High On Fire - Death Wish

Interview by Dr. Abner Mality

Pounding across dusty plains on a frothing black steed, the skull-faced warrior presses on. All who cross his path tremble, for it is known that he bears a terrible prize in his hands. At his side is his mighty blood-rusted battleaxe, which has tasted the lives of a thousand foes. And, nestled deep within a leather saddlebag, is the precious talisman he carries to the City of the Grey Seers. It is a weapon of great power, created by wizards loved and feared by many. It is keenly anticipated by many acolytes. It is the first copy of the new CD by High On Fire, "Death Is This Communion"!

Such barbaric imagery is at the heart of High On Fire, the raging metal monster captained by veteran axe shredder Matt Pike. This band is at the forefront of the return of pure heaviness. It's a sludgy, mythic brute composed of equal parts early Sabbath, Motorhead, Venom and Celtic Frost, but mixed with a peculiar originality and American sensibility that is High On Fire's alone.

On "Death Is This Communion", the band has created a more musical tapestry that has increased melody and songwriting prowess while not losing the raw edge that makes HOF what it is. It should bring the band to a wider and more diverse crowd without losing previous fans...a difficult feat to master.

Let us speak to the Grey Seer himself, Matt Pike, King of Sleep, Master of the Axe and guiding light behind High On Fire...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: You've always had really cool covers on all of your CD's and this new one is the best yet...

MATT PIKE: Oh yeah, Roper is outstanding. Eric Roper is a trip!

WC: What's the story behind this masterpiece?

MP: I don't know, man, he just works well with us. I send him a copy of our lyrics and he goes through them. He goes off what he reads. We leave it up to the artist. We all looked at it and went, "wow, that thing's cool!"

WC: The cover looks like the music sounds...

MP: That's kinda how he does it, I think.

WC: I take it that you're fans of Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock, the great fantasy writers?

MP: Yeah, of course I am!

WC: Any name in particular?

MP: I love H.P. Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick. Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allen Poe. It's not all fantasy that I read, but I love that stuff. Robert E. Howard's good. I read a lot of stuff like that.

WC: I always got a Lovecraft feeling out of some of your gloomier works. Is there any track off of "Death Is This Communion" that's inspired by him?

MP: Yeah, "Death Is This Communion" is basically my short summary of "Call of Cthulhu". I know it's kinda cliche but I did it anyway because I really don't give a fuck! (chuckles)

WC: Based on that title, I thought it might have been based around suicide.

MP: In some sort of way, it's also a kind of metaphor for "party suicide"...drugs, putting yourself into bad situations. That's the way the song started and as it went on, I turned it into an H.P. Lovecraft type of thing.

WC: Reverend Jim Jones kind of popped into my mind...

MP: (laughs) There you go!

WC: Death was literally his communion. Looking at some of the other songs, what's "Turk" about?

MP: Oh wow! (chuckles) It's kind of personal. It's about like being bad natured but having a good heart! That's the easiest way to summarize it. When you get a lyric sheet, it might make more sense to you.

WC: Your music has always had this quality, but "Death Is This Communion" seems to have more influences from the Middle East in it.

MP: We actually used an instrument called the tambouri. Jeff played it on the album. We listened to a lot of Turkish and Afghan music to gain some influence. We were dickin' around with it and a lot of it wound up in the songs.

WC: The instrumental "Khanrad's Wall" seemed to have a lot of Middle Eastern influence. Is that a real place?

MP: (laughs) Actually, that's a dog that Jeff lives with! So it was titled appropriately...he wrote a Middle Eastern ode to a dog!

WC: Did you approach writing for this album any differently than you have in the past?

MP: We just let ourselves be a little more creative and a little looser. We experimented more and we used more instruments. For example, there's a mellotron on it. We messed with some interludes this time and the music going up and down instead of being all crushing all the time. It's more of a mood rollercoaster we were trying for.

WC: You almost took the words out of my mouth. I'd say the album is as dark as anything you've done, but maybe not quite as relentlessly heavy.

MP: It's more composed and melodic.

WC: I think it extended to your vocals, because they are still gruff, but it seems there was more of an attempt at melody.

MP: Oh yeah, there definitely was! I was messing around with some different techniques on that front,too. Vocal harmonies...the fact I could do it with the fucked up voice I have, that was pretty cool.

WC: The vocals are harsh but you can understand them.

MP: Yeah, that's the hard thing to pull off. It's how far you hold your lips from each other, how loud you actually sing, do you sing from your gut or your throat. It's just like playing an instrument. You get better at it after you practice for a long time. I think I've found my spot vocally where I'm a little better than I was before.

WC: What's your bass player situation these days?

MP: Now we've got Jeff Matz who played in Zeke. He's an absolutely amazing player, I'm so glad I'm playing with him.

WC: That had to be an adjustment for him, because Zeke is so manic and fast all the time, but with High On Fire, you have to hold back on that some times.

