High on Fire, Middle East Downstairs, October 11, 2007
BIG BLOODY HEARTS: High on Fire are hard not to like.
Metal can be one of pop’s funniest, loudest, most compelling genre exercises. In the hands of Oakland’s High on Fire last Thursday, it was all three. Touring in support of their fourth album, Death Is Our Communion (Relapse), the band didn’t quite fill the Middle East’s downstairs. They were relentlessly aggressive, if not quite angry. And they were pros, soldiering on without complaint through a series of minor and not-so-minor sound problems — specifically, a hazy, bottom-heavy mix that beat down the high end of frontman Mike Pike’s guitar, reducing its natural, ferocious warmth to sludge.
Playing to a gaggle of bumping, moshing zealots camped out in front of the stage, Pike pounded fists, flashed toothy Jack Black grins, and threw down solos as if his guitar were a communal altar. With Pike’s sturdy trunk sweating charisma at the lip of the stage, bassist George Rice and drummer Des Kensel focused on laying down a fluid, roaring foundation. Kensel in particular carved out space with speed and volume, creating exciting rhythms and drawing on a broad tonal palette.
Band and audience exchanged gestures of good will throughout the night. When a crowd surfer who’d surfed his way on stage got rushed out back by a chiseled security guard, Rice glanced behind him with a look of real concern. When a whirling, airborne hoodie got stuck on a stage light, fans paused and took it down. Metal may scowl at the outside world, but High on Fire have a big, bloody heart that’s hard not to like.
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