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Judging from his brain-blistering guitar licks and satanic sounding caterwaul, you wouldn't expect High on Fire's Matt Pike to succumb to stage fright. He's the leader of the heaviest stoner-metal band in the free world, after all. You'd be wrong, though. "Oh, I flip out, man—I totally tweak," says the tattooed front man in between burp-causing sips of Budweiser. "I have to get all pissed actually to even do it." And because he's neither trendy nor British, he means pissed angry, not pissed drunk.
And how does he get all pissed? "Oh, I just think about things that piss me off."
"I'm kind of shy and insecure," he offers, "but there's another side of me that's totally opposite of that. I'm kind of like Jekyll and Hyde. Or schiz."
Maybe not schiz, but definitely loud. High on Fire, a longhaired trio that litters the stage with multiple full-stack amplifiers and a three-piece drum set the size of a small llama will blow your eardrums six ways to Sunday and then fell you with sheer sonic force. You will "feel" their music—not in the soul-stirring way, but in the bowel-stirring one.
Imagine one of those spindly wheedley-wheedley Guitar Center geeks jumped by a gang of cinderblock-wielding street thugs and you still don't understand how brutal and yet really good at guitar High on Fire are.
The Oakland band's newest effort, Surrounded by Thieves (coming out May 28 on Relapse Records, and following 2000's The Art of Self Defense on Man's Ruin), is a cudgel to the head of unforgiving drums that snap and crush, a bass that pulses like gurgling lava, and low-end bolstered riffs that are so relentless, beefy and hypnotic they verge on musical solipsism.
Add to this Pike's hellion growling—about subjects ranging from epic biblical prophecy to epic personal struggles to epic mythology—and you have something, well, kind of dorky.
"I guess this album seems kind of D&D [Dungeons and Dragons], and people will think I'm a nerd," says Pike. "A lot of it has to do with my beliefs, and a lot of it has to do with science fiction and fantasy stories that George Rice [bass] and Des Kensel [drums] and I sit around and bullshit about." But they did more than sit around and bullshit this time. They forged a sci-fi/fantasy concept album—comic book forthcoming, claims Pike. (No shit.)
If you can understand the lyrics to the skull-crushing album closer "Razor Hoof," says Pike, "you can understand the whole thing." Without further ado: "Razor hoof coming down. Coming down, coming down. Antlers sharp, sharp to kill. Trampler unseen. Fearless wolf, bring it on. Bring it down, bring it down. Weeks without. Kills for blood. Corpse wolf, now raised."
If you're dense, however, Pike might explain it to you, as he did for us, though we still didn't quite get it. Something about a gigantic elk and yetis and yeti babies and a wolf named Gilgolf who gets in a fight with the elk and a clan who raises the wolf from the dead.
"So wait, Razor Hoof is the wolf who eats yeti babies?" you ask. Earth to you, though.
"No, that's an elk. Razor Hoof is the gigantic elk," Pike says, sighing, perhaps disappointed in you. "It's just so fucked-up. It's so fucking tweaked to explain." Indeed!
Pike's a veteran of all things fucked and tweaked, having played in legendary stoner-rock outfit Sleep, whose final album, Jerusalem, was comprised of one 52-minute song.
Pike favors tones so low they'd give whales boners. When he's on tour, anything goes. At least that's how it's always been in the past.
"I'm turning 30—I'm not the young man I was," he says. "I have to do this in moderation and have some kind of self-control. It's not Mardi Gras all year round."
But just in case, bring your ear plugs.High on Fire performs with Godflesh, Halo and Shiva at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600. Wed., 8 p.m. $15. All ages.