By Todd Hamm
Special to The Seattle Times
Oakland stoner metal trio High on Fire’s psychedelic distortion fest rattled ear drums and bones Sunday at El Corazón, as hundreds of metal-loving masochists packed the venue shoulder-to-shoulder and created a fervent mosh pit in the center of the room.
Stoner metal could be called the California cousin of grunge, and it evolved around the same time (late ’80s/early ’90s). A lyric-light, riff-heavy sub-strain of hard rock, it is often marked by tangential progressions and technical rhythmic breakdowns. The style enjoys the same intense energy and aggression that made grunge so appealing, but swaps out the trebly anthems woven into grunge’s DNA for the dark notions of Black Sabbath. High on Fire, along with Atlanta’s Mastodon, have become the sub genre’s torch-bearing practitioners.
HOF jumped onto the El Corazón stage Sunday night and dove right into the scrum, plowing through a heavy helping of their most recent album, 2012’s “De Vermis Mysteriis,” including “Serums of Liao,” as well as the album’s punishing title track.
Playing the entire show shirtless, vocalist/guitarist Matt Pike spat lyrics out of the side of his mouth, and roamed the stage like a predator stalking his prey while doling out cosmic solos and monstrous guitar lines. By look alone, one could imagine the heavily tattooed and barrel-chested Pike, scruffy bassist Jeff Matz and hard-hitting drummer Des Kensel thriving in prehistoric times.
Their attitude did nothing to discourage that notion. Pike had some mic stand issues at one point, but appeared to settle them with a few pounds into the floor.
The recently (as of last year) sober Pike kept the banter scarce, and when he did interact, it was to scream the name of the song on its way, or to quickly thank the crowd for coming. His words were not soaked in booze; they were fueled on the power of rock.
As the band closed with “Snakes For the Divine” (the opening of which sounds a little like AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”) from their 2010 album of the same name, Pike looked through the crowd, and even threw out a smile.
It was a near perfect set: powerful and to-the-point, with the crowd roaring its approval at every turn.