Unleashing Snakes 

High on Fire's fifth studio album, Snakes for the Divine, shows the metal trio only improving with age.

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By the time the band headed into the studio in September, it was well oiled. The guys clocked in nine to fourteen hours a day — "just belting it out and getting perfect takes," said Pike. Recording at the Pass Studios in Los Angeles not only allowed the band a comfortable recording environment with all the amenities, but one in which the members — away from home distractions — could focus completely on the music.

The majority of the bass, drums, and rhythm guitar were recorded live (fully digital, for the first time in the band's career), with the three playing altogether. Production-wise, High on Fire has gradually moved away from the very muddied sound it started off with — and Snakes is no exception to the trend. Matz says he "wanted it to sound huge, with a really big, warm, bottom end." Pike's goals were "huge and separated."

Though clearly serious and ambitious about their music (they practice for a couple hours a day, four to five days a week), Pike, Kensel, and Matz also have an easy, jokey rapport, which no doubt lends itself to getting along in the studio and on the road. "The communication thing is major when you're on a roving hotel room for that long," said Pike.

Having just gotten off a successful nationwide tour opening for Dethklok and Mastodon, the band is primed to embark on a headlining tour in March — its first in two years. (It plays Oakland's Fox Theater on May 8 with Mastodon, Baroness, Black Cobra, Priestess, and others.) With so much experience on tour supporting bigger bands, and thus playing to audiences who aren't familiar with their music, Pike says he's realized that, beyond songwriting and musicianship, learning to be an entertainer is also key. "You need to psyche that thing inside people up so that they're having a good time," he said. "So that's your job, too, on top of trying to recite all this. It can be overwhelming and exhausting in your brain."

Indeed, playing in High on Fire can take its toll. There's the touring, the partying, and the need to be at peak performance at all times. But the band's limitations have instead necessitated improved technique. Pike works on his "rock moves" while Kensel approaches his playing with better control and accuracy.

Getting it to all gel together is a minor miracle. But they succeeded on Snakes for the Divine. "Trying to come up with ideas of what direction it's gonna go in or try to add a part we already had onto it, and then on top of that then have it sound right, feel right, and have us all into it and agree on it, that was definitely challenging, but I think we definitely did it," Kensel said, then caught himself sounding like an earnest, after-school special. "We did it, man!"

Lyrically, Matt Pike conjures up his usual sources of inspiration on Snakes for the Divine: religion and spirituality, hard times, weird David Icke conspiracies, and H.P. Lovecraft imagery. But there are some surprising meanings, too. Here, Pike shares some of his concepts behind the cryptic lyrics:

"Snakes for the Divine"

"'Snakes for the Divine' was based upon the idea that Adam and Eve weren't the first people on Earth. They were the first people to take the reptoid DNA, which is a David Icke theory, and Adam had a wife named Lillith before Eve and she ate her young because you know certain animals will eat their young if their young they know aren't healthy. So I take it that the human reptoid experiment didn't work with that so they found a different way to inseminate Eve, which has to do with her and the snake and all that."

"How Dark We Pray"

"'How Dark We Pray' is along the same lines but it's also kinda about my mom dying and me losing faith in religion, not spirituality so much."

"Ghost Neck"

"'Ghost Neck' is about a dude who used to be a friend of mine. I never got it off my chest but he stole a girl that I loved from me and got her hooked on heroin with him. I just kinda got it off my chest, cussing someone out but I'm just putting it in lyrics. That one hurt me a long time ago, and that's still lingering, how fucked up that was."

"Bastard Samurai"

"That's about a comic book. This fan of ours used to always come to the shows and bring this Bastard Samurai book and I really got into the comic book. It's about this total samurai guy who just kinda wanders around but the yakuza bet on him all the time. And he has this one girl that's like a guide. ... He'll just get ambushed anywhere ... and he just kills everything in sight. And it sounded good, you know."

"Frost Hammer"

"'Frost Hammer' is like a welcome to the world to my drummer's kid. Because we were outside when he told me his wife is pregnant, it was really cold out, I was like, 'What are we gonna call him, Frost Hammer?' Then they started asking me what they should name their kid and then I'm all, 'You know his name, it's Frost Hammer, bro.' It was like a joke and then all of a sudden I wrote the initial verse lyrics and then Jeff wrote this whole separate part onto the end of it. It's kind of like me and Jeff's, as far as lyrics go, welcome to the world, Frost Hammer, guy, little dude, whatever. And it also sounds metal."


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