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High On Fire Unleashes Metal Fury

By Casey Moffitt in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 25, 2013 5:30PM

High On Fire in a rare moment of quiet contemplation. Photo via their Facebook page.

High on Fire whipped an eager crowd into a mad frenzy Friday night at Metro as it tore through violent riffs like a well-tuned buzz-saw.

Guitarist and frontman Matt Pike lorded over the crown like a heavy metal silverback, overseeing excitable juveniles slam into each other on the floor below while his guitar growled, roared and screamed for a good 75 minutes straight. Pike and his cohorts—drummer Des Kensel and bass player Jeff Matz—pummeled a dozen songs without guile or flash. It was a very typical High On Fire set in its viciousness and efficiency.

Shirtless and sweaty, Pike really is a marvel to watch play guitar. While his solos lack any real melody or structure, he can grab a riff by the balls as well as anybody. Add that to the guttural, bass-heavy distorted tones and it is a sound that you can feel in your joints as well as pounding in your ears.

Kensel, too, is something to watch. Where a lot of heavy hitters flail their arms around like maniacs, Kensel keeps the rhythm by barely moving anything above the elbow. Although it's not particularly showy, it certainly is effective and his feet pounding away at two giant kick drums really propels the songs. Matz keeps a tight pocket and adds a nice layer of muck to the overall sound. It always tickles this writer to see a bass player forego a pick and pluck away at the strings with his fingers. In other words, suck it up and play the instrument as intended.

It took a little while for High On Fire to get their bearings. They started out a little sluggish and it took them couple of songs to warm up before really hitting their stride. By the third song they were really cruising and firing on all cylinders.

The band selected a cross section of all six of its studio efforts and included their latest single, "Slave the Hive," a serious barn-burner that sent the crowd into a berserk frenzy. After ending the set with the title track from 2010's Snakes for the Divine, High On Fire left the stage and refused to come out for an encore. Although those who gathered for the show were ready for more, it was nice to see a band abandon one of rock's silliest rituals.

Openers Kverletak also had a nice set. The sextet from Stavanger, Norway are a lot less metal, but still a straight up hard rocking band. Their sound is reminiscent of fellow Norwegians Turbonegro, but with a screamer for a singer. A sense of nervousness set in as lead singer Erland Hjelvik walked onto the stage with a ridiculous stuffed owl on his head covering his face. It was really goofy and there was a question if it was setting up an equally silly and goofy set. But he ditched the thing after the first song and proceeded to bound across the stage with good energy, leading a band that matched it.

Kvelertak are also savvy enough to allow their three guitar players to play their own individual parts. Too many times multiple guitar bands wind up having the guitarists play the same part to try to make the sound bigger or heavier. Kvelertak knows the key to a bigger sound is through harmonies and giving each instrument room to breathe.

Although Kverlerak had good select songs, their overall sound was a bit muddy. It was difficult to tell if the culprit was the wall of Orange amplifiers on stage, the limitations of the sound at Metro or a little of both.