MP: Yeah, yeah. I think he's wanted to do something like this for a long time, I think he's enjoying our style of music.

WC: It's convenient since both you and Zeke are on Relapse...

MP: Zeke's pretty much broken up, that's when we grabbed Jeff. He was unemployed at the time. We said, you wanna be in a band, dude? Come down and try out! (chuckles)

WC: What was the reason for Joe Preston to leave the bass slot? Was High On Fire too mainstream for him?

MP: No, not that. It was the touring thing that got to him. I love Joe Preston, Thrones is an amazing band and he's an amazing musician. I think we just basically out-toured him. (chuckles) He got sick of being on tour all the time. It's hard to deal with.

WC: How do you deal with it?

MP: I've been doing it forever. It just takes a lot of work, that's all.

WC: I see that Southern Lord has re-issued some material from very early in your career, the old Asbestos Death stuff.

MP: I'm glad that came out on CD, because it had never been on CD before, it had only been on 7", which go for $80 apiece now.

WC: What's your opinion on that band and that time in your career?

MP: Oh, for us being 17 and 18 years old at the time, we were pretty amazing musicians. I really liked the songs that we did in that band. It kind of layed the founation for where my career is now. That was the music it came from, it's the roots of what I do, what Al and Chris (Matt's compatriots in the legendary stoner band Sleep, now playing in OM--All-knowing Mality) do now and even Tom Choi, who's still doing some band stuff but he just doesn't do it full time like I do.

WC: Where would you say High On Fire falls in the rock spectrum? Do you mind the metal tag?

MP: I don't mind the metal tag so much. I don't like the stoner rock tag. I'd like to think we're our own entity, because we're not exactly like anyone, you know. It is metal so I don't mind the metal tag at all. I don't know what to call's just High On Fire (chuckles).

WC: When you were in Sleep, the stoner tag might have been more appropriate then.

MP: Yeah, definitely.

WC: When you get bands that have their own sound but play heavy music, they often don't liked to be called metal. What do you think is the biggest goal left for you to accomplish?

MP: Just to keep putting good music out. I really enjoy performing live so just doing what I'm born to do is good enough for me.

WC: Are you satisfied with Relapse Records right now?

MP: Yeah, actually! We have things to think about in the future because this is our last record with them, but we're just going to focus on touring behind this album and then make decisions as they arise. Right now, we have a lot of work to do to get this album going.

WC: What kind of touring plans do you have right now?

MP: We're going to Europe pretty soon and when we get back from there, we hit the States and then we go back to Europe again! We have a little time off and then I'm sure we'll hit some secondary markets in the States. Hopefully we'll go to Australia and Japan this time. That's pretty much a world tour. If we hit some other places, so be it.

WC: Have you ever played in Australia and Japan before?

MP: Nope, never! We're trying to plan a vacation there along with the tour! (chuckles)

WC: When you started your music career, did you ever foresee a time you'd play these exotic places?

MP: Yeah, I guess. Since I was a kid, I had aspirations of that happening. I didn't know whether it would or not. I would have bet on it on going that way.

WC: If you could ask three musicians from any time in history to dinner, who would they be?

MP: Shit! I'd definitely go to dinner with Tony Iommi. I'd definitely go to dinner with John McLaughlin...maybe Bon Scott, too.

WC: That last one might be a liquid dinner...

MP: Yeah, I'd fit right in! (laughs)

WC: Are there any artists that you'd like to work with?

MP: I don't know! I wouldn't mind jamming with somebody else if something came up, but my focus right now is High On Fire and that's totally what I'm doing.

WC: You're not involved in any side projects or bands?

MP: I was in Khalas for a while, that was my vocal-only band. We broke up. It was too much for me to tour with them.

WC: What was the last CD or album that you picked up just because you wanted to hear it?

MP: I got some just today! I got the new Converge "No Heroes", I got the new Big Business. I picked up one I'd been missing, Thorr's Hammer.

WC: Thorr's Hammer, they're really cheerful...(chuckles)

MP: Oh, they're awesome. That chick's so hot!

WC: How does that body produce that noise?

MP: I don't know, but it rules! (laughter)

WC: What was the last gig you caught just because you wanted to see it?

MP; Oh fuck. What was it? I go to shows all the time. I probably saw Watch Them Die. Also saw One In The Chamber, who are friends of mine from Oakland. They've been around for a long time, they're more of a punk rock band.

WC: Is there one Spinal Tap moment from your history that you'd like to share?

MP: Oh yeah! There's so many! Damn, I dunno. Maybe when I drove the van in the ditch once when we got snowed in somewhere and were fucking around on the ice. I broke my wrist and had to fly home from Europe. Had to cancel gigs. There's so many, there's been some ridiculous shit that's happened.

WC: The incident you described sounds like something you can laugh at now, but it must have been as scary as hell when it happened.

MP: Yeah, yeah, it sucked!

High On Fire's Official Website