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High On Fire, Drunk On Jack!

Photo by Kevin Scanlon

Beware: High on Fire ain’t here to rinse your nylons. The Bay Area band play the darkest, sludg-iest riff-rock in all of hell. So it’s only natural that they’d man the barricades of the first-ever Sounds of the Underground metal tour, which presents a less commercialized (and cheaper) alternative to Ozzfest — as well as a mutiny from Ozzfest, since some of the enlistees have been past slaves to the Osbourne grind. The ironclad assembly spans subgenres from barking metalcore to semimelodic emotional meltdown, and features, among many others, Lamb of God, Unearth, and Throwdown. High On Fire formed in 1998 following the demise of the epic moan unit Sleep: Matt Pike congealed his Les Paul guitar dirt and smoke-belching vocals with the roiling drums of Des Kensel and the vibrational bass of George Rice; after Rice burned out last year, the simpatico low-end monster Joe Preston (Thrones, Sunn 0))), Melvins) was drafted. HoF’s current Blessed Black Wings, produced by Steve Albini, is a horrifying roller-coaster ride of dramas and Stygian textures that, somehow, you never want to dismount. We huddled backstage at the Knitting Factory last time High on Fire were in town: Kensel was smiling and sardonic; big Preston loomed shyly; no-bullshit rockerdude Pike was swigging Jack Daniel’s. He doesn’t give a fuck if you think it’s a cliché. L.A. WEEKLY:So there are differences between bottles of Jack? MATT PIKE: Some are smoother than others, some are darker, some are more whey-tasting. It depends on the time of year it was bottled and stuff. I can tell by the taste, just from drinking it every day for a long time. If you have a vocal quality like mine, kind of rough, it definitely helps. It’s the cheater’s way to warm up your voice instead of singing. What is it about the Bay Area that produces so many heavy bands? DES KENSEL: It’s more expensive up there, so everyone gets all pissed off. And the fog. You can feel this band physically. PIKE: I believe that’s what music’s about. It gives you some sort of tingly sense. When did you first understand the impact of loud music? PIKE: An Iron Maiden show I saw at Red Rocks — I was, like, 12. When I moved to the Bay Area, the Melvins and Neurosis were big influences — the volume and the guitar playing, deep-ass and just brutally loud.

I notice you use triple meters a fair amount. PIKE: Me and Des go back and forth on that. He likes fours, I like threes. KENSEL: I’m fighting his triplets tooth and nail. I’ve got him to change a lot of ’em to fours, but not all of ’em. The new album sounds great — crisp but noisy. KENSEL: Yeah, [Steve] Albini, he’s good. He’s like a mad scientist. He’s the Doctor. PIKE: He does a lot of shit ambient, so you get this weird room noise. All these supersensitive mikes that are away from everything. The drums sound like they have influences other than hard rock. KENSEL: I went through a Pink Floyd phase when I started smokin’ weed. A little “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” action. PIKE:Meddle, isn’t that genius? JOE PRESTON:Meddle was just the fuckin’ most awesome one. You’d go on Ozzfest if you were asked, wouldn’t you? PIKE: We got asked a couple times. PRESTON: I wouldn’t pay that much money to... How much? PIKE: Like, $75,000. I’m like, “Yeah, I’m honored and all, but why should I be honored about you asking me to give you $75,000 so that I can play? That’s not honored, that’s more like, ‘Here’s my dick. Suck it.’” KENSEL: Seventy-five thousand dollars. I’ve got 12 and change in my pocket; I better start saving. PIKE: Big fish eat little fish. What kind of fish are you? PIKE: We’re trying to evolve and grow teeth. Become predators. KENSEL: Hang out and talk about how stupid all the other fish are.

High on Fire play the Sounds of the Underground Friday, July 22, at around 1:30 p.m. (event starts at noon), at the L.A. Sports Arena parking lot. Other Underground attractions include: Gwar (theatrical gross-out); Throwdown (multilayered metal groove); DevilDriver (Dez Farfara’s juggernaut); Full Blown Chaos (punk-influenced density); Unearth (passionate thrash); and the gnarly complexities of headliner Lamb of God (great-sounding tragicomic new video out). Check www.soundsoftheundergroundtour.com.

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