Not the first metal band to use the term as an album title, De Vermis Mysteriis is a book of ancient knowledge in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. As evidenced by the droney chants of Sleep and High on Fire’s sludgy mysticism, Matt Pike has long expressed an interest in the arcane through his music. Though there is talk that De Vermis Mysteriis is a concept album about Christ’s time-traveling bro, or something in that realm of the absurd, no one comes to a High on Fire album ready to devour the libretto – the almighty riff tells the real story therein.
Touching on a variety of metal subgenres, De Vermis Mysteriis comes roaring out of the gate and retains its intensity throughout the album’s ten tracks. “Madness of an Architect” recalls Holy Mountain-era Sleep, with its sloth-like opening riff and Sabbath-y swing. On “Bloody Knucle” there are positive echoes of Slayer. Other tracks evoke an old-school thrash vibe, and there are some nice death metal-inspired moments as well.
Underlying the diversity of the proceedings is a latent psychedelia – not flower power by any means, but a post-Altamont bong loads and black lights trippiness. Kurt Ballou (Converge) assists the band in capturing a live energy in the studio, and provides clarity and definition to the drop-tuned sludge that accentuates the power of the riffs.
Aside from Pike’s solos, which have simultaneously developed and devolved over recent efforts to arrive at the Kerry King/Greg Ginn nexus of atonality, there is a monolithic consistency to High on Fire’s output some may find off-putting. Far from sounding stale, however, Matt Pike’s continued exploration of dark universes becomes further refined and streamlined. Six albums in,De Vermis Mysteriis is a return to the boggy stomp of their early releases, and sure to please anyone who’s been paying attention to the ascendant sludge/doom scene pioneered by Pike back in the ‘90s.
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