This scheduled New Year’s Eve show at the UC Theatre has been canceled according to social media posts by High on Fire and the venue. 

By Dave Pehling

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BERKELEY (CBS SF) — Monolithic metal power trio and onetime Oakland residents High On Fire return to the Bay Area for this New Year’s Eve show at the UC Theatre in Berkeley, topping a stellar bill that includes metal favorites Spirit Adrift and rising bands Spirit Possession and Glowing Brain.

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 the pulverizing effort Electric Messiah three years later.

The most recent 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 in 2019.

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The trio has also gone through some major changes and struggles since then with the departure of founding drummer Kensel later that year and Pike’s health issues with diabetes leading to tour cancellations, but the band would return to the stage with Chris Maggio (Wear Your Wounds, formerly with Coliseum and Trap Them) behind the kit for a number of shows.

The COVID-19 pandemic would keep the band off the road for over a year, but in 2021 the band reemerged with a new replacement drummer, powerhouse player Coady Willis of Melvins and Big Business fame. Early indications are that his percussive onslaught is helping High on Fire maintain its trademark fury.

While there has been little news of late on the High on Fire front beyond the live shows with this line-up, Pike himself is involved in a couple of creative projects that have come to the light of day. Earlier this month, Rare Bird Books released ‘Head On A Pike: The Illustrated Lyrics of Matt Pike’ that collects his lyrical works alongside illustrations by a wide array of artists, including such notables as Arik Roper, Tim Lehi, Brian Mercer, Skinner and Santos, many of whom have provided art for past Pike projects.

The guitarist and singer also announced the forthcoming release of his first proper solo album entitled Pike vs. The Automaton set to hit stores next February. The product of Pike’s isolation during the pandemic, he ended up bashing out the new material in the garage of his new Portland, OR home (he relocated from Oakland a few years ago) with friend and original Lord Dying drummer Jon Reid.

As the experimental album took shape, the guitarist enlisted a host of other friends to collaborate on the effort including Mastodon guitar player Brent Hinds, wife Alyssa Maucere-Pike (Lord Dying/Grigax), hardcore/crust punk guitarist/singer Todd Burdette (His Hero is Gone, Tragedy, Warcry) and High on Fire’s Matz playing electric saz (a Turkish instrument) on the album’s epic closer “Leaving the Wars of Woe.”

The band returns to it’s onetime home base of the Bay Area on Friday for this New Year’s Eve show at the UC Theatre, joined by a trio of rising bands. Helmed by guitarist/singer Nate Garrett, Phoenix-based metal crew Spirit Adrift have been honing a distinctive style of melodic, ’80s-influenced metal over the course of six years and four albums. Raw Portland, OR-based black metal outfit Spirit Possession and Oakland crew Glowing Brain, who recently released their debut full-length album Brain Dust packed with chugging, Motörhead-inspired punk/metal anthems

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High on Fire with Spirits Adrift
Friday, Dec. 31 7 p.m. $38.50
UC Theatre