Metal

High On Fire: “I definitely think that pent up frustration comes through in some of the aggression on the album…”

In our latest cover story, High On Fire‘s Matt Pike and Jeff Matz discuss how ‘Cometh The Storm’ fired up a savage new chapter for the band.

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High On Fire

On April 19th, Grammy-winning riff masters High On Fire released their ninth studio album, the gargantuan Cometh The Storm (read our coverage here). Not only was it their first studio album in over five years, the album also marked the debut of new drummer Coady Willis.

Recorded at GodCity Studio in Salem, Massachusetts with producer Kurt Ballou, the album follows a period where High On Fire mainstays Matt Pike and Jeff Matz ventured down other musical avenues. Returning with the savage new album, V13 sat down with Jeff and Matt for our latest Cover Story to discuss the album that has kickstarted a savage new chapter in their fifteen year story.

It’s been five years since we’ve had a new High On Fire album. A lot has gone on in that five years. It’s the first record with Coady as well. Does it feel like a fresh start for the band?

Matt Pike: “Yeah, actually. I would have to say a lot of the themes, a lot of the lyrics were about fresh starts and rebuilding your hot rod and rebuilding the things in your life that you had before. It was pretty crazy stretch between between albums here and having Coady in the band, it’s like a whole new thing. It definitely feels like a fresh start.”

Coady joined the band, if I’ve got my dates right, in 2021. What was the process between Dez leaving and Coady joining? You knew each other from previous bands…

Matt: “We went through some earthquakes with him. Jeff had known him from a long time ago and I had known him from when High On Fire took Big Business on tour.”

What were you looking for in a new drummer?

Jeff: “It’s really a matter of chemistry. Chemistry is everything. Somebody that would understand the band sound and aesthetic and just be able to stay faithful to that without necessarily copying Dez. Coady was at the top of my wish list of drummers personally. I think for Matt as well. I really wasn’t sure that he would have the time or inclination to jam with us, given Big Business. He still does Murder City Devils.

We had a couple of friends play drums with us for a bit. We had Nick Parks do some shows with us in 2019 and then Chris Maggio jumped in and did a tour with us and did some writing. As far as the permanent drum throne we got in touch with Coady back in ’21 and I just gave him a call, talked it over with Matt, gave him a buzz and he was in.”

Matt: “I followed that up telling him we’ve got a show in three weeks could he learn 50 minutes of music?”

What do you think you brought to the band? Being a quick learner is obviously one quality he brought to the band?

Matt: Creativity, style, all the things you look for in a great player. He’s spot on to what a great drummer should be. He has his own unique style.”

“It’s really a matter of chemistry. Chemistry is everything. Somebody that would understand the band sound and aesthetic and just be able to stay faithful to that”

Apart from the obvious break, was that, was the intention to take a break of that length? Was that a frustrating time for you?

Matt: “No, no, it wasn’t the intention at all. It was due to the events within the band. Dez leaving, that was a huge hurdle that we had to overcome in finding the right drummer, the pandemic, that was the biggest thing. Two years of our time came to a halt. We continued to work during that time and, and trade ideas, but it wasn’t really practical for us to get together.”

I liken it to a football team getting a new coach. The team gets a new bounce in their step. Do you think it reinvigorated you?

Matt: “I would say yeah, I think so.”

So, the record’s out. It couldn’t have a more appropriate title, Cometh the Storm. When you sat down writing this record, what was your vision for it and where along that journey did the album title fit into that?

Matt: “There is a lot of things to sing about in the world and usually I don’t sing too politically or anything but I sang about the times metaphorically on this one, a lot about nuclear war and it being talked about as if it’s a normalcy in life like we’ve had a lot of them. No, we haven’t and no-one wins that in the world economic forum. Also the people who are trying to gain power because they have all the trees… okay, so if you’re worried about the environment, how do we pay all 12 trillion trees back for their skins? It’s just contradictory to like what they would like the rest of us to live by.

I have a disagreement with that and I think most people do so it was nice to get some of our feelings out just through playing and to have some hope out of the whole thing. It sucks when you don’t know if you are ever going to play again.”

Issue 055 – High On Fire – Cover Story Artwork

Do you think that contributed to the record? It’s a savage album. Do you think that contributed to it?

Jeff: “I would say it was a number of things, but I definitely think that pent up frustration comes through in some of the aggression on the album. I think the biggest factors are just when we just get together and throw ideas around and see what sticks. That’s really how it comes together. It’s not like we sit down and discuss how this album is going to go. There’s no vision for the album, it’s something that arises out of us. Throwing ideas at each other and seeing how we each react to those ideas and that’s sort of how the songs and just the overall flow of the album take shape.”

