High on Fire - Spitting Fire Live Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 | Review

A High on Fire live show is a thing to behold: Matt Pike standing bare-chested and beer-gutted and dripping sweat as he peels off some of the heaviest riffs known to man and screams like Lemmy with bronchitis, while bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensel back him up by doling out an array of rhythms intent on caving chests and perforating eardrums. Whether the band is playing in a beer-stained hot box or on a side-stage at a music festival, theirs is a live show that every fan of metal needs to experience—especially now that Pike has put the bottle down.

The first live album released by the Oakland raiders, ‘Spitting Five Live Vol. 1 & Vol. 2’, captures a sober Matt Pike in action. This 15 song double disc recorded at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom and Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg during the band’s recent US tour is as close to a High on Fire show as you can get without physically being there. Obviously this album cannot compete with the five senses blow out of being right there in front of a quivering PA, but it shouldn’t be devalued for being unable to provide a 3D experience—leave that to future tech wizards to create such a medium. In fact, it’s one of the better live albums competing for your cash and hard-drive space. There is no cheesy banter with the crowd; no overdubs; no canned applause. It is just the sound of High on Fire doing exactly what they do best and that is delivering one helluva brute force metal show that remains focused on the music and not about pandering to pageantry; but that’s not to say that the image of Pike gurning while soloing isn’t entertainment in itself.

The ‘Spitting Five Live Vol. 1 & Vol. 2’ set-list spans the band’s entire existence: reaching back in time to their 2000 debut ‘The Art of Self Defense’—recently reissued by Southern Lord—up to last year’s ‘De Vermis Mysteriis’. ‘Last’, ‘10,000 Years’ and ‘Blood of Zion’ highlight the lineage from Pike’s emergence out of Sleep’s bong smoke to his transition into the metal titan at the front of High of Fire. There has been a subtle progression from those early days and if you listen to both volumes in the one sitting, it is interesting to hear how High on Fire found their voice amongst the Motörhead, Venom and Slayer comparisons that ran rife up until the now classic, ‘Blessed Black Wings’ (represented best here by a colossal outing of ‘Devilution'). However, the most intriguing part of ‘Spitting Five Live Vol. 1 & Vol. 2’ happens to be the savagery of the songs taken from the slickly produced ‘Snakes for the Divine’. A major gripe from fans of the band was that Greg Fidelman’s production polished the grime off the metal. In this untreated live state the sharp musical teeth we expect from High on Fire have extra incisors during ‘Frost Hammer’ and ‘Snakes for the Divine’, and both songs sound much more threatening and unruly.

Over the years there has been plenty of negative chatter about the relevance of live albums. But what has been forgotten is that live albums are all about letting your imagination run free and visualising what it was like to be a part of the show. And whether it is visions of ‘Fury Whip’ and ‘Rumors of War’ causing a ruckus in the pit or the cloud of weed smoke arising during ‘Fertile Green’, you got to just put yourself in the moment, sit back and let your mind set the scene—otherwise you will get nothing from ‘Spitting Five Live Vol. 1 & Vol. 2’, or any live album for that matter.

Dean Brown

Band info: www.highonfire.net
Label info: www.centurymedia.com

Dean Brown is a metal scribe based in Ireland. He is currently a contributing editor to the North American cultural magazine Popmatters and he regularly throws words for a number of other reputable loud noise publications such as About.com/heavy metal, Soundshock.com, MetalIreland.com, MoltenMagazine.com, amongst others. He has a strong affinity for music that shakes souls and leaves debilitating tinnitus in its wake and such obsession has left him financially and medically crippled, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. Follow Dean on twitter @reus85