High On Fire – Blessed Black Wings (Relapse)
The second full length from Matt ‘Sleep’ Pike’s current band throws a relative curveball for his long-time stoner fans. ‘Devilution’ opens things up with a battering drum intro that leads into such concentrated guitar attack that its staccato riffery is essentially Thrash Metal. The screaming, Lemmy-meets-early Hetfield, vocals only add to this feeling.
Where the Thrash bands were all rather tinny-sounding in their no-bass heyday, though, the sound on this record is full-on. The thick, bassy guitar sound and massive toms really come into their own on the slower, stomping, ‘The Face of Oblivion’. ‘South Of Heaven’ to the first tracks ‘Angel of Death’, if you will. There’s also a breakdown into clean guitar arpeggio about halfway through that, while generic, really brings a nice – ‘Laguna Sunrise’ – change of pace. Pike even does his best Ozzy-on-‘A National Acrobat’ vocals to complete the Sabb-fest.
Before long, though, it gets rather old. And I feel bad at saying this, because Blessed Black Wings is really well-done. It’s just a bit ‘retro for the sake of it’ for my liking. Yes, it is pretty much the best Motörhead album in a quarter of a decade, but there are times when I ask myself if this really is what’s going on in 2005.
On the whole, I definitely rate it. It’s too good not to, and beefy Thrash revival certainly has its place – especially when it’s as awesomely massive as ‘Cometh Down the Hessian’. All Wino-inspired vocal bite (kinda makes sense, considering Wino was the real Ozzy of the 80s) with alternately chugging and blistering riffs, it’s excellent. And given the current musical climate of No Time, in which retro has been the mode since at least 2000 and There Is Nothing New Under the Sun, this pleasure is not guilty.