From Oakland, California, heavy metal group High On Fire formed in 1998. Chart success first came to the band with 2005’s Blessed Black Wings, which the band co-produced with Steve Albini. 2005 also happened to be the year in which bassist Jeff Matz joined the fold, rounding out the musical core of vocalist/guitarist Matt Pike and drummer Des Kensel, which has been intact for the full twenty year history of the band.
Released by Entertainment One on October 5th, Electric Messiah is High On Fire’s first full-length release in three years. A follow-up to Luminiferous, which Rolling Stone ranked as one of the best 20 metal albums of 2015, Electric Messiah is comprised of nine tracks which showcase the trio’s signature use of sludge and thrash metal elements. Interestingly, the album’s title was inspired by a dream which Matt Pike had about the late Lemmy Kilmister of metal legends Motorhead, who he has often been compared to.
I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with Jeff Matz about Electric Messiah, High On Fire’s decision to work with Kurt Ballou on yet another studio effort, how he spends his off-time, and more. Tour dates, which are also listed below, and other info can be found online at www.highonfire.net.
Check out the electrifying title track from Electric Messiah.
Electric Messiah is your new album. How long did you spend making it?
Jeff Matz: The majority of the album was written between spring 2016 and February 2018. We had a bunch of material in the demo archives left over from our previous albums, so we used that as a jumping off point, although most of the music that ended up on the album was brand new music that we came up with. We finished pre-production and recorded drums with Kurt Ballou over nine or ten days in February.
Then, Matt and I continued on tracking guitars, bass, and vocals with Bryan Sours at two different studios in Portland, Oregon over the course of two and a half weeks or so. Then, I recorded the majority of the bass and did some extra guitars and editing with Greg Wilkinson at Earhammer in Oakland over five days. Finally, the album was mixed by Kurt Ballou at Godcity in around a week, and then sent to Alan Douches for mastering.
Which song on the album was written first?
Matz: “Spewn From The Earth” was the first song to come together. I came up with the verse and chorus parts jamming guitar with Des. The three of us jammed it out and fleshed out the bridge and solo sections, and Matt came up with vocals.
Was any of the album written in the studio?
Matz: We had all the main musical parts written by the time we hit the studio this time, but we assembled and fine-tuned the arrangements during pre-production. Some of the lyrics and vocals were completed in the studio, and we always tend to tweak our parts and improvise to some degree until we get the final takes that we like.
Feel like going old school? Let’s throw you back to the video for “Rumors of War.”
Do you have a favorite song on the album?
Matz: I really like “Sanctioned Annihilation.” I dig the heavy pounding verses and the big tribal drumming crescendo at the end. The intro/main riff and the chorus are parts that I came up with while jamming on guitar at practice, and the ending is something that we’ve had in the vault from when we were writing Snakes For The Divine. I really love how we put it all together, I think it has a great flow and feel.
Did you know all along that you would be working with Kurt again on Electric Messiah?
Matz: We had a pretty good idea that we wanted to do this one with Kurt. We had time booked to track the entire album with him, but we ended up having to push the recording dates back because the songs just weren’t ready in time. Hence why we ended up going the route of using three different engineers at four different studios. But it ended up being really cool that each of those guys put their individual marks on the recording, but the album’s overall character still sounds like a Kurt production to me.
Promoting Electric Messiah aside, what is coming up for High On Fire?
Matz: We will be doing a bunch of touring to support the album over the next couple of years. Looking forward to playing some cool festivals, and to beginning work on new High On Fire music.
Is there something you wish more people knew about High On Fire?
Matz: I’m not sure how many people realize that the music writing in High On Fire is very much a collaborative effort. In addition to what Matt brings to the table, I also compose a lot of High On Fire riffs on guitar and actually played second guitar on the entirety of the new album, and Desi’s musical ideas are key in the songwriting and arrangement process. We put the music together as a band, and all three of us pour our hearts into making it.
When not busy with High On Fire, how do you like to spend your free time?
Matz: We tour a lot, so I savor the time that I get to spend off the road. I love just chilling at my house with my wife, going for hikes, drinking good coffee, reading books, nerding out on guitars, amps, and music gear, listening to records…
I’m currently also writing music for and playing guitar in a side-project with my ex-Zeke bandmate Marky Felchtone on guitar, Slayer Hippy from Poison Idea on drums, and Mike Scheidt from Yob on vocals. I also have a speaker cabinet/musical instrument company, Matz Custom Audio. We built a lot of the speaker cabinets used on the new LP.
What was the last concert you attended for fun?
Matz: I went with my friend Steve Borek, original Bl’ast guitarist, to see Fear play in Portland. It was fucking awesome! They are one of my all-time favorite punk bands, and they killed it. It was so great to see Spit Stix play, such a killer drummer!
Finally, Jeff, any last words for the kids?
Matz: Thanks for supporting us over the years. Hope you dig our new album, come catch us on tour!
Tour Dates (w/ Municipal Waste):
11/02 – Canton Hall – Dallas, TX
11/03 – Mohawk – Austin, TX
11/04 – Southport Hall – New Orleans, LA
11/06 – Orpheum Theatre – Tampa, FL
11/07 – The Masquerade – Atlanta, GA
11/09 – Black Cat – Washington, DC
11/11 – Warsaw – Brooklyn, NY
11/12 – Union Transfer – Philadelphia, PA
11/13 – Paradise Rock Club – Boston, MA
11/15 – Metro – Chicago, IL
11/17 – The Oriental Theater – Denver, CO
11/18 – Metro Music Hall – Salta Lake City, UT
11/20 – Bossanova Ballroom – Portland, OR
11/21 – Showbox at the Market – Seattle, WA
11/23 – Ace Of Spades – Sacramento, CA
11/24 – The UC Theatre – Berkley, CA
This is “The Black Plot” and it’s dark.