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High On Fire / Bask (live at The Scala)

London
12 November 2015

It was my friend Lee Nite who first played me an album by High On Fire. I knew and loved Sleep’s work, but had kind of considered that HOF’s sound was a little too fast for my doom/stoner rock ears. He slipped on their first album and said something like “this is fucking brutal and psychedelic”. And he was right (as with most of the things he played me); my musical world atlas shifted a bit in its orbit and suddenly High On Fire made sense and I had to get the album. Then we saw them at the Camden Underworld and I was once again worshipping at the altar of Matt Pike.

So fast forward a few years and my friend is no longer with us and I’m making my way to The Scala to see HOF play live again for the first time in about four years or more. It feels strange in a way, but I’m hoping that me being there at the show will help transmit the music to wherever my friend may be.

Bask live November 2015

Due to the original advertised stage times, I thought that I would arrive in time to catch Slabdragger, but instead catch Bask as they enter the stage. There already seems to be an odd vibe in the audience, but I put that down to my expectations for the night. Bask are technically wonderful; their music leaps from old-school heavy metal through to almost a bluesy sound with a slab of doom added on for good measure. When they rip in to a big riff you can almost feel the floor quake under the powerful avalanche of sound. Drums and bass rumble in perfect unison and the lead guitar has plenty of soul in it to carry off subtle melodies as the bombast crashes around it. They are a precision machine that forges ahead to make a glorious blast of sound.

High On Fire live November 2015 -2

By the time High On Fire take to the stage, parts of the audience seem quite pepped up and ready to let lose and embrace their heroes, all of which I thought boded well for the gig. There’s a few differences from High On Fire over the intervening years: not only does Matt Pike have a rather fine moustache and quite a healthy receptacle for holding beer, but he no longer seems to play his seven-string guitar (unless my counting is in some way out) — also gone is the massive bass drum that they used to use, replaced by a set of double bass drums. As they tear their way into the opening track, it hits me just how vicious and malevolent High On Fire can be live and just how much they have a brutal take no prisoners attitude on stage.

High On Fire live November 2015

Tonight we are treated to a mixture of tracks from the new album Luminiferous and classic numbers like “Death Is This Communion” and “Snakes For the Devine”. At times they feel like Motörhead on (even more) speed, and bearing in mind that the ‘Head’s drummer Phil Taylor had died this day, I found that kind of apt. High On Fire are an aural assault on your senses, a battering ram into your unconscious that sometimes makes you get a siege mentality until you have to let the barbarians in to annihilate any last bits of ‘self’. This isn’t Sabbath rifferey in its hash-smoked haze, but a cry to storm the gates.

High On Fire live November 2015 -3

At about ten minutes into the set, certain sections of the audience rightly want to express their love of the music by having a bit of a mosh (this being HOF and fast I would expect no different), but it’s here that something strange happens that I’d not seen before.

A guy standing next to me in the audience is giving the bouncers a nod every time someone starts to get a bit carried away. The bouncers then pile into the audience and drag this person off, normally bashing into people (myself included) while doing so. A girl behind me asks if I am all right as a slight bit of moshing breaks out near me and bouncers pile in, nearly knocking me flying. I feel like saying that I have been to gigs that were a hundred times more violent than this over the many years, but just nod yes to her. In a strange way I find this guy giving the nod rather distracting from what is happening on stage, which is High On Fire giving one of their most powerful performances, the music hitting the audience in a wave like a relentless tide of riffs breaking over our skulls.

High On Fire live November 2015

On the way back I felt I had mixed feelings about the show. High On Fire were brilliant, as per usual; I just found the policing of the event rather heavy-handed and stripped away some of people’s need to express themselves freely at an event they had paid money for.

Maybe the scene is changing though, and venues have to get a bit tougher, but it’s certainly something I know that would have annoyed Lee greatly. But at the end of the day, High On Fire were magnificent and I hope that some of their music was sent out into the aether for him to enjoy.

-Words: Gary Parsons-
-Pictures: Dave Pettit-

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