High On Fire – Photo by Zoe Camp

Stoner metal legends High on Fire blew into town on Friday night for an evening of sludge, smoke and sin. In other words, business as usual. Sharing the bill with the doomy Oakland trio were Boston’s Doomriders (fronted by Nate Newton of Converge fame), as well as Norweigan black n’ rollers Kvelertak. Needless to say, those attendees who left their earplugs at home faced quite the aural assault. Thanks to the audio setup, i.e., stacks on stacks on stacks of amps, even the paltriest of riffs suddenly became beastly.
Doomriders took the stage first, delivering a moody set that doubled as a showcase for the band’s new record, Wise Blood. Newton’s wiry, sparsely melodic yowls cut through the discordant sounds of his bandmates, recalling a tougher Hot Water Music, or perhaps the sweet-and-sour sounds of fellow drudgers Red Fang. As the trio tore into fan favorite Black Thunder, the restless crowd grew more and more kinetic, eventually churning up one of the many, many mosh pits that would engulf Webster Hall that evening.
The rowdy, raw mood thus established, it was time for things to get a little weird. Thankfully, Kvelertak was more than happy to oblige in a little oddball fun. And so it came to be that Erlend Hjelvik, the group’s burly, bearded leader, took the stage wearing a taxidermy owl on his noggin. It was a spooky specimen, to be sure, with sharp talons and gleaming red eyes, and yet it perfectly encapsulated the band’s satanically silly aesthetic. Over the course of their hour-long set, Hjelvik and the others worked themselves into a rabid frenzy, spitting into the air, swigging beer like it was water, and setting off all the big guns. Bruane Brenn proved the most impressive: a dizzying rollercoaster ride of epic punk proportions, topped off with a cocky glam finale.
Brutal as Kvelertak’s acrid pop may have been, it was no match for the leaden heft of the headliners. In the moments before Matt Pike and company took the stage, reverb began to seep from the speakers, filling Webster Hall with deadened drone. Meanwhile, on either side of the stage, smoke clouds wisped freely though the air. The concert hall became a dragon’s den, eerily calm in the absence of the monster.
Then Pike, cigarette in mouth, purposefully strode onto the stage and over to his guitar. He clobbered out the opening riff to De Vermis Mysteriis standout Fertile Green, and just like that, all the violence came rushing back. Lurching around from tempo to tempo, from old to new, from brazen verse to blitzkrieg chorus, High On Fire ran their one-hour set with pugnacious precision, which in turn kept the pit storming. The band shredded their way through the band’s six-album history in a flash, offering up old burners (Baghdad, Eyes And Teeth) alongside more recent cuts (Slave The Hive). As usual, Pike’s wolfish growls made it difficult to discern individual lyrics, but then again, with High On Fire, the poetry has always came second to the pulverizing. And really, with chaos this sweet, who needs words?