Since the first time I heard High on Fire five or six years ago, I'd been dying to see them live. Last night at the Middle East in Cambridge I finally got my opportunity and they did not disappoint in the slightest.
Hometown supergroup Doomriders opened the night up. I'd only heard a couple of songs by them prior to last night and that was only because Nate Newton from Converge is the vocalist. Well after their performance last night, I realized that I really need to delve further into their music. Their style was really cool as they combined death metal, hardcore, sludge, classic rock and blues into one big blender. The wide-ranging sound allowed for a lot of different styles of riffs to be played and a few of them were absolutely neck-breaking (there was a bluesy riff in the second-to-last song they played that was one of the catchiest riffs I've heard in a long time.) They also displayed a level of energy that you don't really see with these type of bands. They were moving around a lot on stage and just generally having a blast performing. Capping off the set was a hilarious exchange Newton had with an audience member who just yelled "Nintendo" when Newton was addressing the crowd. Newton proceeded to keep yelling nerdy things with this dude back and forth for about a minute. Of course being the moron that I am, I had to yell "teatherball" which caused Newton to laugh and dedicate the next song to me and the Nintendo kid. Doomriders was a whole lot of fun and a very pleasant surprise to start the show off.
Norwegian black metal/hardcore/hard rock act Kvelertak came out next. Leading up to the show I was surprised that these bands were able to sell out The Middle East. My question as to why this sold out was quickly answered the minute vocalist Erlend Hjelvik came on stage with an owl mask on to kick off "Apenbaring" and the crowd when into a frenzy. It's been a long time since I've dealt with this much of a crowd push at a show. This level of crowd insanity can be attributed to the crazy stage presence of the band. These guys have that rare level of energy that makes a room absolutely electric. Their vocalist did not stay in place for more than 10 seconds at a time, their two guitarists that I was in front of were consistently interacting with the crowd and their bassist dove into the crowd near the end of the set. It also helps that their music is catchy as hell and has plenty of punchy, mosh-worthy riffs that incited huge pits. An added bonus from a comedy standpoint was hearing the vocalist address the crowd in-between songs in broken English. He had to repeat himself at least 2-3 times before the crowd had any clue what he was saying. Just like on record, the only problem I had with Kvelertak was their vocals. I really just can't get into the vocals at all, which is especially frustrating because the music is absolutely fantastic. Nonetheless, Kvelertak are excellent performers and if you're a fan of the band, their live performance is truly special.
The moment had finally come for High on Fire. I had repeatedly missed my chance to see these guys in the past and the one time I was supposed to see them, they dropped off the bill (Mayhem Fest 2012.) I'd heard for a long time that High on Fire destroys live and after last night, I competently share that sentiment. For just over an hour, High on Fire rolled through a crushing set that spanned their entire career with basically no down time in-between songs. First off, I don't think anything could've have prepared for how loud these motherfuckers are live. I took my ear plugs out before they launched into set closer "Snakes for the Divine" and my ears were ringing by the end of the song. In all years of going to shows, I've never had that happen before. I've seen some loud bands before, but High on Fire could very well be the loudest band I've ever seen. The volume they played was not the most striking thing about High on Fire, that distinct honor would have to be vocalist/guitarist Matt Pike. Pike is easily one of the best guitarists I've seen play live. His style is so crushing and sloppy (in a good way) that you just get sucked into every note he plays. I don't know if it was just me, but it seemed like he sped up the solos live. The solos on "Serums of Liao" and the aforementioned "Snakes for the Divine" were mind-bogglingly fast and the highlights of the show for me. The setlist was dope and perfectly balanced between their fast, thrashy stuff and slow, gloomy material. Hearing tracks like "Razor Hoof" and "Baghdad" live reminded that I need to revisit their early material immediately. High on Fire are an immense live band and hopefully the opportunity arises for me to see them again before too long.
High on Fire 9/10
2/27 Cannibal Corpse/Behemoth
3/14 Dropkick Murphys