High on Fire's roots go back a little ways. The band itself formed in 1998, but frontman Matt Pike has been at this game since the very early 1990's when he was in the extremely influential stoner doom metal band Sleep. Pike brings some of the stoner doom elements from his previous band and blends them with Bay Area thrash metal influences to create the sludgy thrash sound of High on Fire. Nowhere is that more obvious than on this album, which amps up the thrash metal influences considerably more than on prior albums.
Musically, all of the elements that have made the band so critically successful (at least in metal circles) have returned. The sludgy, thrash-inspired riifs, pounding drums, and Pike's gravelly vocals are all in good, working order. The songs are complex, and often a little long and tell stories of monsters and fantasy themes. High on Fire has been doing this for years now without any hiccups in the road. Until now.
This is a good album, but it suffers from one glaring problem that decreased the overall quality of the album. The sound is terrible. One thing that has made High on Fire such a formidable listen has been their beefy low-end of the sound: bass guitar and heavy drums. Somehow, the producer robbed the band of this important element to the band's sound. This makes the sound too high-pitched it does not have the same earth-moving feel as the prior albums. The sound is also too thin. High on Fire normally sounds like a lumbering monster, this album sounds more like one trying not to wake its victims tip-toeing through the house. It's still ugly-sounding, but not as powerful.
It's a shame, because this would have been a great album. High on Fire does not sound like any other band, only Lair of the Minotaur is really close, and that band is a little heavier on the thrash side of things than HoF. It is amazing how the wrong production can sink an album, but that's what happened here. Maybe it will grow on me in time, it's just so different from their last album. I hope it does.