Sunday, April 8, 2012

De Vermis Mysteriis - High on Fire - 2012

I'm no High on Fire aficionado. I was/am a Sleep fan (though not a fanatic by any means). I've got a few High on Fire records, namely Death is this Communion and Snakes for the Divine, both added to my library within the last year after a friendly reader recommended I check out a few select tracks on iTunes. I am a Lovecraft fan (and probably border on fanatic) and appreciate Robert "Psycho" Bloch's addition of the band's latest album's namesake into the larger Cthulhu pantheon. I dig that High on Fire work Lovecraft into their story and, even as a well-read Lovecraft fan, find De Vermis Mysteriis impenetrable on a lyrical level, even when guided by reviews and articles of those who purport to be able to explain the story of a time-traveling twin to Jesus Christ. Whatever. To borrow another term from Lovecraft, all I care about are the cyclopean riffs. This is rock as juggernaut. It's as massive and momentous as the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth. It's pretty much the shit.

De Vermis Mysteriis doesn't much creep up on the listener or lay back with its groove. It's raging from the gate, with "Serums of Liao" immediately in your face, with a few bars of frenzied percussion preceding a vocal rage that sounds raw even for Matt Pike, all riding a tsunami of guitar and bass so dense it threatens to drown the listener.

"Bloody Knuckles" keeps the tempo upbeat (for this band), the groove deep and muddy and the assault relentless. I'll assume "Fertile Green" is all about pot no matter who tries to tell me differently but, goddamn, it's fast. "Madness of an Architect" takes two whole minutes to hack its way through a wall of fuzz before it tumbles with a groove whose inertia will not be denied for three minutes until it disintegrates into a pile of squalling solos and fragments of feedback.

"Samsara" ascends to more than interlude and one can imagine that, properly baked, this 3:42 could stretch on infinitely. "Spiritual Rights" channels classic Motörhead fervently, even for this band. "King of Days," of all the tracks on De Vermis Mysteriis, most recalls Sleep for this listener as it lumbers and veers, thrashing and dozing, a mini-epic across seven minutes.

The title track, "Romulus and Remus" and "Warhorn" seem cut from the same unraveling cloth and literally seem to wind down the album as tempo slows and tone, bellowing low end, sees elements slowly sanded away with "Warhorn" at 1:15 consisting solely of scattered drumbeats, Jeff Matz's bass and Pike's vocals, punctuated by occasional shrieks of dying, gasping guitar that catches second wind and finds the unit resurrecting for a final charge across the track's last two minutes before abruptly ending.

De Vermis Mysteriis is nearly as dense musically as it is conceptually and, frankly, it's not a record I am willing to work to understand. To do so is in no way necessary to appreciate its content. Matt Pike's human instrument so effectively complements the sound the band has cultivated which, in turn, taps directly into the same collective unconscious that fears - and reveres - the potential for some human blunder to cast open the gates of the Old Ones and release stumbling, shambling mountains of malign and ancient arcanum. It sounds good. It's probably dangerous. Pretty fucking cool.

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