What is stoner thrash? The term seems entirely antithetical to those familiar with the two subgenres, almost always occupying opposite ends of the metal spectrum. However, Matt Pike and the High on Fire boys have somehow figured out how to blend these two opposing forces into a blasphemous delicacy.
It wouldn’t surprise most that Matt Pike is one of the deadly instruments behind this unique sound. Seemingly primordial within the genre, he’s of course known for being one of Sleep’s founding members, who as a group founded stoner metal back in the early ‘90s. The off-kiltered green-fiend still jams with the aforementioned name, releasing surprise album The Sciences earlier this year. Now he’s back fronting his other band with bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensel on Electric Messiah, High on Fire’s eighth studio full-length.
The group was fairly transparent regarding the album’s inspiration and subsequent goal. The Lemmy Kilmister-devoted work was apparently fueled by a dream Matt Pike had one slumber, whereby Lemmy was hazing him over something, which he explained during an interview. Upon pondering the encounter, he came to the realization that he could never fill Lemmy’s shoes, but wanted to dedicate one of High on Fire’s releases to him; this is especially considering that the group’s sound is fairly similar in some regards to that of Motörhead’s.
While most of the tracks are fairly standard for High on Fire, the title track was definitely crafted in the mindset to praise Lemmy. “Electric Messiah” breaths Motörhead vibes with the anthemic intro, chugging midsection riffs, and Pike’s abrasive barking vocals.
I’d say that the album opener is my favourite by a smidge, although the citation is shrouded in difficulty as the release is fairly diverse, incorporating thrash, doom, and blues influences throughout. “Spewn from the Earth” opens the album with a brisk introduction of Pike’s vocal style, with his first verse echoing throughout the soundscape. The song is also relatively indicative of the entire release, with its riff-heavy and anthemic yet unstoppable nature. The track ultimately feels like a “song”, as its handpicked sections come together to offer an ultimate sense of completeness. If there’s a High on Fire tune to be played on the radio, it’d be this one. No doubt why it was chosen as the release’s debut single. Listen below:
My favourite parts of Electric Messiah, or High on Fire’s discography for that matter, are when the band manages to break a song down midway through, only to subsequently meld it back together once more, all while maintaining an enticing and flowing rhythm. “Steps of the Ziggurat” and “God of the Godless” incorporate this signature element. These types of tracks rise as an emblem of High on Fire’s signature stoner/thrash sound, with the fast past and groggy vocals. This style allows for the band to freely slow down and separate the individual instruments into primitive forms, relying on simple riffs and drum beats. The skill with this, however, lies behind the group’s ability to pick these pieces back up and meld them together once more into the respective track’s full-force sound.
Reviewers and fans alike are praising Electric Messiah, which is completely warranted in my opinion, but I’m seeing citations being thrown around regarding the lack of fat on this album and that there are no undeserved tracks. I personally feel like the album’s fifth number “The Pallid Mask” is a bit of a sleeper, not in the sense that it is an inherently poor song, but because it doesn’t do anything new in comparison to what fell prior. The song is fairly riffy and has some rhythm, but it doesn’t entice me as much as the other tracks did. These sentiments also arise due to the song being placed at an odd location along the tracklist. The songs that come before it show off the album’s speed, catchiness, and diverse song formats, ranging from five to ten minutes in length. “The Pallid Mask” then follows, and it unfortunately falls flat in comparison, being a fairly generic tune.
“God of the Godless” does however follow, blazing with fury and a fresh injection of flavour. The song opens with an incredibly-catchy galloping introduction and ends up becoming a fairly doomy track, with its somber riffs coupled in unison with Pike’s screaming and more drawn-out vocals. This track is one of the ones I mentioned earlier which kind of breaks down during the middle and subsequently rebuilds itself, all in entertaining fashion.
“Freebooter” follows, which is a straight-up thrash song, further emphasizing the album’s diversity. A number of songs follow, and the album closes with “Drowning Dog”, a highly blues-influenced take on America’s political divide and the country’s internal annihilation. The song in question successfully wraps up the album, with its slower style and closing guitar solo. The pace actually makes you want to replay the album right away, as Electric Messiah opens with one of my favourites on the release. I guess the immediate desire to replay an album you just listened to is a fairly strong indicator that the release succeeds on multiple levels; another great High on Fire album which incorporates a beloved signature sound while also serving as a commemoration to Lemmy.