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High on Fire 

Blessed Black Wings (Relapse)

When Lemmy finally surrenders to age and hangs it up, High on Fire will slip right into Motörhead's niche as the loudest, the hardest, and the heaviest. On Blessed Black Wings, the band's third full-length, the Bay Area power trio has really come into its own as one of the most punishing metal bands on the planet.

Guitarist-singer Matt Pike's monomaniacal vision is his band's crowning virtue. The recent addition of bassist Joe Preston, formerly of the overrated Melvins, doesn't fundamentally change the High on Fire dynamic: The guitars and drums are the point here. Des Kensel introduces the full-throated screamfest "Devilution," which opens the album, with a rockslide of rhythm. Not a note is wasted, from that track all the way through the seven-minute closing instrumental "Sons of Thunder."

High on Fire has gotten faster since its 16-ton debut, The Art of Self Defense. This is a good thing. Kensel's near-tribal beats bolster Pike's ever-more-assaultive riffing and drive his solos into the stratosphere. Blessed Black Wings is a major advance for High on Fire and an energizing start to what will hopefully be a tremendous year for metal.

More by Phil Freeman

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