Sunday, September 23, 2012

Black Sunday: High on Fire - The Art of Self Defense (2012)

High on Fire's debut, The Art of Self Defense, originally out in 2000, fell prey to label Man's Ruin's, er, ruin and, like many of its labelmates, quickly became a collectible in its original incarnation though, unlike many of those Man's Ruin records, it was available through Tee Pee Records as early as 2001 with two bonus tracks (as well as some lousy new cover art). Southern Lord, who also recently resurrected the definitive Dopesmoker, have breathed new life into Matt Pike's post-Sleep project's first release, remastered by Brad Boatright, who also handled the aforementioned effort.

The Art of Self Defense on Southern Lord drops the Tee Pee sleeve and presents an earthier, more subdued take on Kozik's original purple and orange cover. The individual record jackets deliver where the Dopesmoker counterparts failed and deliver some massive, compelling black-and-white shots of the band members.

Southern Lord's own page for the record offers a choice of black, brown or clear vinyl and, somehow, mine came stickered as a "limited edition" of one of 1,000 180g red pressings. It seems to me that Southern Lord must have gotten a deal on clear red vinyl as nearly everything I have gotten from them recently (Black Breath and Lair of the Minotaur to name a couple) has come in this color. Any of the three described by the label would be preferable and I would have loved to have owned this record in brown. That said, at $25-30, I sure as hell won't be buying a second copy. My local record store did insert a nice poster as an extra so that eases the pain a bit.

The new packaging for The Art of Self Defense pays subtle homage to Kozik's original purple, particularly in the tone of the generous photo book attached to the gatefold but also to the interior of the sleeves. It's a really nice touch that helps make a record such as this feel worth its hefty price tag. Add in the fact that relevant extras have been tacked on and the entire package does feel deluxe. Two bonus tracks from an early 7" (and the Tee Pee release) are included as well as three from a '99 demo that eventually made it onto the album proper.

Between this, Dopesmoker and High on Fire's superb 2012 release, De Vermis Mysteriis, I'm really itching to fill in my gaps in Matt Pikes's discography. Here's hoping Southern Lord gets a shot at something like Surrounded by Thieves. As long as it's anything other than clear red...

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