Luminiferous: The Iron Bones of High On Fire
Matt Pike is never pretentious. Even at their most progressive — even when their artwork is full of Ralph Bakshi-style dragons and pixies on mushrooms — High On Fire are a wrecking ball that sets headbangers’ minds ablaze. Their psychedelic tendencies are expressed, in part, by the brutality of the music, though each High On Fire album tends to swing in one direction or another. But Luminferous is the first album entirely recorded by a sober Matt Pike. Anyone would forgive a ridiculous rock star salvation track or two from a man who has pulled himself back from the brink, right? Nah. Instead, Luminiferous is a reduction of High On Fire’s sound, an honest expression of brute force and musical depth that doesn’t waste any time blowing the listener away.
One can hear the influence of previous High On Fire releases on the album: the grinding thrash drive of 2012’s De Vermis Mysteriis, the occult stomp of Death Is This Communion, the stoner crunch of Blessed Black Wings. But none of these facets of the band feel self-plagiarized or uninspired. Instead, they’ve been boiled down to their most powerful aspects and expertly intertwined into a collection of well-crafter songs. Though Matt Pike will always get the most lip service in a High On Fire review, the band’s rhythm section deserves ample praise for Luminferous as well; Jeff Matz’s bass and Des Kensel’s drumming are the stone wheels carrying this war machine forward, solid and crushing.
As per High On Fire tradition, album opener “The Black Pilot” is brawny, fast, and immediately makes any amount of money paid for this record worth it. The True Detective-themed “Carcosa” is hypnotic but still heavy, the kind of song that was written for classic headbanging. “The Sunless Years” begins as more of the same, but really finds its heart in its slow, brooding ending. “Slave The Hive” is just an insane thrash song, as fast as the band has gone since 2010’s “Ghost Neck” and loaded with roaring gang vocals. At this point, the album becomes slower and more atmospheric, but no less straight-forward and right to the point. “The Falconist” is an infectious biker metal track, hitting that perfect Hawkwind level of stoned weirdness and working man toughness (given the title, it would be unsurprising if the song is about Hawkwind). “The Dark Side of the Compass” is looming, mean, and distinctly Sabbathian. “The Cave” seems the band at its most psychedelic; the lyrics seem to be about Pike finally confronting his alcoholism and are sung with a cathartic sadness. “Luminiferous” kicks the tempo back up to vicious speeds, but “The Lethal Chamber” takes it back down with a murky, creeping doom song that fades into black.
One usually acts less like Lemmy when they quit drinking. Not Matt Pike; he just slices away the fat from his music to find the lean, ready muscle underneath. Luminferous is a record that’s without the slightest bit of pretension, instead providing a much-needed punch in the gut by a tattooed hand. It showcases a band’s love of the intense and adventurous that has matured into a grizzled, calloused command with raw power. This album doesn’t fuck around. It kills from start to finish. Some musicians might think their art needs careful explaining, precise marketing, and a lot of other unnecessary bullshit. But not Matt Pike. Not High On Fire.