High on Fire – The Art of Self-Defense

By Gruesome Greg

I actually own the original Man’s Ruin version of this album, and I’ve always liked it because it sounded an awful lot like Sleep, being just a couple years removed from the initial release of Jerusalem and all. Coincidentally, the promo for this reissue arrived in my inbox back-to-back with Southern Lord’s remastered Dopesmoker. Go figure…

Though the original contained just six tracks, Southern Lord has beefed this edition up with a trio of demos and a Celtic Frost cover. But really, that’s just the icing on the cake (if you’re into vanilla frosting). These tunes stand alone without the added filler.

“Baghdad” is a mid-paced sludgy stomp, the riffs clearly Matt Pike, and the vocals owning just a bit to his former bandmate Al Cisneros, this being just the second time Pike had stepped behind the mic, after their eponymous EP from the year before. In fact, three tracks from said EP were re-recorded (I presume, not having heard it) for this record, namely “Blood From Zion,” “10,000 Years” and the epic closer “Master of Fists.”

Can’t really complain about any of them, though. The riffs from “10,000 Years” come straight from the Sleep playbook, with a bit of extra dirt shoveled in on top, ending on a heavy instrumental note with some solid soloing over a heavy backbeat. “Blood From Zion,” though somewhat shorter at a shade over five minutes, packs a heavy punch. Tis somewhat of a harbinger of things to come from High on Fire, though not nearly as amped-up as they’d get on Blessed Black Wings, for instance.

“Last” is a tune that’s oft-overlooked. I suppose it doesn’t bring it quite like some of its counterparts, though it’s not a bad example of the vocal-driven verse crashing into the heavy-riff breaks that we often see employed in stoner rock. “Fireface” on the other hand, opens with a Cisneros-style distorted bassline from George Rice, which tells you right away that it’s gotta be good. It slowly builds up a haunting atmosphere, thick with resin, before blowing you back with a killer Sabbathian stomp. Don’t sleep on this track, if you know what I mean.

“Master of Fists” takes it up another notch, a real heavy sludge number, sorta like “The Druid” on steroids. Doesn’t quite have that otherworldly quality of an album-ender like “From Beyond,” even with the extended instrumental passages this one feels more like a fist in the face. Ouch!

The bonus demo tracks are cool ‘n all, but they won’t have me rushing out to buy the vinyl. That said, if you don’t already own this, what are you waiting for?

(Southern Lord)

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.