San Francisco Bay GUARDIAN - JUNE 1999

HIGH ON FIRE - Des, Matt and George

OF THE NUMEROUS acts trying to ride the new wave of Bay Area heavy metal to success, none has a more impressive hesher pedigree than High on Fire. Guitarist-singer Matt Pike first rose to prominence several years ago with San Jose-based sludgemeisters Sleep. That band broke up in '97, after London Records refused to release its now legendary 52-minute magnum dopus Jerusalem, an epic biblical paean to cheeb finally made available through the Music Cartel last year.

A recent High on Fire show at the Covered Wagon proved that Pike has regrouped in Oakland with his heavy riffs and bong-load theology intact. The set opened with George Rice's slow, thudding bass accompanying a massive wall of feedback that Pike conjured through his full stack of custom Green amps. Drummer Des Kensel had set up his kit close to the lip of the stage to maximize the full-frontal assault on the audience. He dropped a vicious tom fill, ushering in the attack of "Fireface," and the band was off to the races.

Bent on scorching young minds with a faster, more aggressive brand of metal than Sleep had produced, High on Fire kept the tempo at a heavy-hoofed gallop through much of its set. "Last" pinned the sound-and-fury meter further into the red, as Pike jacked his rig's already paint-peeling volume even higher. While the group used Sabbath as a touchstone, the multiple riffs that filled each pulverizing song interlocked with a subtle complexity reminiscent of Gluey Porch Treatments-era Melvins.

"Blood from Zion" provided a good example of the band's twisted metal science. Pike and Rice bashed out massive chords that got tweeked and inverted as the tune progressed through a neck-snapping series of changes. Early on in "10,000 Years" Kensel punished his high-hat, and Rice created a ponderous distorted bass line. Then Pike added six-stringed slabs and a vocal about "jett black meditation," providing the perfect prescription for the rivethead regulars at the C.W. High on Fire play Sat June 19, 10 p.m., Cocodrie, 1024 Kearny, S.F. $6. (415) 986-6678. (Dave Pehling)