Yesterday I saw 12 metal bands before High On Fire hopped onto the outdoor stage at the Mohawk sometime around midnight to make it a perfect baker’s dozen. A few of those were a lot of fun — Chicago’s upswinging Atlas Moth and their three-guitar tapestries (and beer-buzzed banter), frontwoman Grace Perry’s afternoon pit-initiating for thrashing Arizona death crew Landmine Marathon, rugged Indiana meat ‘n’ potato ‘n’ Conan the Barbarian heroes Gates Of Slumber, a muted and foggy Zoroaster with their new weird punker take on crusty and craggy snake-charming doom — and others great — post-pizza parlor bubblegum sludge trio Torche (using a borrowed drummer) and the always dependably compelling Virginians Salome with drummer Aaron Deal in an especially chatty mood in his quest for getting “smoked up” — but nobody commanded then decimated the crowd like Matt Pike, Jeff Matz, and Des Kensel. A true “power trio,” High On Fire’s muscular, chipped-tooth post-Motörhead stoner anthems get heavier and fuller each time I see them. Their songs have also grown increasingly well-crafted, from 2000′s The Art Of Self-Defense to the present. Which is maybe why their Snakes For The Divine-spotted set at Mohawk was the best of I’ve witnessed.
Snakes actually isn’t my favorite HoF album — that goes to 2007′s Death Is This Communion — but finding a best in such a solid oeuvre is splitting very long hairs: It’s a super record (stop quibbling about the production, folks), makes sense as a trajectory, and it was a treat hearing new tracks like the slow-build “Bastard Samurai,” “Frost Hammer,” and the title track unfurl within this manic, smoky, packed pit and amp-diving setting (most enthusiastic SXSW crowd ever?). Pike is also becoming more and more of a bad-ass frontman with his one-handed guitar solos, devil’s grin, a pair of lungs that grow stronger and more seasoned with each passing year and whiskey shot, and off-the-cuff comments like (to paraphrase) “Get that hot chick off my fucking monitor” when Paz Lenchantin hopped on said monitor for a potential crowd surf. That, and as a friend to my right commented, he remains one of the (very) few frontmen who can perform shirtless and not seem annoying. Free pass, sir.
[All photos by Ryan Muir, save those Torche-rs by Amrit]