Review: Pike vs The Automaton

In the canon of heavy music, metal, stoner, doom, or any riff-based sub-genre, any conversation about guitar player influence, at this point, must include Matt Pike near the very top. The legendary Sleep guitarist and High On Fire guitarist and frontman has been melting faces and crushing skulls, with his bottomless well of Iommi-inspired riffs, Lemmy-esque charge, and singular tone and style, definitively, since Sleep dropped Holy Mountain WAY back in 1992 (although purists will point to 1991 with the release of Volume One, but their impact, I’d argue, wasn’t felt until Holy Mountain), since then, Pike’s influence can be felt across all forms of heavy music spanning a jaw-dropping thirty years. Sleep, it goes without saying, are icons of stoner/doom rock, easily being one of the original three bands you can site as ground zero for the genre.

Pike vs The Automaton

High On Fire, I’d argue, are no-less influential. I mean, shit, The Art Of Self Defense dropped in 2000 (personal note: I saw HOF on this tour at a Man’s Ruin Records showcase, along with Acid King, and Porn (Men of) at the, since destroyed by the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, OK Hotel in downtown Seattle, July 2000. All of twenty people were there and HOF blew the fucking roof off the place as you can imagine. My first experience seeing Pike live.) and went on to influence an entire generation of stoner rockers.

Additionally, Pike kept pushing forward, always evolving High On Fire’s sound and songwriting, without sacrificing one iota of the relentless, crushing power that comes blasting out of his signature Les Paul. I mean, Pike is a full-blown riff lord and an absolute shred king. Who, outside of Tony Iommi, is his peer in this department? People might be tempted to point to Josh Homme, due to his work with Kyuss, equally influential, but Homme went the commercial radio, hanging-out-with-rock-royalty route, while Pike kept it grimy, heavy, and underground. So, thirty years in, I don’t think it’s hyperbole to put him on the Mt. Rushmore of riff lords, right next to Lord Iommi himself.

Pike vs The Automaton is the riff-icon’s first solo record. Born out of pandemic-lockdown, not being able to link up with High On Fire’s no-less talented bass wizard Jeff Matz due to the pandemic, climbing the walls in Portland as the fires of 2020 turned the skies orange during the day, while social justice and political upheaval raged at night, Pike snatched Jon Reid, former drummer of Lord Dying, as well as the drummer in Pike’s wife band, and proceeded to write what went on to become Pike vs The  Automaton.

The record blasts out of the gate with the one-two-punch of dual High On Fire-esque ragers Abusive and Throat Cobra. Abusive boasts some instantly crushing Pike riffage, as he gives us a sample of his repertoire, fast riffs, mid-tempo riffs, and face-melting leads, behind Reid’s galloping drums. Throat Cobra takes this and ups the ante big time. An absolute raging, pummeling example of d-beat, heavy Motörhead worship at its pinnacle. Pike screams his ass off during the heavy-as-fuck, yet catchy-as-fuck verse, with some great riff work, a nice melodic breakdown in the middle, and some truly ripping shred from the man himself. I swear, when absorbing this record for the review, I hit ‘repeat’ constantly on this track. Among the biggest monsters Pike has ever crafted.

It’s awesome to see Matt Pike craft a record like this, with elements of both his bands, yet completely different…

Switching gears, Trapped In A Midcave is closer, tonally, and riff-wise to Pike‘swork in Sleep. A slower tempo, that does nothing to take away from the heaviness. The song’s accented by some rumbling bass, and interesting percussion elements. Land, the second single, and featuring Mastodon‘s Brent Hinds, is unlike anything in Pike’srecorded career. A bluesy, acoustic, southern-stomp, featuring stand-up bass, road-weary lyrics, and Hinds banjo, it’s a real gem. Well-written, well-performed, melodic, introspective, and catchy, to say nothing of the audio surprise in hearing Pike in this setting.

The first single, Alien Slut Mum, is a pummeling, psychedelic riff-monster with hints of industrial crashing, no doubt in keeping with the title of the record. Apollyon sends us back into trippy territory. A slow-burn build that opens up into some heavy riffage and signature Pike leads inserted at just the right spot for optimal effect. A long, cool, heavy psychedelic song. It’s great hearing Pike stretch his legs and get weirder than he has in Sleep and High On Fire.

Acid Test Zone flips back into d-beat, ripper mode. A crazy, heavy, distorted, psychedelic, hardcore punk rock song, blasted out at full volume, complete with barked, distorted vocals. Latin American Geological Formations really see Pike get his weird on. Filled with odd percussion, crazy noises, and huge riffs, all while being weirdly melodic, it is one of the centerpieces of a record filled with centerpieces. Pike vs The Automaton closes out with the epic Leaving The Wars Of Woe. A ten-plus-minute clinic in heavy psychedelic riffing and dynamics that features High On Fire’s Jeff Matz rocking a Turkish electric saz.

Pike vs The Automaton is great from start to finish. Not a single track is even worth considering skipping. It’s awesome to see Matt Pike craft a record like this, with elements of both his bands, yet completely different. The psychedelic, weird feel of the album, the quasi-industrial underpinnings, the trippy effects are all amplified by Pike’s longtime friend and producer Billy Anderson, who did a masterful job with the sound. I mean if Pike just released Land as a single with Hinds it would be universally hailed in the global heavy underground, but there is so much more to this album.

I hear High On Fire are back to work with new drummer extraordinaire Coady Willis, so if this is just a one-off, born out of the pandemic, it will find itself sitting nicely next to any of Pike’s previous work. As it stands now, it’s early, but this will most certainly be mentioned in the year end best-of lists. All hail.

Label: MNRK Heavy
Band Links: Official | Bandcamp | Instagram

Scribed by: Martin Williams