This is a terrible record, sure--but it's an interesting case, because unlike other famous terrible metal albums by great bands (Metallica's Black Album, Celtic Frost's Cold Lake), there is no obviou$ rea$on why High on Fire should make this particular album in any bid for popularity. It basically sounds the same as their earlier records (although more on that later)--they have not made any concessions to pop hooks, or even trends in the underground (thuggish metalcore, grungey post-emo, technicality).
The main observable difference is that the songs are more streamlined, and generally faster. Neither of these are good or bad in themselves. The incredible guitar tone achieved on their second album, Surrounded by Thieves, is not to be found here, and neither is the particular clarity that Steve Albini brought to Blessed Black Wings.
No, the problem seems to lie in the band's misconception of themselves as muscular, overpowering thrashers with long guitar solos and huge "epic" songs. But this was never the case. High on Fire were about one thing: constructing tension. Because Matt Pike came out of the most tedious of genres, doom metal, he knew a thing or two about how to maintain a listener's interest when nothing much was going on.
None of the songs here, though, build to anything. This might be too damning, but a lot of this is just vaguely thrashy and super-generic. It is certainly *someone's* idea of Metal. They are built out of disposable parts, much like newer Immortal albums. A six-minute long song is largely repetitive, has no big payoff, and the Worst Metal Sin of all: really bad guitar solos. When I put on some fantasy metal record, take me on a journey, dude...
In one sense, saying why this record is as tedious as the record itself. My job as a reviewer of metal is basically to evaluate RIFFS. To sum up everything real quick: the riffs here are not great.
But apart from all this, I feel there is a bigger problem: we are supposed to be enjoying how HUGE and AWESOME and METAAAAL this record is. But none of that can express itself or stand in for itself. All these signposts of awesomeness are not the thing itself.
A youtube comment for their new video: "I feel like a viking standing atop a mountain of fucking skulls whilst crushing faces and hurling boulders at my enemies below."
I guess that is what I am supposed to feel. But previously High On Fire accomplished this, not by substituting hugeness and repetitiveness, but by actually being awesome. By creating tension, by making every part of the song count, by writing vocal hooks--well, the same vocal hook for every song, etc.
One-word review: boring. Energy better spent discovering what made previous High on Fire albums true journeys into a dream world.
score: 2 stars (**)/ 5
best songs: weirdly, the CD bonus track "Mystery of Helm."