Matt Pike – guitarist, vocalist and founder of Bay Area metal heavyweights High on Fire – is attempting to navigate his vehicle toward a guitar shop in order to pick up some freshly repaired gear. “All of ’em blew up all at once,” he says of his tour-damaged amplifiers. “We have to do this between every tour; all the guitars and amps take a pretty severe beating when we go out on the road.”

Anyone familiar with Pike’s history shouldn’t be surprised. Since lumbering onto the metal scene in the early 1990s with Sleep (a band that evolved from Pike’s earlier involvement in the crust-metal band Asbestosdeath), Pike has been one of metal’s foremost practitioners of regressive progression, using his tools to craft a modern take on rock’s most punishing tendencies. Whether the sludgy psychedelic gloom of Sleep, the riff-laden death metal of Kalas or the doomy, Motörhead-meets-Melvins sound of High on Fire, Pike’s music has consistently pushed the boundaries of the genre – and his gear.

“I’m kind of a guitar nerd, I guess,” he laughs. “The gear I use is all pretty much quality – Laney amps, Soldano amps – but the stuff I don’t need, I’ll sell.”

Unwilling to venture down the more angst-ridden path many metal bands were trotting in the ’90s, Pike’s work in Sleep – roughly 1991 to the band’s demise in 1997 – became known for long, turgid, deeply psychedelic numbers that were crushingly heavy, including the 63-minute song, “Dopesmoker,” that got them dropped by their label. It was not metal for the masses, but it did define its own genre – stoner metal.

In comparison, it’s fair to call High on Fire more accessible than Sleep. But over the course of four albums – including their most recent release, Death Is This Communion – HOF has remained steadfastly devoted to redefining the more aggressive end of stoner metal, and the band’s approach has gotten simultaneously tighter and sludgier. Pike’s guitar work plumbs further into the deep well of drop-D heaviness without losing sight of the chugging riffs and fluid solos that have enamored him to up-and-coming players who prefer forcefulness over flashiness. And, in a move that’s surprising even by the standards of High on Fire, the choice of producers for Communion was none other than legendary Seattle grunge producer Jack Endino.

“I thought he was going to do something a little different,” says Pike of why he chose to work with Endino. “I didn’t know how he was gonna take to doing a metal band over doing a grungy stoner band, but I feel like it was a good match.”

2007 also saw the release of archival recordings of Pike’s earlier Asbestosdeath work.

“It was something that never came out on CD. Those were all done at Kinko’s,” laughs Pike about the Asbestosdeath 7-inches that now make up Dejection, Unclean. And while Pike may have been able to find the time to get those recordings together, there simply wasn’t enough time for him to continue as vocalist for Kalas.

“I just bit off more than I could chew,” Pike says. “I really enjoyed doing that project, but I just couldn’t match up the touring schedule … and the choice had to be High on Fire.”


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