Once the stoner rock/doom metal trio Sleep recorded their hour-plus masterpiece, the album and song Dopesmoker, it descended into solemn, eternal slumber. But with strange aeons, even death may die. Sleep may have lived out its life, but the musicians that comprised it would grow restless, and in 1998 the band would dissolve into its constituent parts. Sleep Vocalist/bassist Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Hakius would form the doom band OM (basically a band version of the Dopesmoker record) in 2003, and guitarist Matt Pike founded High On Fire. Pike handles vocals and guitar, and other founding member Des Kenzel plays drums. Their current bassist, Jeff Matz, was preceded by ex-Melvin Joe Preston, and original High On Fire member George Rice.
High On Fire is a three-piece band from Oakland, California that plays its music hard and fast. Pike's grizzled, raspy, shouted vocals are similar to that of Lemmy Kilmister, frontman of Motörhead, so much that High On Fire could be described as a Motörhead with a penchant for thrash. Classifying the band is a challenge; they've got a low, chopping guitar style that puts them in sludge territory, but the speed they play at places them in thrash metal. Underneath it all is the wild-eyed, savage, tribal drumming, and all these together makes High On Fire a unique heavy metal band. Matt Pike's trademark solos from his Sleep days make a return, but never overshadow the rest of the songs or seem out of place. The music is always firstly chaotic, but gives the convincing impression of madness while remaining strict and ordered. Many songs feature intros with a distinctive Indian influence which adds to the overall style of the music in a small but noticeable way. Much of High On Fire's defining sound is due to Pike's custom First Act guitar, which has normal EAG strings but double GBE strings, making it a 9-string guitar. The 12-string effect on the higher registry gives high notes a chorus-like chime while any power chords stay flat and heavy.
The lyrics are typically about ancient monsters or mysteries, and have a sense of taking place in early civilization. Violent imagery is common, as are religious concepts. Many songs are inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, dealing with humans stumbling upon horrors that are better left undisturbed. At least two songs (The Face of Oblivion, Cometh Down Hessian) are based directly on Lovecraft stories. The music itself provides the backdrop of antiquity, and the words add a sense of horror and doom to it.
Art of Self-Defense (2001)
Surrounded By Thieves (2002)
Blessed Black Wings (2005)
Death Is This Communion (2007)
Snakes For the Divine (2010)
While the band is now more than ten years old, their popularity has skyrocketed in the last few years due to the mainstream exposure of their last few albums. For their earlier work, they played a bass-heavy, Melvins-style stoner rock which sounded good enough but wasn't very original. They did find their niche eventually, and Blessed Black Wings and Death Is This Communion were both very highly praised. High on Fire quickly became a band to watch closely. In 2008 they participated in Megadeth's Gigantour, and supported Opeth on their tour along with Nachtmystium. They are well-known for being a good live band, which isn't always the case, especially in metal.
An interesting sidenote: Singer/vocalist of Mastodon, Brent Hinds, held a High On Fire show in his basement, at which he met two of his future bandmates: drummer Brann Dailor and guitarist Bill Kelliher, both of whom had moved to Atlanta only three weeks prior.