High on Fire: Where There's Smoke

Originally published in Guitar World, May 2010

High on Fire mainman Matt Pike discusses Snakes of the Divine, the band's fifth and latest album.

Artists following up with a critically acclaimed album sometimes suffer from crippling writer’s block. High on Fire had the opposite problem. When they began pre-production for their fifth full-length, Snakes of the Divine, in July 2009, the trio had five full hours of new music and couldn’t decide what to use.

“It was hard,” frontman Matt Pike says, “because whatever things you take out can totally change the feel of a song, and all of us felt really passionate about different parts.”

In the end, High on Fire scrapped the more experimental passages—the ones that sounded too much like their 2007 album, Death Is This Communion—and kept the ones that were punchy, full of hooks and heavier than granite. “With Death Is This Communion, we were fucking around with a little bit more psychedelic stuff,” Pike explains. “This time, we decided to go straight back to punching you in the face as hard as we can.”

To develop his playing for Snakes, Pike experimented with different rhythmic shapes and patterns and studied solos by Randy Rhoads. “I would say my leads on there are a weird combination of [Black Flag guitarist] Greg Ginn and Randy Rhoads,” he says. “My left hand really has talent. My right hand is still kind of barbaric and fucked, but I somehow figure out how to make it work.”

High on Fire tracked Snakes of the Divine with producer Greg Fidelman (Slayer, Metallica) at The Pass Studios, in Los Angeles. During recording, Pike tuned his First Act double-cutaway nine-string down to C (the custom guitar’s G, B and high E are strung in pairs) and played through a Soldano SOL and a Kerry King Signature Marshall JCM800. Although the sessions yielded the band’s tightest and best-sounding album, satisfying Fidelman was often akin to slaying dragons.

“He knows exactly how things should sound, but he’s such a perfectionist,” Pike says. “We did parts over and over, and he’d talk hella shit to get me pissed off so that I’d wanna do them better. The dude smokes a cigar every time you do a good track. So every time I’d play something, I’d look in there to see if he was lighting up. Usually he wasn’t.”

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