Lyrically, going back to what you said earlier about you never really writing from a political point of view, did you find it easy to take that approach on this record?

Matt: “I think I’ve gotten better at expressing myself on dead religions and esoteric cult type of subjects. On this one, I think I’m getting better at metaphorically expressing myself politically. I know that sounds weird, but it’s actually the only way I know how to describe it.”

Was it good to get those things off your chest? People sat at home and just watching this shitstorm going on?

Matt: “Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.”

You worked with Kurt Ballou on this record, and he’s been very complimentary about it. What did you learn from working with him?

Matt: “We’ve been working with him for so long now, it’s like second nature. I just think he really understands the band, how we want to sound, how we want to be portrayed on the albums. I think that he just keeps honing his craft with each successive album that we do with him. He’s definitely contributed a lot in the way of production ideas. It’s helping us streamline some of the songs and make little arrangement tweaks. He’s a real creative fella. He’s never short of having a good idea.”

“We’ve been working with him for so long now, it’s like second nature. I just think he really understands the band, how we want to sound, how we want to be portrayed on the albums.”

One of the things he said was that he could see that it was a reinvigorated band.

Matt: “Yeah. It was a pretty dark time, like losing Des as our drummer, you know, I’d been playing with him and Jeff for so long. If we weren’t all moonlighting, I don’t think I would have played with another drummer.”

Jeff: “We didn’t want Coady to just fill Des’ shoes. We wanted him to bring his own shoes, fill that gap. I think he did an astonishing job at that, so definitely.”

Matt: “I think it brought a freshness to the writing process. Coady’s a very different drummer than Des, it’s a different dynamic jamming with them. Anytime you change out a member, especially in a three piece band, you know, the drums are obviously a huge part of High On Fire’s sound and drive so there’s bound to be a chemistry change but Coady’s really creative, super patient and just willing to try just about any idea that you throw at him. I think that helped coax some interesting new sounds out of us on this new record.”

High On Fire ‘Cometh The Storm’ Album Artwork

On the subject of interesting sounds, Matt, you’ve worked in different bands away from High on Fire. I believe you studied Middle Eastern folk music, Jeff?

Jeff: “I’ve had an interest in that since I joined the band, back in 2006, and I’ve tried to infuse the band sound with elements of that from time to time. It’s always been a part of the riffs that I contribute. They are always informed by those scales and that feel. I started studying more seriously back in 2019. Coupled with a music teacher in Istanbul doing online lessons and then, throughout the pandemic, I had a lot of time on my hands to do music.

I got really serious about it and even found a few more teachers to work with that specialize in different styles. Turkish folk music is my main area of study. I’ve traveled to Turkey a couple of times and met with teachers over there. That’s a pretty big influence on this record.”

How did you work that into the music?

Jeff: “It integrates pretty seamlessly. It’s like one of the things that go hand in hand. When I first started getting into this type of music the thing that struck me was there’s a lot of similarities to metal and a lot of these melodies and the scales and just the phrasing that’s used, is really heavy. There’s that, and there’s some really dark sounds in there so there were a lot of parallels.”

I had a conversation with somebody that it doesn’t just need to be super fast. It can be heavy without being death metal. Heavy music can be quite emotional as well…

Jeff: “Oh yeah, certain pieces… it covers the entire emotional spectrum. Some of the stuff that I love the most in that musical tradition is very heavy, like I listen to it and, man, it hits me like a ton of bricks despite the lack of distorted guitars and super pounding drums, it has this rhythmic thrust and feel to it and the emotion behind it. I think it’s the real thing.”

You talked about Cometh The Storm being the record that you would want to listen to as an album. In terms of bands you’re comparing it to where would you put it?

Jeff: “I think the challenge is to create something fresh and new out of your influences. Distilling your influences into something unlike what people have heard before. There’s certainly influences that you can sort of pick out, that we wear on our sleeves, but, rather than trying to compare it to another band’s work, I think that the real challenge is trying to make something fresh out of the influences that you gather.”

“Some of the stuff that I love the most in that musical tradition is very heavy. It hits me like a ton of bricks despite the lack of distorted guitars and super pounding drums.”

In terms of looking forward into this new chapter, what are your goals or ambitions?

Matt: “I think we just want to go on tour, learn these new songs properly and make the best shows we can out of it.”

… and is there any message for the metal scene preparing them for the oncoming storm?

Matt: “Just look out for us. We’re coming.”

To pick up your copy of Cometh The Storm, head over to the Official High On Fire website here.

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