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Blessed Black Wings

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Album Review

For some fans, the news that Steve Albini had been tapped to produce High on Fire's third long-player was a matter of great concern for many reasons — chief among them, the renowned alternative rock producer's notoriety for ultra-compressed guitar sounds, which seemed utterly at odds with the California trio's most deadly weapon: guitarist and frontman Matt Pike's thundering riffage. Thankfully, such fears ultimately proved unjustified when the end result, 2005's Blessed Black Wings, wound up delivering galloping heavy metal with every bit as much volume and distortion as the band's breakthrough previous effort, Surrounded by Thieves. So much so that the million-dollar question now becomes: "Are the two albums too similar?" Aesthetically, the answer is most certainly yes, since High on Fire's rhythm section (now featuring new bassist Joe Preston, joining longtime drummer Des Kensel) remains every bit as pummeling, and Pike's six-string supremacy just as unchallenged, his solos ever prostrating themselves before the Neolithic power chord onslaught of his cross-the-neck slashing. Tracks like "Devilution," "Cometh Down Hessian," and "Silver Back" are all fire-breathing, semi-thrash rampages; the old-school metal pounding of the title track and closing instrumental "Sons of Thunder" is clearly reverential of Pike's beloved Celtic Frost; and the awe-inspiring, power chord colossus "Brother in the Wind" — all rippling and tearing of muscle — easily qualifies as a career highlight on par with anything offered by sterling predecessor Surrounded by Thieves. In fact, Blessed Black Wings could have used a few more overwhelming epics of this older stripe, since novelties like the clean, string-picking passages snuck into otherwise crushing tracks like "The Face of Oblivion" and much previewed live number "To Cross the Bridge," or the understated punk rock element found in the tighter riffs of "Anointing of Seer," prove all too subtle to constitute true innovation. In other words, the bulk of Blessed Black Wings follows the same formula that proved so successful for High on Fire in days past — maybe a problem for those intent on forging ever forward, but hardly a bad thing when the point of origin was so damn good to begin with. And, truth is, few bands would be capable of achieving such a primal, yet thoroughly modern-sounding heavy metal album even on their most inspired moments.

Customer Reviews

Speed doom?

Do we need to invent (yet another) metal subgenre? "Blessed Black Wings" is what you get when you take two of the grand old men of stoner/doom (Sleep's Matt Pike and Joe Preston from Earth, Melvins, Thrones etc.) and add an outstanding tribal metal drummer (Des Kensel). Pike sings like Lemmy with a sore throat and plays guitar like a cross between Tony Iommi and 'Strait' James Williamson — metal chops with a punk attack. People have complained that you can't hear Preston's bass through the ultra-distorted guitars, but he's doing what any good bass player should, especially in a trio: beefing up the lead and grounding the drums (Kensel is pretty free for a metal drummer, likes his cymbals and uses just one bass drum, so Preston's role is pivotal). Albini's production is as crisp as ever but reverbs more than usual. Most importantly, the songs and riffs are well-constructed and monstrously heavy. Forget that new subgenre, this is metal pure and simple.

Biography

Formed: 1998 in Oakland, CA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike, bass player George Rice, and drummer Des Kensel formed High on Fire in 1999, following the collapse of Pike's previous band, doom metal titans Sleep. But while Sleep had built their fame on impossibly slothful tunes and copious weed consumption, High on Fire's first release, The Art of Self Defense, displayed a far more aggressive though still fantasy-themed style of heavy metal. Released to mildly enthusiastic reviews, the album's prospects suffered from label Man's...
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Blessed Black Wings, High On Fire
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