s not give these dated dullards any more time then they deserve – onto the main course.
A power trio of sufficient sonic magnitude to fight all the Gods in Asgard, plus a cohort of mountain trolls with itchy arses, High On Fire exploded like a million V8 engines with ‘Serums of Liao’, the furious opener from the last album (albeit slightly disappointing as an overall long player) and then blasted like a blackened hell-fart into the jaw cracking weight of ‘Frost Hammer’. This is how you do it you daft bloody support bands with your silly pretensions to metal power. I got a most fortuitous view of the band by sitting some way up the stairs in front of the stage thus giving me an elevated position over the gurning moshing sweaty-pleb minions. I was able to gently tap my feet in a most genteel manner and relax as one would expect of a Sunday evening. Most befitting to a gentleman in his early forties with a grey-flecked beard and an Honours degree in Sociology. And out of the three damn fine musicians who was I concentrating on the most? Why it had to be sticksman extraordinaire Des Kensel. Even though Matt Pike’s enormous tattooed bloat-body draws in one’s eyes like a great flesh magnet, ‘twas the Filthy Phil Taylor of the West Coast post-sludge generation who demanded the most visual attention. See how his bulky arms move so fast over the two mounted toms and big floor tom and see how they rip into his snare with deft ferocity and startling pummelling accuracy. Basically he plays much like a fine jazz-fusion drummer, say Billy Cobham or Jack DeJohnette. Confident and utterly immersed in the beat, committing to outrageous fills that most professionals wouldn’t even consider attempting so frequently for fear of losing time. Woooooooooooohh go Des! – destroy all rhythmic opposition with your unnatural jungle power.
‘10,000 Years’ was so awesomely lovely in its unbridled weight and beguiling craft that I nearly wept hot serotonin tears – think now of the huge and ponderous John Bonham-esque drum intro and the grumbling growling bass of Jeff Matz loping over the beat like a dancing wolf-demon. ‘The Art of Self Defense’ album is my favourite I think (check out the new Southern Lord reissue – a thing of beauty) and how lucky we all were to be treated not just to this most gorgeous and undulating master-class in how to write and play a truly sublime heavy song, but also to ‘Last’ (how fucking ace is that song and how fucking ace are Matt Pike’s Lemmy-esque vocals on it) and the mighty ‘Blood From Zion’. Oh praise Pike for he is the grinning Buddha of riffology bar none, and his guitar tone sounds like ‘Dopesmoker’ all the time. How could you ask for more, you greedy death-puppy?
A bucking and spitting ‘Devilution’ and a whip-cracking ‘Fertile Green’ (check the insanely fast Dave Lombardo-style drumming) further propelled the tormenting trio through a warp drive of riff-fuelled ultra-violence, re-igniting the small yet not too cosy mosh-pit and causing foul-smelling sweat to drip off the walls. ‘Rumors of War’ was met with the most fierce joy of the night, a three minute dynamite boom of ominous metallic malice that spoke aloud of the terror and exhilaration of the oncoming battle. ’DII’ followed, as it does on the album, a grandiose instrumental of epic scale. The majestic ‘Speedwolf’ was unfortunately the only selection from the grand and super-dense ‘Surrounded by Thieves’ album, and holy tit, how good did it sound brother. The night ended on a combustive trio composed of ‘Fury Whip’ (for me the decapitating highlight of the gig), ‘Madness of an Architect’ (which is one of the doomiest and strongest and heaviest tracks off the new album – a true classic that will feature in most future sets methinks) and a cataclysmic and evilly muscular ‘Snakes for the Divine’, which served as the trio’s last convulsing shot before exiting the stage. If you’re going to Roadburn this year you are in for a right royal treat because this band remain just as musically and conceptually great as ever through the years, able to draw on the unbridled quality of their extensive six album back catalogue at leisure. In total, tonight was seventy five minutes of what High On Fire do best – filthy bludgeoning speed-rock that is as heavy as the universe and as powerful as an exploding star. Timeless stuff for any greasy fucker who loves it FAST and LOUD, and in a sense, High On Fire are the genetic descendants of Motorhead with a hot dash of Slayer, baked through with the superdopepunktone of Sleep. I can’t fault them, even though ‘De Vermis Mysteriis’ let me down a little I have approached it with fresh and open ears in the last few months and I find hidden joys to its labyrinthine riff-sprawl. What a damn fine rock band – I would watch them every night in heaven if there was one.
Scribed by: Adam Stone
Photos by: Lee Edwards