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CD Review: High on Fire

Snakes for the Divine (El)

High on Fire's music isn't for everyone. They purvey smoldering metal as coiled and hissing as the serpents on Snakes for the Divine's cover. The music ranges from pulverizing Motörhead-like riffs to bottomless sludgy breakdowns and face-melting pyrotechnics. Singer-guitarist Matt Pike wielded the axe for stoner-metal legends Sleep, where he cut his teeth on epic metal, culminating with the 45-minute, single-track late '90s swan song, Dopesmoker. High on Fire's latest offering isn't nearly as gelatinously somnambulant as that, but it works on a similarly grand scale.

High on Fire have been building toward this album for the past decade. Their prior four albums, while good, never moved with such purpose or such a well-defined emotional course. The eight tracks — five run more than six minutes — ebb and flow through climactic passages like a novel. Conjuring a morbid, advancing apocalypse ("blood trickles down through histories"), songs build ponderously and deliberately toward release ("Bastard Samurai"), give chase like a rabid locomotive Slayer ("Ghost Neck") and ignite into a shredding mantra-like inferno ("Fire, Blood & Plague"). Choosing a standout is complicated by the album's seamless feel, though the sinewy undulating roar of "Frost Hammer" best capture their churn-and-burn ethos. Snakes is a true stoner-psych-metal masterpiece that can stand side by side with anything by Mastodon. — Chris Parker

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