High On Fire – The Art Of Self Defense remaster/reissue.


When it comes to riff master opinion polls, they are usually dominated by stalwarts like Tony Iommi, Angus/Malcolm Young, James Hetfield etc.  but worthy of inclusion is founder member/guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike from High On Fire, formed in Oakland,U.S.A in 1998.  The Art Of Self Defense is their debut album, remastered and released via Candlelight Records/Southern Lord Recordings on July 30th 2012. Originally released in 2000 on 12th Records, then Man’s Ruin Records, the trio of High On Fire have since released another 5 albums, the most recent being De Vermis Mysteriis, released on April 3rd 2012.

The Art Of Self Defense has been remastered by Brad Boatright, and as well as  the album, 2 bonus 7″ tracks from the original release and High On Fire’s self titled 3 track demo from 1999 are  also included. There is a digipack cd format with a 48 page booklet  and a 2×12″, 180gm  vinyl version with printed inner sleeves with  a choice of black, brown or clear vinyl.

Matt formed High On Fire after his legendary stoner rock band Sleep disbanded due to lack of record company interest and 2 of the original members remain in the current line up. Matt on guitar/vocals and Des Kensel on drums. George Rice was replaced on bass duties by Jeff Matz.

There are 6 tracks on The Art Of Self Defense and the first, Baghdad, begins with a guitar so distorted, it sounds like a giant bee buzzing from the speakers  followed by a Godzilla  stomping drum workout and multi tracked guitar solos. 10,000 yrs starts with a slow drum pattern, the bass rumbles  as Matt’s guitar strides in,  prompting all 3 to hammer out the main riff giving the listener the feeling of being hit by an avalanche as it ends in a searing guitar solo. A droning guitar soon makes way for a driving Sabbath groove on third track Blood From Zion, but the  way High On Fire thrash this number out, blood should be coming from their hands!  Next track Last, sees the band rumble through almost 7 minutes of  pure stoner metal. The band lock in together as secure as a lifer in Alcatraz  prison. The drums pick up the pace for the final 2 minutes as Matt literally wrings notes from his guitar neck. Fireface’s minute long intro of distorted bass is once again, like 10,000 years, followed by the band simultaneously beating the riff into submission for almost 9 minutes, punctuated by some fine guitar solos. Just as the album could not get any more intense, closing track Master Of Fists’ 10 minute aural assault is unleashed. A tolling guitar intro hits it’s stride after 30 seconds. The music is so dense, it could cause mud to pour through the speakers. This groove shifts after 5 minutes into a steamroller rumble and the vocals become even more eerie.

Steel Shoe is the first track of 2 from the The Art Of Self Defense’s  7″ bonus e.p. It speeds along like vintage Motorhead with Matt’s vocal even sounding like Lemmy. Second track and the pick of the duo is a rampaging cover of The Usurper. Originally written by Celtic Frost, High On Fire have captured the menace of the original and it would be a miracle if there was anything left of Des Kensel’s drumkit after the recording finished.

The re-release of The Art Of Self Defense’s final 3 tracks are taken from their 1999 self titled debut. All 3 were rerecorded and included on the album with a few changes here and there. Blood From Zion is a lot more raw and the vocals are more prominent  than the album version with Matt delivering a higher range vocal. 10,000 yrs is as crushing as the album version but has a more garage sounding feel, the vocals are more menacing and the guitar solos are more intense. Final track Master Of Fists has it’s opening riff higher in the mix than on the album and whereas the vocals don’t kick in until the 4 minute mark on the album, they start immediately on the demo.

The remaster/reissue of The Art Of Self Defense is a vital purchase to any  fan of stoner/doom metal. Prepare to have your ears melted!


High On Fire band line up for The Art Of Self Defense :-

Matt Pike – Guitar/vocals.

Des Kensel – Drums.

George Rice – Bass.  ( current bass player is Jeff Matz )


The Art Of Self Defense album track listing :-


10,000 yrs.

Blood From Zion.



Master Of Fists.


2 track 7″ e.p track listing :-

Steel Shoe.

The Usurper.


1999 self titled demo track listing :-

Blood From Zion.

10,000 yrs.

Master Of Fists.


I award this crushing release 10/10!



About Dennis Jarman

Full time downtrodden album/gig reviewer and part time rock God!