By Dave Pehling
BERKELEY (CBS SF) — Onetime Oakland residents and metal power trio High On Fire brings its current tour promoting the band’s latest acclaimed effort Electric Messiah to the UC Theatre in Berkeley Friday, topping a stellar bill that includes crossover punk/metal favorites Power Trip and rising bands Devil Master and Creeping Death.
Founded by renowned Sleep guitarist Matt Pike in 1998 after his seminal San Jose stoner-rock outfit imploded over label issues, Oakland-based outfit High On Fire gave Pike a chance to move away from his obsession with Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi that he explored with Sleep backed by monster drummer Des Kensel and original bassist George Rice.
Crafting aggressive riff-powered songs that nod equally to the classic-era thrash of Metallica and Slayer and the grinding crunch of Motörhead (Pike’s growling vocals bear a distinct resemblance to Lemmy Kilminster’s gravelly voice), High On Fire established itself as one of the modern era’s true metal powerhouse bands with its recorded material (starting with their Man’s Ruin debut The Art of Self Defense in 2000) and ferocious live shows.
While Melvins/Thrones bassist Joe Preston stepped in for the band’s acclaimed Steve Albini produced effort Blessed Black Wings in 2005, his departure later that year led to the addition of former Zeke bassist Jeff Matz to establish arguably the band’s strongest line-up yet. Since that change, High On Fire has issued a string of celebrated albums including 2007’s brutal Death Is This Communion (their first to feature Matz) produced by Jack Endino and four successive gems for E1 Music: the commercial breakthrough Snakes For Divine, the heady, concept-driven effort De Vermis Mysteriis, and the focused, critically acclaimed Luminiferous in 2015 leading up to last year’s Electric Messiah.
The latest salvo from High On Fire includes the kind of heroic, locomotive metal riffs and intricate drumming from Kensel (who seems to up his technique with each release) that fans expect, paying tribute to Lemmy with the corrosive title track that would earn the band it’s first Grammy win back in February. The trio has also gone through some major changes and struggles in the past year with the departure of founding drummer Kensel in July and Pike’s health issues with diabetes leading to tour cancellations, but reviews of the band’s current tour with replacement drummer Chris Maggio (Coliseum, Trap Them, Mutoid Man) indicate High on Fire has lost none of its trademark fury.
The band returns to it’s onetime home base of the Bay Area on Friday, joined by one of the leading groups mixing classic thrash metal and hardcore punk sounds in Dallas-based outfit Power Trip. Founded in 2008 by frontman Riley Gale and guitarist Blake Ibanez, the Texas quintet aimed to capture the metal-tinged sound of New York hardcore established in the ’80s by bands like the Cro-Mags and Nuclear Assault, but openly embraced influences ranging from Brazilian thrashers Sepultura, Bay Area metal icons Exodus and fellow Texas crossover outfit Dirty Rotten Imbeciles. Building a local following with frequent unhinged performances at house parties and Dallas area clubs, the band released its debut recording Armageddon Blues in 2009 through Philly-based punk label Double Or Nothing Records.
The band would take a number of years before releasing it’s proper first full-length record via noted metal imprint Southern Lord, but the songs on 2013’s Manifest Decimation revealed a far more refined take on musical brutality honed by Power Trip’s dogged touring regimen. The band got some of it’s biggest exposure yet on a tour supporting more traditional thrash acts Anthrax and Lamb of God alongside SF post-metal crew Deafheaven.
In 2017, the group’s most recent effort for Southern Lord entitled Nightmare Logic upped the ante once again with some of the most pulverizing, mosh-pit inducing anthems in recent memory over the course of 33 incendiary minutes. Songs like “Crucifixation,” the title track and “Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Ax)” take square lyrical aim at both the wealthy conservatives in power and religious fundamentalists of all stripes over suitably brutal grooves.
Last year, Power Trip celebrated ten years as a band with the release of the early singles and rarities compilation Opening Fire: 2008-2018 through the Dark Operatives label that makes some of the group’s hard-to-find back catalog more readily available for fans. For this current tour that comes to Berkeley’s UC Theatre Friday night, High on Fire and Power Trip are joined by Philadelphia-based death rock/black metal outfit Devil Master and Texas headbangers Creeping Death.
High on Fire with Power Trip
Friday, Dec. 6, 7 p.m. $25