It was an early show at the O2 Academy 2 and I arrived in time to see the last of the three support bands on the bill; Jumping Jack from Nantes, France. The synchronized hair flicks and their drummer’s flamboyant water spraying antics don’t exactly impress me, especially when the music isn’t up to scratch.
Jumping Jack are relatively inoffensive, churning out generic riffs containing blatant nods to classic bands such as Pantera and Iron Maiden; alas, we’ve heard it all before. After a few whoops and cries of, “Let’s rock!” from the frontman, a few enthusiastic gig goers venture closer to the stage and partake in some lacklustre head bobbing for the rest of the set. Jumping Jack seem to receive a rather generous round of applause but maybe this is in anticipation of what’s to follow.
High On Fire are back in the UK on a headline tour following their 2012 release, De Vermis Mysteriis. It’s not my (or probably anyone in the room’s) favourite High On Fire album and possibly for that reason they choose to play just a couple of songs from it.
The Californian power trio play some of the heaviest stoner/doom metal around and are fronted by the formidable Matt Pike; whose personal battle with alcohol addiction led to the cancellation of a run of live shows last summer. He’s now out of rehab and back on form, and as the now fuller figured Pike takes to the stage the room quickly fills up with excited fans.
There’s not much talk from the band as they rattle through their powerful set. One song is dedicated to Pike’s hero, Tony Iommi, who is currently undergoing treatment for cancer. Later in the set he simply shouts, “Black Sabbath!”, and of course the Birmingham crowd appreciate that.
Pike’s vocals are not audible at all times and the sound in general is quite muddy but I’m not sure it matters, this band are all about the riffs. Pike’s performance is a mixture of Iommi on guitar and Lemmy on vocals, backed up with the awesome power of the High On Fire drums and bass. The sound is so forceful, in fact, at one point my earplugs vibrated right out of my ears! Songs from Surrounded By Thieves and Blessed Black Wings receive the best reactions and there is vigorous head-banging and fist pumping throughout.
Personally I prefer the the slower, THC-laced offerings from Pike’s other outfit, Sleep; who rose from their slumber in 2009 and continue to re-reform every so often for live shows and recently re-issued their seminal record, Dopesmoker. However, I digress… High On Fire are the band for you if you like your metal doomy, aggro and brutal. Their music is possibly a little too inaccessible for the average metal fan and that’s probably why they still remain relatively underground; but the live version of High On Fire is a force to be reckoned with. This week they continue their tour of the UK and you should go to a show… if you’re tough enough!
Review by Eleanor Lawton
Photographs by Ian Dunn