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