IN THE STANLEY KUBRICK film 2001: A Space Odyssey, giant monoliths suddenly appear on Earth and serve to bewilder and inspire anyone that comes in contact with them. Mysteriously, their appearance coincides with an evolutionary moment for ape and mankind alike. High on Fire's new album Snakes for the Divine is as monumental as those slabs of stone, a recording that will challenge any band attempting to match such sonic impact. Rarely has this storied power trio sounded thicker.

High on Fire are no strangers to the territory of writing crushing doom and stoner metal albums, and on Snakes the Oakland band seems to have picked up speed along the way. There are still expansive, slow, and fuzzy riffs, but songs like "Frost Hammer" and "Ghost Neck" feature ripping thrash rhythms and pummeling four-on-the-floor drum beats. Aside from drummer Des Kensel incorporating the double kick to his arsenal, shirtless frontman/guitarist Matt Pike assures that the sound shift came naturally:

"It's been evolving that way. [We're] trying to encourage not exactly change, but a little bit of change," he explains. "[We're] just not shutting out anything because it's not too fast, not too slow, not too anything."

Snakes marks the first release on which writing duties were shared between founding members Pike and Kensel, and the band's third bassist in a dozen years, Jeff Matz. "It's been the first record that we had a co-writer do almost as much stuff as Des and I do," says Pike. "We've had an overabundance of ideas instead of an under-abundance. It's been really nice."

While distraction looms with this fall's celebrated Sleep reunion dates, Pike remains focused on giving High on Fire their own identity: "I think we've kind of outgrown that whole [Sleep] label. It helped at first getting people to shows, but High on Fire has done all the work, touring and getting out there."

While contemporary metalheads may consider playing with Metallica to be more a burden than a blessing, being invited to open for the metal icon's European tour is proof that High on Fire's hard work is paying off. Fans in the Northwest are lucky enough to have a taste of the rockers before they head overseas for a tour that Pike explains in the simplest of terms: "It's gonna be pretty awesome."