Opening with a high-octane drum roll before thrusting forward with some truly furious thrash metal, Oakland’s High on Fire begin their sixth album laying all of their cards on the table. The song in question – the pounding ‘Serums of Liao’ – doesn’t let up for its six-minute duration and lets you know that this album is a very different beast to the band’s previous effort, 2010’s more polished “Snakes For The Divine”.
Produced by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou, “De Vermis Mysteriis” is based around the concept of Jesus Christ having a twin that died at birth but then became a time traveller. Confused? Don’t worry, as it’s very doubtful you’ll be sitting there with the lyric sheet following along with singer Matt Pike’s freakish howls and screams, because you’ll likely be throwing yourself around to the huge grooves and slamming metal on display here.
‘Bloody Knuckles’ rides in on a Motörhead-meets-Slayer vibe, all drum rolls and greasier-than-a-chip-fat-sandwich guitar riffs that sound like they should be at odds with the intense nature of the performance but it completely works in splitting your head in two. The comparatively looser vibe of ‘…Knuckles’ gives way to the metallic fury of ‘Fertile Green’ and although the album is only three songs in, it’s already been an exhausting ride…but in a good way.
The sprawling ‘Madness of an Architect’ pummels away for seven minutes in a flurry of mid-paced darkness before the Metallica-esque instrumental ‘Samsara’ offers a (relative) break in proceedings. As the album moves into its second half things don’t let up as ‘Spiritual Rights’ and the title track keep things moving along until the final rumblings of ‘Warhorn’ brings things to a close in perfect fashion.
Probably one of the most unashamedly metal albums of the year, “De Vermis Mysteriis” certainly covers all bases as far as what you would want from a metal album – fast and intense in places, slower and bludgeoning in others, it really hits the spot in the way it offers you everything that is great about the band in one hit of listening pleasure. The fact that there is a concept to it, as well as a loose connection to H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulu Mythos, gives it a little more appeal to those looking for a little something extra from their metal, but on the other hand, if you just want to bang your head to some wickedly aggressive stoner/doom metal then you can do that too. The hooks may not be as forthcoming as on “Snakes For The Divine”, but the heart is there and the strength of the performance and the unforgiving nature of the production are enough to make this an essential album for anybody who says they like metal.