High on Fire
Snakes for the Divine (E1)
The scuzzy production on High on Fire's first two albums didn't really hurt the songs, or the band. High on Fire's a scuzzy outfit, and its songs—generally about monsters, wizards, and the sword-wielding warriors who fight them—work just as well when the riffs sound like they're drenched in primordial ooze, or dragon's blood. The band's third and fourth albums, Blessed Black Wings (2005) and Death Is This Communion (2007) did benefit from better production, but Communion found singer/guitarist Matt Pike was wandering a bit as a songwriter, with exotic interludes and textures filling in just a little too much of the space between the brain-crushing heaviness.
On Snakes for the Divine, Pike's back in top barbarian form. The songs here, even when they stretch out past the eight-minute mark, are brutal and efficient, and Pike's expanded his range as a vocalist. He still barks, but it's a more expressive bark than it used to be. The trouble is in the production. Greg Fidelman's mixed the sessions all wrong, with drums and vocals at the forefront and Pike's guitars buried. It's not enough to ruin a set of great performances of great songs—most of us will hear it on crappy rips on crappy computer speakers or earbuds anyway—but it is a shameful distraction on what could have been High on Fire's best moment.