August 25, 2015 High On Fire Wreak Havoc on NYC 8-15-15 w/ Venomous Maximus, Lucifer, & Pallbearer
It has been some time since Heavy Metal titans High On Fire have partaken in regular touring. In fact, to some fans it has been two or three years since they last saw the band, but weeks prior to the release of their seventh album, Luminiferous, back in May, High On Fire announced plans for a month long Summer Tour. With two full weeks in the books, on Saturday, August 15th, New York City’s Irving Plaza played host to an evening of unparalleled hard and heavy Rock as High On Fire headlined. Opening for High On Fire were Venomous Maximus, Lucifer, and Pallbearer. It was an eclectic mix of Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, Stoner Rock, Doom Metal, and good old fashioned Rock and Roll. The theme of the night was, in a word, loud. All four bands rattled their Orange and Marshall stacks while the drummers for each band wore out their bass drums and cymbals. Of course, anyone can be loud. The four bands on the bill this night played music awash in dynamics and teeming with complexity.
Houston, Texas’ Venomous Maximus kicked off the evening with a set of blistering Thrash Metal. Frontman Gregg Higgins was an absolute wildman laying down a classic Thrash riff on opener “Moonchild” while delivering howling vocals. Guitarist Christian Larson decorated the song with perfectly synchronized lead runs. The rhythm section of Bongo (drums) and Trevi Biles (bass) kept the pocket on point with clamoring bass and explosive drumming. “Dark Waves,” from the band’s latest release, 2015’s Firewalker, was a rollicking slab of Doom Rock mixed with the sound of NWOBHM. Down-tuned guitars bellowed from the darkly-lit stage, twisting maniacally over a pulsating rhythm. “Give Up the Witch” was a spiraling masterpiece of classic Heavy Metal as the band laid down a catchy, yet dense melody along with intricate guitar work and harrowing vocals. Clearly weaned on classic Thrash and ’70s and early-’80s Heavy Metal, Venomous Maximus delivered a forceful set; an excellent primer for the evening’s next act, Germany’s Lucifer.
Compiled of members of numerous active and former bands (Angel Witch, Septic Tank, Cathedral, Acid Reign, Death Penalty, Winters, Cryogenic, Dies Ater, Ferox, Informer, Vinterkrig, and The Oath), Germany’s Lucifer brought the various styles of those bands together for a set of mind-bending music. Lead Singer Johanna Sadonis (The Oath) took center stage, looking like a Heavy-Metal version of Stevie Nicks with flowing blond hair, giving off an aura of sorcery and witchcraft. Gaz Jennings (guitar) went heavy on the fuzz and distortion with his Gibson SG throughout the set. “Anubis” started Lucifer’s fiery, brooding set of deafening, intricate Rock and Roll. Anubis is the Greek pronunciation of the ancient Egyptian god Anpu who was the ruler of the underworld, master of mummification, funeral rites, and protection of the dead. It was perfect subject matter for a tune with a plodding, thick, fuzzy riff that found Sadonis countering the lead of the music with an enchanting, yet powerful vocal.
“Anubis” flowed directly into the Sludge-Rock of “Abracadabra.” A slurry of drawn-out, down-tuned riffing quickly evolved into wild riffing from Jennings as he channeled the best of classic, hard, Rock and Roll with scorching work on lead guitar. “Sabbath” returned the band to the occult, leaning on the sound of obscure 70’s hard and heavy Rock and Roll. Syncopated rhythms from Drummer Andrew Prestidge kept the song from falling into a swarm of genre clichés as it continually took unexpected turns and had a dynamism not often seen in this genre. Set closer “Izrael” found Lucifer not being afraid to wear their influences on their sleeve. A riff that sounded like classic-era Deep Purple was kept on course with a chugging bass line from Dino Gollnick while Sadonis’ banshee wail put an exquisite stamp on the band’s vigorous, electrifying set.
Little Rock, Arkansas’ Pallbearer took the doom to eleven with their labyrinthian set which clocked in around the forty minute mark, despite only covering four songs. Featuring Brett Campbell (guitars/vocals), Devin Holt (guitars), Joseph Rowland (bass), and Mark Lierly (drums), Pallbearer laid down thinking-man’s Doom. Whereas many band’s with an affinity for this sound rely on the sheer noise and magnitude of a simple drone, Pallbearer offers listeners a clever, irregular take on the genre. They are definitely doomy, but they are also sophisticated as they meld the depth of Crazy Horse with the sonic sensibilities of Hawkwind.
