Review: High On Fire ‘Cometh The Storm’

A lot has happened since we last heard from High On Fire. In 2018, the band released the Grammy wining Electric Messiah, guitarist/vocalist/riff lord Matt Pike dealt with some serious health-related issues stemming from his diabetes, including the partial amputation of one of his big toes. Then, longtime drummer Des Kensel, easily one of the best drummers in the whole of heavy music, retired from the band, leaving a crater-sized hole in High On Fire’s lineup which also led to some canceled tours.

High On Fire 'Cometh The Storm' Artwork
High On Fire ‘Cometh The Storm’ Artwork

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic shut the world down. Longtime bassist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Matz used some of the downtime to continue to explore his fascination with Turkish and Middle Eastern music, immersing himself in continuing to learn the bağlama, or Saz, as well as joining Cave In’s Stephen Brodsky and Converge’s Ben Koller in the un-real, dizzying metal of Mutoid Man.

Pike, anxious and restless, released his first solo album Pike Vs The Automaton while simultaneously dealing with some slightly negative press, as ‘controversy’ over his long fascination with conspiracy theories became an unwanted, and unnecessary distraction. It was fair to wonder when, and perhaps if, we’d see new music from High On Fire. Then, in 2021, they announced that the mighty Coady Willis (The Murder City Devils, Big Business, Melvins) had been recruited, which was massive news as, to my ears, he’s easily one of the top handful of drummers on the planet and the only guy who could effectively replace Kensel.

Willis is an absolute monster of a drummer, hard-hitting, technical, precise, and pummeling. I’ve borne witness to his skills, having seen him live many, many times while living in Seattle during The Murder City Devil’s late ‘90s heyday, to say nothing of seeing the jaw-dropping performances he’s since provided with Big Business and Melvins

Additionally, it’s super cool seeing him join Matz as he played in fellow Seattle garage punk legends Zeke, another band I saw habitually during my time in Seattle and it wasn’t uncommon for the two bands to regularly share the stage. So, the idea of a mid-90s garage punk, via Seattle, rhythm section in High On Fire put a huge smile on my face.

After some live performances to break in the new lineup, the band seemed rejuvenated and it was soon announced they would once again be entering the fabled God City Studio to work with their longtime producer, Converge’s guitar and engineering guru Kurt Ballou. This has been the longest wait between albums in their legendary career, and finally, at long last, Cometh The Storm is set to be unleashed upon this wretched world, and I’m here to proclaim this monster is well worth the six-year wait.

As with all the bands releases, there are instant familiarities, yet they’ve never made the same record twice. They immediately open the record, like a medieval army charging into battle, with the raging, pummeling Lambsbread, and right away it’s like hearing from an old friend you haven’t heard from in a long time. Pike’s gravely roar is in full effect, seemingly waxing on some ancient weed ritual, that’s accompanied by an extra nasty guitar tone, riffs galore, and plenty of gritty shred.

Matz, as always, brings the low-end ruckus, but the duality in his playing has always been the subtle nuances he weaves in between the monolithic guitar playing, and here, the middle breakdown has his influence all over it. Then there’s Willis. I was excited to hear his performance on the new material, and right away, it’s evident why he is the perfect fit as his punishment is offset by all sorts of crazy fills and crashes without missing a proverbial beat.

First single, Burning Down, is a fuzzed-up, chugging, riff monster calling back to the best of High On Fire’s mid-tempo attacks over the years, and it is in this tempo that the rhythm section really lock in, allowing all the space in the world to do what Pike does, riff his ass off, while unfurling some wizard level shred, wherein it always feels like he is literally doing battle with his guitar.

Trismegistus is a fucking crushing, rolling leviathan that oozes menace and long-ago evil doings. And while Pike will never be mistaken for Rob Halford, he sure does his best to belt out some vocal cord scraping screams throughout the song. The title track Cometh The Storm is a super cool, trippy, rolling, atmospheric rager that features a myriad of guitar histrionics while Willis shines showing all sorts of subtleties, while simultaneously beating the living shit out of his drums. The dynamics in play epic to say the least.

Cometh The Storm is an absolute monster of an album, a ten-ton aural leviathan, a thundering colossus in audio form…

Next up is the excellently sequenced instrumental Karanlık Yol, wherein Matz’s Turkish/Middle Eastern musical curiosities and inspiration blossom to fruition. He lets loose with some amazing electric and acoustic bağlama, an awesome, melodic yet thundering piece of music that proffers all sorts of dynamics, thus extracting some emotion from the listener.

High On Fire have always done killer instrumentals, like Sons Of Thunder from Blessed Black Wings, and they’ve always dabbled in old-world, Middle Eastern sounds like Khanrad’s Wall from Death Is This Communion but they’ve never quite come together as deftly as what’s displayed on Karanlık Yol.

The aggressive, mid-tempo, hammering, whirling riffage of Sol’s Golden Curse follows wherein Pike literally sounds like he’s strangling his guitar during parts of his wizard-level shred, while Willis and Matz provide the chest-rumbling low end to devastating effect.

One of the differences in Cometh The Storm from the last five or so records is we’ve made it to track seven without much of the furious stoner-thrash that’s been prevalent going all the way back to Blessed Black Wings, that is till we get to the aptly-named The Beating, where they proceed to go the fuck off with Willis lighting it up showing he’s beyond capable of executing both the seething thrash tempos and the battering mid-tempo cuts.

The track flows right into the grimy, filthy riffage of Tough Guy, another mid-paced pounder that is about as menacing of a track as they’ve ever laid to wax. Lightning Beard ups the tempo and boasts another fantastic riff, some cool bass noodles, all the while Willis is the octopus-armed hammer throughout. Hunting Shadows reminds me a bit of Drowning Dog from Electric Messiah, perhaps it’s the melody, yes, there’s melody in High On Fire’s music, but that melody gives way to an angrier, crunchier chorus, wherein Pike rightfully voices his displeasure and disgust with our collective politics and the state it’s left our world.

The album reaches its conclusion as the massive, fuzzed-out, doomy strains eventually gives way to the heavy, pounding, epic Darker Fleece, which is a bit of a throwback to their early years, both in tempo, riffage, and vocal delivery as seen on their 2000 debut The Art Of Self Defense and serves as the perfect closer to a truly killer, heavy sonic experience.

What’s to say? Cometh The Storm is an absolute monster of an album, a ten-ton aural leviathan, a thundering colossus in audio form, the sonic equivalent of an end-times harbinger of death from the second the listener hits ‘play’ and Lambsbread is walloped into consciousness to the last dying strains of Darker Fleece as it fades out.

It’s an album that was expertly crafted by three men who are at the absolute pinnacle of their respective instruments in the realm of heavy music, and it goes without saying that Pike himself is a living legend, at this point, sitting right next to his hero Tony Iommi. It’s so killer having High On Fire back, and Cometh The Storm is not only locked into the album of the year conversation, it just may earn the band another Grammy.

Label: MNRK Heavy
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Spotify | Twitter | Instagram

Scribed by: Martin Williams