By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
Serving perfectly as the bridge between Black Sabbath and Motörhead, Oakland, California's High on Fire is a musical monster of pure, concentrated heavy-metal madness. Last year's De Vermis Mysteriis, the band's sixth consecutively excellent studio effort, was followed by a live double LP this past summer. While many live albums feel like a sloppy rehashing of songs you already own in an attempt for the record company to squeeze an extra $18 from your wallet, Spitting Fire Live Vol. 1 & 2 are absolutely crushing, offering a unique and powerful listening experience that is distinct from the band's studio efforts. HOF is also releasing a limited-edition seven-inch this month through car-company-turned-metal-enthusiast Scion AV, featuring the pummeling new track "Slave the Hive." The record will be available exclusively at shows on the upcoming tour, which includes a stop at Pop's on November 23. RFT Music recently spoke with bassist Jeff Matz, formerly of the legendary rock & roll speed-punk outfit Zeke, and full-time member of High on Fire since 2005.
Where are you guys right now? Getting ready for the tour?
Yeah, we're actually in New Orleans right now, at our drummer Des [Kensel]'s house. We've been practicing here. We're gonna practice for a couple more days, and then our tour bus is gonna come pick us up on Saturday. We start the tour in Atlanta on the tenth.
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How did the live album come about?
You know, it just kind of seemed like it was time for a live album. The only other real live documentation of the band was the Contamination Festival thing that Relapse [Records, in 2005] had put out. I obviously didn't play on that, but I know that these guys weren't the happiest with that as a representation of the band. [The new album] just seemed like a good idea at the time, and I think it turned out pretty well. I think it pretty accurately captures the spirit of the band, and the performances are good.
What are some of your favorite live albums?
Well, I'm kind of partial to Unleashed in the East [Judas Priest]. That's a pretty hard one to top. [Kiss'] Alive! 1 and 2 are pretty classic. Live at Last by Black Sabbath, yeah yeah.
How did recording a new single for Scion happen? And what's with those guys getting so involved with underground metal lately?
We've done a couple festivals for Scion in the past, and they've always treated us really well. They approached us about doing a song, and it just seemed like it was a good offer. It was a good way for us to get the ball rolling with us writing some new material for a new album. So it just all kind of worked out. I know there are a group of folks over there that definitely have pretty cool taste in bands and definitely have a clue about underground metal. They seem to be doing a lot of good stuff, putting out a lot of cool bands, so it seems pretty cool.
Does the title "Slave the Hive" have a specific meaning, or was it just something that kind of sounded cool to be open to interpretation?
It has to do with the world's addiction to things like cell phones and how technology is kind of stripping us of our individuality and leading us into sort of a hive mindset, if you will.
That song has been streaming online for a few weeks now. Is there another new tune on the B-side of the seven-inch?
No, it's just one song. I think the B-side is going to have an etching of some art on it.
There was a feature recently in Decibel on the making of 2002's Surrounded by Thieves. What is your songwriting process like these days?
There are a lot of different ways that it happens. Usually it will start out with a riff or a set of riffs. Matt [Pike, guitar and vocals] will have something, or I will have something, or Des will come up with something. So sometimes it will come from somebody bringing something to practice. A lot of times things just come about spontaneously — from just jamming — too. I think the songwriting process is pretty organic. Not anything anyone tries to force or anything like that.
Your albums seem to get faster and more aggressive with each release. Was this a conscious decision to break away from being labeled simply a "stoner-metal" band?
I don't think it was ever really a conscious decision to play or write any kind of material or anything like that. I think that's just sort of the way the band has evolved and the taste of the individual members. I think through just playing and playing, ability improves and you want to challenge yourself. It's all about the energy level that turns you on.
Having played here quite a few times in the past, is there anything about St. Louis that has been unique to you?
Well, we did end up getting really wasted and going to Pop's.
Yeah, I think that's the St. Louis experience in a nutshell.
[Laughs] Yeah. Ended up spending way too much money and getting a little weird.
The first time I remember hearing of High on Fire was actually opening for your previous band, Zeke, at a venue called the Hi-Pointe. But the show got canceled for some reason.
That's when I first met these guys, actually. Zeke was doing some shows with High on Fire in 2004. We [Zeke] had to pull out of the later part of the tour because we got offered a tour with Superjoint Ritual. So yeah, we unfortunately had to cancel a bunch of shows on that one. In retrospect, that might have been a questionable decision. That was a weird tour. It was a weird crowd for Zeke to play to, for sure.
How did you get hooked up with Norway's Kvelertak for this tour?
I've kind of been a fan of that band for a while. I actually went and saw them play for the first time earlier this year and met those guys, and it turned out they were really into High on Fire. We were talking about how it would be really great to do a tour together, and it fortunately worked out that they had some time open and were able to hook it up. I think it's an awesome package and going to be a really fun tour. They're really great live, man. Really killer band. Three guitars.
Do you have plans for the next LP yet, and do you predict you'll record with Kurt Ballou again?
I'd say the chances of us recording with Kurt again are pretty good. I think he does awesome work, and we're all super stoked on everything that he's done for us. Right now we're just in the process of writing music. We've got a pretty big backlog of ideas and riffs and partially finished songs, so we're looking forward to getting together after this tour and really getting down to doing some more writing.
That guy's been releasing some of the absolute meanest-sounding records lately.
Yeah, it's a pretty cool and rich sound. He's an amazing engineer. It's gnarly sounding, but it's clear and punchy and just good.
What can we expect from the setlist this time around?
We're still kind of figuring that out ourselves. I think we're going to try and play a few songs that we've never played live before, so it should be cool. Exciting for us and hopefully for the fans, too. It's gonna be a good mix of material from all the albums. It'll be a nice long set.
Any cool bands out there that you're itching to tour with but haven't yet?
Well, you know Black Sabbath is up there for sure. [Laughs] Yeah, there aren't that many, honestly. We've been fortunate enough to tour with a lot of really awesome bands. There's always great new bands coming out, but none really off the top of my head, except Sabbath. That's one band I'd like to share a stage with before I die.