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High On Fire: Live from the Relapse Contamination Festival

High On Fire

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Album Review

Not exactly a timely release, Live at the Contamination Fest features High on Fire performing at that semi-annual event's 2003 edition, but this CD only received widespread distribution in 2009 (a limited number of 2,000 copies had seen release in 2005) — probably as a direct result of the group's departure from the Relapse label, headed for E1/Koch. Whatever the back-story, though, this set captures the fearsome Bay Area trio laying absolute waste to the City of Brotherly Love with a set dominated by multiple metallic battering rams sourced from their second and arguably best studio album, Surrounded by Thieves, including all-timers "Nemesis," "Razorhoof," and the always apropos "Hung, Drawn & Quartered." Ironically, one realizes that some listeners may fail to appreciate the devastating power of these performances just because High on Fire, unlike most every other heavy metal band in existence, actually have no difficulty capturing their wanton on-stage savagery in a studio setting. That being said, the group had improved by leaps and bounds as a performing unit since the recording of their Man's Ruin debut three years earlier, and thus, the lone holdover from that period, the punishingly intense "Blood from Zion," winds up serving as confirmation of the fact. Live at the Contamination Fest also saw the band premiering a new track, "To Cross the Bridge," that would surface on the following year's Blessed Black Wings LP, before culminating in an apocalyptic cover of Venom's "Witching Hour," which amazingly didn't reduce the Trocadero Club to dust (as far as we know). In short, for those not yet fortunate enough to have experienced one of High on Fire's awe-inspiring concerts in the flesh, Live at the Contamination Fest makes for a very good teaser.


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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High On Fire: Live from the Relapse Contamination Festival, High On Fire
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