High On Fire NOW, by Michael Caldwell


High On Fire NOW!

Based on a true story*

By Michael Caldwell

I was an errand boy sent by my boss—not to collect a bill—but some flyers from the print shop.

Of course I have to wait…and wait. The print shop, shit! I’m still only in the print shop. Every moment I stay in this room, I get weaker, and every moment the noxious smell gets stronger. Each time I look around, the walls move in a little tighter.

Feeling compressed, I close my eyes, but then my ears behold the distant rumbling of heavy metal thunder. It’s beguiling like the wail of the Sirens. So I take a cautious peek into the operations room. A young technician looks up from his mechanism as the question leaps like vomit from my lips, “Who are you listening to?”

“Uh, I don’t know dude, that’s Kurtz’s stuff. He’s in the back…the back…the back…

I do not love the smell of chemicals in the morning, but I have to put a name to the phenomenon I am hearing. The horror of venturing further into the pit gives me pause, yet the thunder beckons. Further and further I journey until my eyes water. As they begin to roll into my head, I feel faint from the fumes.

Then I see the man. He must be high from the vapors. Damn! I know I am.

Kurtz’s work methods appear successfully unsound. His wild, hip-length hair is constantly on the verge of getting sucked into one of the printing presses. He looks totally insane—but in a good way. If Kurtz is surprised to see me it doesn’t show. As we face-off, the music muscles victoriously above the drone of machinery—a tribal juggernaut of guitar, bass and drums raining down upon us as a hoarse voice croaks for dear life. Oddly, I feel as if I am being enveloped by a warm, heavy blanket.

“Hey Kurtz, who are you listening too?”

He lifts his chin to better see through the slits that are his eyes. Then a wide smile spreads upon his lips. With all the mystical weight and deliberation of a cave sage, he proclaims, “High on Fire.”

I didn’t even find out which album. It didn’t matter. I acquired them all (The Art of Self Defense, Surrounded by Thieves and Blessed Black Wings). I haven’t gotten off the High on Fire boat yet. And on their latest Relapse Records release Death Is This Communion the group lightly stretches out with additional melody and the occasional undistorted stringed instrument. The acoustic led instrumental “Khanrad’s Wall, for example, provides a brief respite from the bludgeoning. However, for the majority of the album, the power trio remains wrapped tight as a mummy, rarely slackening in their signature full-frontal Light Brigade charge. Perhaps this time, they’ll go all the way—wherever that is.

Fans of High on Fire—which consists of Matt Pike (guitars and howls) Des Kensel (percussive percussion) and new bassist Jeff Matz (formerly of Zeke)—will gladly welcome the 11 new songs into the family. The title track and the insane propulsive intro to “Turk” are particularly hyperbole worthy. Both sound something like “chugga chugga, chunk, chunk, chunk, crash, smash, bash, bam!”

If this is your virgin journey up the river, hold on tight. Maybe you’ll have your own Kurtz experience. For me, Death Is This Communion feels like the first time in the print shop and that’s good enough.

* Only one name has been changed to enhance the allusion.