We Hold These Truths To Be Self-Evident
Last night I went to the Cat's Cradle and saw High on Fire. I hadn't seen them since God knows when - either 2001 or 2002, I'm not sure. It was when I lived in Iowa. They were playing with Jucifer. Jucifer was pretty good, and really fucking loud, and you can't fuck with their drummer or their gift for an album title, but High on Fire was all business. There is something miraculous about how nuts-and-bolts the whole project is. We've got these propulsive war-chant songs and we think they sound best played really loud and well-rehearsed; here we fucking GO.
Six or seven years and several great albums later HoF is still at it, and when they're playing, it's hard not to feel like you're honestly watching one of the best bands ever. If I say a band is "dedicated to their craft," that sounds boring and staid, right? Well, fuck you, then, Jack, with your antiquated half-recycled notions of how craft and intensity are somehow at odds. Craft is the path to the damn palace, and the palace's windows are all ablaze with the fire that's constantly raging in all the rooms, and it's not even uncomfortable for the people who live there, because they have become accustomed to the heat. High on Fire comes out onto the stage and Matt Pike is wearing the same get-up he was wearing last time I saw him: no shirt and jeans. You see how it is?
There was a time when lots of bands - mostly instrumental trios - rocked a similar sort of judge-me-only-by-my-work aesthetic. Most of them got what they were asking for. High on Fire's guitars don't even have logos on their headstocks; I got a close look at the SG-lookin' thing Pike rocks, and it's got nine strings. (The E, A, and D are all single; everything else is doubled.) I listened hard to the singing - half-Lemmy, sure, but half "I found this voice in the machine shop" - and to the riffs, and I came away more convinced than ever: you can judge them just on their work, on what's right there in front of you. You don't really need any backstory or hook, you just need song titles & the evidence at hand. Because High on Fire isn't just a good band; they're one of the greats. That means that what they're doing is unlikely to manufacture its own press hooks once you get past "it's fucking loud," so they're probably destined to play clubs at 3/4 capacity until they get sick of it, though when you watch them work, they look like the labor is rather its own reward. In any case, though, I will hang my hat on the following proposition: 20 years from now, when you listen to High on Fire, you will feel like you were around when one of the great bands was routinely touring the country and releasing records, and you'll either be glad you saw them as many times as you did, or you'll feel bitter about not having done so.
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