Hot and Bothered

High on Fire's Matt Pike sounds angry, but he's trying hard to mellow.


LOST GOAT, BOULDER, FIRESHOW Graceland, 381-3094, $8 adv. 9 p.m., Fri., July 19

Matt Pike is a self-professed dirtbag, and if he weren't the rock star you most want to have an illicit affair with, then he'd be the construction worker you most want to have an illicit affair with. You'd have to spirit him away to some seedy motel on the side of the road, though, because you could never bring him home to Mom and Dad. He's far too crude and sweaty for that. Plus, sometimes he just has to take his shirt off.

Pike leads High on Fire, who just might be the heaviest stoner-doom metal trio in the free world. High on Fire are crap-your-pants loud, paw-mutely-at-your-ears loud, Oh-my-god-this-is-how-I'm-going-to-die loud, but if you died while listening to High on Fire, you'd die with a smile on your face. You'd be deaf, sure, and possibly disemboweled, but you'd be beaming.

The Oakland trio's latest offering, Surrounded by Thieves (Relapse Records) is a sci-fi/fantasy concept album: It finds Pike returning to the same epic/ biblical/ spiritual terrain he explored on 2000's The Art of Self Defense (Man's Ruin) and as guitarist in the defunct stoner outfit Sleep, whose legendary album Jerusalem was made up of one 52-minute song.

On the new album, Pike rails about all manner of epic dorky things like yetis, wolves, elks, and the tundra. Apparently, if you can understand the lyrics to album closer, "Razor Hoof," you can understand the concept behind the whole record. (Somehow "Razor hoof coming down/ Coming down, coming down/Antlers sharp, sharp to kill . . . " didn't speak to me, but then maybe I just need to smoke more pot.)

As ever, the lyrics are just gravy for the meat and potatoes of the music, and in this regard, Surrounded by Thieves doesn't disappoint, serving up a cudgel to the head of relentless drums that snap and crush, a bass that oozes like molten lava, and elephantine guitar riffs. Add to this Pike's satanic caterwaul, and you have something so vitally crushing, it could turn a crowd of urbane sophisticates into a bunch of giddy heshers.

High on Fire will move you, not in the soul-stirring way but in the stomach-stirring one, by kicking out screaming sheets of bottom-heavy noise—the kind that punches you in the gut repeatedly.

Be forewarned: The first 20 or so seconds of Surrounded by Thieves (featuring subbed-out bass and the overdubbed noise of an army marching through mud) is so low it's barely audible as anything more than a faint rumble. Resist the impulse to repeatedly crank the volume, though, or you'll be blown clear across the room when the audible-to-humans portion begins.

Pike achieves much of his aural torment by tuning his guitar down to C. "Standard tuning just never sounded right to me," he says, from his home in San Jose. "I don't know why that is, but it just sounds weird to me. It doesn't hit my soul the right way."

Onstage the former child delinquent (he stole car stereos as well as a few cars) looks positively simian, all sideburns and sinew. He's a Golden God and the last one you'd expect would suffer from stage fright. And yet he does: "Oh man, I flip out; I totally tweak," he says between burp-causing sips of Budweiser. "I'm kind of shy and insecure, so I have to get all pissed to even go out there." And how does he achieve such fits of pique? "Oh, I just think about things that piss me off."

There's little doubt that High on Fire's repeated label changes—they've been on eight labels in fewer years—and their shoddy treatment by some of the record companies have provided Pike with an endless font of anger-causing material. We could go into it here, but you know how boring it is to read about someone's insider industry label hoo-ha. Plus, says Pike, "I can't really go into it, or I'll get sued."

Indeed. He's getting older, you see, and trying to reel it in a bit.

"I'm 30. I'm not the young man I used to be. I used to be able to party all night and wake up at 7 and go, but it's starting to wear on me. I've got to do it in moderation and have some self-control—it's not Mardi Gras all year round."

Here's hoping he's still up for the motel room, though.

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