Album of the Week: High on Fire

High on Fire’s “Cometh the Storm”: A relentless return to the gnarly depths of sludge-metal mastery

Looking back, the 2000s should be viewed as the second golden age of sludge-metal—a period when a whole new crop of bands were wading through the same muck the Melvins, Eyehategod, and Acid Bath trudged through a decade earlier, and tilling that sticky, filthy terrain into fantastically ugly new formations. Since then, big-name sludge-slingers like Mastodon and Baroness have chosen to wander upon cleaner, classier soil, while others have either called it quits (Kylesa) or reduced their output to a slow drip (Weedeater). But not only are High on Fire still going, on Cometh the Storm, their ninth album overall and first in six years, Matt Pike and Co. sound as heavy, gnarly, and gloriously sludgy as they ever have.

More than just a reignition of the band’s powers after an uncharacteristically long gap, Cometh the Storm is a reaffirmation of Pike’s aged prowess, now that the guitarist-vocalist is over three decades into his hallowed career (which began with stoner-metal gods Sleep at the dawn of the ‘90s). After Sleep’s historic return album, 2018′s The Sciences—released the same year as High on Fire’s rambunctious Electric Messiah—Pike’s ambling 2022 solo album, Pike Vs. the Automaton, was the artist’s first-ever misstep. But all of those album’s potholes are non-existent on Cometh the Storm, where Pike and longtime bandmate Jeff Matz lock into form with new drummer Coady Willis (of Big Business and Melvins fame).

Opener “Lambsbread” is a belligerent scorcher with a punishing groove and a string-melting solo. Lead single “Burning Down” might even be heavier, its Mt. Vesuvius-like heat only bested by Pike’s madman howls on the next track, the molten “Trismegistus.” That’s one of the best opening runs in High on Fire’s discography, and while they go on to sneak some chant-able melodies into the fuming title-track and the gallant “Hunting Shadows” (the closest HoF have ever come to an Iron Maiden-style trot), the album’s 10-minute closer “Darker Fleece” rages like a pyre that’s hot enough to turn an army of casualties into thick, putrid smoke. This is the way sludge-metal should sound.