High on Fire | Blessed Black Wings (Relapse)

Relapse Records are some mighty smart cusses. They don't send out all their releases en masse to every media outlet in the world. When it comes to independent publications such as the one you're reading, they send out just a select few. Examples: Mastodon, Unsane, Zeke, Alabama Thunderpussy, High on Fire, and others. This is a very smart move on their part. Just check out their Contaminated compilations. Mixed in between the aforementioned bands are some whose sound is a little more extreme. This marketing shrewdness also extends to their bands with more unusual names. Not to discount the talent of these bands, but when you go by the monikers Cephalic Carnage, Dying Fetus, Agoraphobic Nosebleed, or Necrophagist, your records are more likely to end up victims of abject ridicule than the recipients of glowing platitudes when placed in the hands of college radio stations or indie rock publications. Smart labels realize this and save their promos and postage for publications that would welcome said releases with open arms.

Mastodon's Leviathan graced our offices a few months back and on its tail comes High on Fire's Blessed Black Wings. High on Fire have more or less always had their feet at least partially within the indie rock semi-circle with their debut, The Art of Self Defense, landing on Frank Kozik's Mans Ruin imprint. When Mans Ruin folded, another indie-Tee Pee Records-picked up the distribution of their debut and the band landed on Relapse.
Compared with Fire's previous hammerhead Surrounded by Thieves, this record has notched up the speed a step to include some Slayer-like guitar licks and nods to Motorhead. Regardless of these slight stylistic variations, High on Fire remains as heavy and dense as always, with guitar work that's repetitious yet pummeling and memorable. A notable lineup change is present as ex-Melvins bassist Joe Preston-who knows a thing or two about the mud and muck of rock-replaces George Rice.

Recorded by Steve Albini, Blessed Black Wings hits the ground running with "Devilution," "Brother in the Wind," and "Cometh Down Hessian." Wings ends quite nicely with the triad of "To Cross the Bridge," "Silver Back," and the outstanding slow builder "Sons of Thunder."

In most reviews, this is the place where I describe High on Fire with a sentence that implies a painful or otherwise unpleasant experience. Sorry, friends, Blessed Black Wings is not like getting your face eaten off by God or like having your head split open with a pick axe. Small consolation, I suppose, but Blessed Black Wings will just have to settle with being solid and highly recommended. | David Lichius

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