This wasn’t the first time I’ve spoken to High on Fire guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike for an interview by a longshot, but it was the first time we’ve talked since he got sober earlier this year, and the difference was immediately apparent in his voice. He was about a week into the band’s current tour at the time — with Goatwhore, Primate and Lo-Pan for a five-week round of shows one of which I was fortunate enough to catch — and things were beginning to settle in. This is the first major touring that High on Fire has done since Pike entered rehab over the summer after dropping off the summer’s Mayhem festival, and though he admitted to some apprehension, Pike sounded clear-headed and glad to be back on the road.
Earlier this year, High on Fire revitalized their approach with the scathing De Vermis Mysteriis (review here). Not only in the fact that the album was based around a narrative concept — about a time-traveling Jesus twin — but just in the sheer sound of the thing. Pike, bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensell brought High on Fire’s tightness and chemistry to new levels, and captured by producer Kurt Ballou, songs like the arch-grooving “Madness of an Architect” or the ripping “Spiritual Rites,” the band sounded more vicious than ever before. The rawness of their bombast, something they moved away from with 2010′s Snakes for the Divine (review here), met with a maturity of process and crispness of sound that made the record easily among 2012′s best.
And while that position is nothing new for High on Fire — who’ve gone six full-lengths at this point without a real dud — the context surrounding De Vermis Mysteriis makes it standout as a landmark in the progression of the band, both musically and for the personal issues involved. Seeing them live last week, they’ve lost nothing of their on-stage potency, even if Pike is a little more reserved in his between-song banter — I was reminded a bit of his Sleep bandmate, Al Cisneros — speaking to the crowd rather than barking the war-cries of old. The tradeoff was in the performance, which was stellar, new material or old, and the band seemed poised to pick up their momentum right where they left off prior to the interruption this summer brought.
As honest and sincere as ever in the interview that follows, Pike talks about being on the road sober for the first time, about constructing De Vermis Mysteriis in the studio with Ballou and about the growth of the band as a trio with Matz — who came aboard as a full-time member prior to 2007′s Death is this Communion – taking on an increased role in the songwriting. You may also note I asked him about the Sonic Titan distortion pedal, which was something Jon Davis of Conan had mentioned earlier this year when I asked him about playing with Sleep in Norway. That interview is here if you’d like some context.
Complete Q&A is after the jump. Please enjoy.