Friggin’ Rocktober, ya’all.
‘Bloody Knuckles’ seems very appropriate given our current national mood. We’re less than 30 days away from a huge presidential election. The polls are tight, especially in the swing states. That means both candidates are going to ramp up the aggression. This race will turn into a barroom brawl very soon–if it hasn’t already. Bloody knuckles, indeed.
As far as the actual song goes, it comes from High on Fire’s latest effort, De Vermis Mysteriis. ‘Bloody Knuckles’ is a strong representative of the disc’s power. When DVM came out in April, I was going to do an album review for it, but I got sorta wrapped up in Torche’s Harmonicraft. I figured one big metal record critique during the spring was more than enough for my eight readers.
The problem is that De Vermis Mysteriis is a record that cannot be ignored, mostly because it expertly mines a vein of rock that many groups either can’t or won’t. Where other bands mix their metal with David Bowie haircuts, synthesizer breakdowns or dubstep affectations, High on Fire is content to craft pile-driving riffs, intense solos and galloping rhythms. This gives the band several distinct advantages over their heavy metal competitors, the most important of which is that High on Fire doesn’t suck.
That doesn’t mean that High on Fire is a group for everyone’s taste. Within five seconds of the ferocious album opener ‘Serums of Liao’, most women will be desperately punching the mute button. Even though HoF comes from a stoner-rock background, the trustafarian neo-hippie contingent will likely shit their Birkenstocks upon listening to the determined curbstomp of ‘Romulus and Remus’. The hailstorm of guitars, drums and low-end thump in ‘Spiritual Rites’ sounds like it’s specifically designed to punch Communists in the throat.
But even with all that monolithic riffage, De Vermis Mysteriis has a distinct charm when it goes off-message. On HoF’s last disc, Snakes for The Divine, the trio’s diversions from the brand felt like gritted-teeth concessions. In the case of De Vermis, the subdued instrumental ‘Samsara’ blends seamlessly with the overall vibe, as does the slow-burning, insane-finishing ‘Madness of An Architect’. The midtempo grind of ‘King of Days’ wouldn’t sound out-of-place on an early Queens of the Stone Age album. The brooding lyrics and somber guitars are a reminder that even the gnarliest metal dudes get the blues every once in a while.
Even more surprising is ‘Warhorn’. Throughout the disc, lead vocalist Matt Pike’s growl is less like an actual human voice and more akin to a heavily distorted instrument blending into and complementing the overall tone of the songs. On the record’s finale, Pike’s lyrics are sung largely without his customary bulldozer guitar accompaniment. Unadorned by six string assistance, Pike’s roaring anger has never sounded more ferocious.
All of that makes De Vermis Mysteriis the hands-down metal album of 2012. High on Fire not only won the year, they also topped their previous masterpiece Blessed Black Wings and set a new standard for themselves. If you are at all interested in modern heavy music, De Vermis Mysteriis is a must-own record.