Oakland war-metal triumvirate High On Fire just might be The Heaviest Band On Earth. They're either the new Black Sabbath or the new Mot…rhead--or both--depending who you ask. But HOF drummer Des Kensel's idea of heavy is slightly different. "Getting out of jail for battery in Chicago, and, not being from Chicago, having no idea where the fuck you are--but still making it back to the van on time and driving to the next show in St. Louis," he says. "That's pretty heavy." Taking their name from an ELO song ("Fire On High") of all things, High On Fire have but one modest goal: "We wanna be the baddest, loudest, most killer band that exists," vocalist/guitarist Matt Pike once famously pronounced. "And if I don't get that, then I guess I die in shame."
By the sounds of things, Pike won't have to commit seppuku anytime soon. The band's third and latest album, Blessed Black Wings (Relapse) is a merciless blitzkrieg of dizzying riffery, thundering battle-hammers, and bottomless low-end. With song titles like "Cometh Down Hessian" and "The Face of Oblivion," High On Fire are clearly not fucking around. Take the lyrics to "Silver Back," for instance: "Drive the fist into your face/and blacken your eye/Unearthly sounds rumble guts/and stomp your insides/Riffs have come, your fate is sung, don't even try." Pike knows of what he speaks: The first time I saw High On Fire--many years ago on a frigid night in Boston--he had a grisly looking black eye courtesy of then-bassist George Rice's elbow. Turns out Pike and Rice are students of Muay Tai, which is kind of like Thai kickboxing, only with more elbows to the face. Rice quit the band just weeks before the recording of Blessed Black Wings, and was subsequently replaced by Olympia's own Joe Preston (a.k.a. the one-man colossus known as Thrones). "George just wasn't into it anymore," Kensel explains. "Chemistry-wise, Joe's style and tone work well with us. Plus, he's a funny dude." Not to mention a pacifist.