With a punishing low end that rumbled like thunder, Kingdom of Magic filled the Bluebird with heavy music that can no longer be called "stoner rock." What the guys are doing now is just so much more primal, aggressive and interesting than fits that designation. It's also not trippy; if anything, Kingdom sounds determined and possessed by rock-and-roll demons. Luke Fairchild's escalating leads cut through Andrew Lindstrom's flood of percussion and Joe Ramirez's bass in a way that's so consuming it jerked Ramirez around like a puppet. Superficially, Kingdom's use of repetition makes the whole of it blend together, but in a colossal sort of way.
Kylesa, meanwhile, immediately separated itself from most metal bands you're ever likely to hear, with heavy yet atmospheric guitar sounds and an elastic tone that allowed for truly inventive dynamics inside a larger dynamic. Between the band's creative use of keyboards and a fearless, creative switching between a variety of textures, moods, pacings as well as volume, Kylesa's whole set was an impressive display of ability from a band exploring the possibilities of cross-pollinating musical ideas.
One song, with its darkly menacing guitar work, sounded like Killing Joke gone completely metal, while another tune, "Don't Look Back," perfectly paired the aggressively sludgy with the sublime, instantly making Kylesa sound like one of the most sonically adventurous metal bands going. Closing with "Scapegoat," the two drummers were joined by Philip Cope and Corey Barhorst on floor toms, while Laura Pleasants's squalling feedback looped over the top for a spell before the whole band resumed normal roles and hammered the song out with nearly overwhelming power and brutality.
With pummeling guitar and rhythm, Torche came out of the gates sounding like any other aggressive metal band worth its salt except that guitarist Steve Brooks engaged in sweeping gestures that opened the music up a little during interludes of soloing. Immediately after the first song, Torche proved itself to be the kind of band that isn't stuck in a rut, with songs clearly grounded in some kind of pop songcraft. One number, in fact, could have been a power-pop song if not for the jagged dynamics and crunchy distortion.
Throughout the set, the guys smiled at each other, which made the whole performance a lot more fun. At points, Torche was reminiscent of Hüsker Dü, in being so headlong in its energy, aggression and cutting guitar tones while also being prettily melodic. And in its heaviest moments -- and there were plenty -- Torche sounded a bit like the Melvins, mainly because this band doesn't play songs that fit conveniently into a narrow definition of metal or hard rock.
After overhearing someone in the audience telling a friend that he didn't know how he was going to behave once the lights went down, the lights oddly dimmed, and the members of High on Fire strode on to the stage. When the trio hit the first notes of "Frost Hammer," we discovered exactly what not behaving yourself entails: For this guy, it involved winding yourself up with an uncontrollable and violent thrashing and hurling yourself about the dance floor.
Over the course of its set, High on Fire performed songs from across its career. And somehow, the band's technically proficient yet freewheeling and aggressive music opened a pathway directly to the id for a lot of people. You could hardly blame them, because Matt Pike, Des Kensel and Jeff Matz have a way of turning what could be proficient metal songs into pure mayhem. At times, Matz's bass provided the melody while Kensel provided dense rhythms, all of which Pike seemed to rip apart with his way of playing both the low end and the middle-range leads. Often opening songs with eerie hanging chords, the trio warned us what we were in for on each song before crashing into us with a sudden change in tempo. Kensel's ability to shape and shore up the dynamic character of each song while also pulling off some truly impressive feats of percussive virtuosity was a marvel to witness.
High on Fire's set ended with a version of "Snakes for the Divine" that sounded so different from most of the rest of the songs in the show that it could have come from a different band. Rather than cutting riffs, the song opened with a melodic bit of fingerboard work from the guitar -- like something Iron Maiden would have done, but more evil. There was no encore, which made sense: How do you follow up one of the band's newest and best songs? You don't.
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CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: Metal bands that take some chances are a welcome departure from the norm. Random Detail: Ran into a couple of guys from Skully Mammoth after the show. By the Way: I saw Kylesa at Monkey Mania almost exactly six years ago, and the band was good even then. Its new album, Spiral Shadow, comes out October 25.
High on Fire 10.03.10 | Bluebird Theater Denver, CO
01. Frost Hammer 02. Turk 03. Blessed Black Wings 04. Waste of Tiamat 05. Baghdad 06. Rumors of War 07. Bastard Samuari 08. Fire, Flood & Plague 09. Silver Back 10. Hung, Drawn and Quartered 11. Snakes for the Divine