“Worlds Apart” opened the set with a song teeming with heaviness, but also one that was uncommonly melodic. A stretched-out lead on guitar coupled with pleading vocals eventually took off into wild soloing tempered by innumerable cymbal crashes. “Devoid of Redemption” moved along in the same vein, but personified the band’s wide range as it eventually crashed and burned into an impossibly heavy, psychedelic freak out. Licks and runs usually relegated to the London underground of 1968 were on full display. Set closer “Foreigner” found Pallbearer in new territory yet again as they belted out what could best be described as a Doom-Metal power ballad; one only encompassing the best of the style, and avoiding all the trappings. An elongated lead, punctuated with perfectly-timed cymbal crashes and subtle fills on drums laid down the foundation for a pleading vocal. Resisting the urge to jam out, the song never broke pace and took off into a high-paced format, instead it plunged into an out and out dirge.
Touring in support of the aforementioned Luminiferous, Oakland, California’s High On Fire brought their delightful blend of Stoner/Doom/Heavy Metal to the stage at Irving Plaza for a set of firebrand music that had the sold-out crowd in a state of constant fist-pumping and head-banging. Featuring Matt Pike, of Stoner-Rock Gods Sleep, on guitar and vocals, Jeff Matz on bass, and Des Kensel on drums, High On Fire put the power in power-trio. Taking all the elements of classic Heavy Metal and Hard Rock, Thrash, Stoner and Doom Rock, the band generates a unique sound that plucks the best of those genres, and throws the worst away.
Going right to their latest release with “The Black Plot,” the band let the crowd know they would be in for a night of explosive music. An accelerated lead on guitar opened the set as Pike growled with conviction over tom-heavy drumming from Kensel. “Rumors of War” somehow managed to out-pace the opener with an even faster groove. Two-thirds of the way through, Pike broke off the trail and laid down a scorching solo before falling back into the trench. “Death is the Communion” found the band performing a classic Doom elegy. The song gave off the duplicitous feelings of pure menace and despair. Massive riffs, along with plaintive, searching vocals, allowed High on Fire to occupy that hard to reach space that so many other heavy bands aspire to as their technical wizardry was matched by artistry.
Hopping back seamlessly into the electric fury that is High On Fire, the title track from the band’s latest effort, “Luminiferous” was a masterpiece of aggression. Hypersonic guitars and breakneck drumming was a clear indication that the members of High on Fire have great adulation for the pioneers of Thrash, and their homage was flawless. Returning to the new album again, “The Falconist” was, for High on Fire, a medium-paced number. While the song treaded along “lightly,” the music was anything but. Matz’ bass playing was direct, plodding, and to the point throughout as Pike played a classic Doom riff and Kensel deftly interjected brisk fills.
“Cometh Down Hessian,” with its slinky intro, provided a brief respite from the insanity, but the song quickly took off into a death spiral of feedback and gruff vocals. Hurried along by pounding, intricate drumming, “The Sunless Years” showed that the band need not rely on screeching guitars and typical Heavy Metal fodder as the drums were center stage throughout most of the song. Rather than being the bedrock on which Pike plays over, here they were the lead instrument, providing the melody, confirmation that High On Fire is not only always willing to go beyond expectations, but more than capable.
“10,000 Years” featured an extended drums and bass intro with the guitar steadily escalating before taking the lead. Here it was evident that early Heavy Metal pioneers like Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer, and Sir Lord Baltimore have had a significant influence on the band. A sludgy riff, sparse drumming, and purposeful bass playing had the guitars front and center for the nearly eight minute jaunt. Set closer “Slave the Hive” was Thrash on steroids. At a point during a show when many bands would be running out of steam, High On Fire played their fastest, by quite a bit, tune of the night.
After a brief exit, the band came back on stage for a two song encore. First up was “Fertile Green.” With speed of sound drumming throughout, the song was anything but an exercise in restraint. It was as if all three members of the band had engaged in a race to the end of the song, and there were no breaks for soloing. All of the flourishes on guitar took place during the mad rush. Show closer “Snakes for the Divine” featured a riff that would make the best bands of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal proud. Clocking in at over eight minutes, the track meandered, but never wavered. Soaring guitar solos throughout kept the crowd fired up, and as the last minute or so took off into a completely different direction musically, it felt as if the song could have gone on for another eight minutes, which would have been just fine with the packed house.
High On Fire’s North American tour has come to an end and the band is heading over to Europe for a tour starting in October. They will most certainly be back touring North America sooner rather than later. A show with a diverse lineup such as this is sure to please any Metal fan. From the Metal stylings of Venomous Maximus, to the cinematic Doom of Lucifer, to the powerhouse Sludge of Pallbearer, and the complex Stoner-Rock of High On Fire, there was a little something for everyone. For most, the show was ear candy from start to finish.