Show Review: High on Fire & Pallbearer @ Royale 8.17.15

by Mike Doub (real life person), published September 16th 2015

photos by Ben Stas (Powerslave)

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Your opinion on the current state of metal music, if you have one, probably hinges on your position within the Deafheaven divide. It’s usually one of two extremes. The genre is either lauded for a recent diversity boom, or decried for dilution bordering on sacrilege. While ideology wars are generally silly (and Deafheaven are great!) metal’s clash in sensibilities has yielded fascinatingly singular records in the last year. On one of 2015’s most esoteric releases, Liturgy’s The Ark Work, monumental orchestral swells and synthetic drums were a far cry from common metal signifiers. On the other end of the spectrum, Slayer released another Slayer album last Friday. A genre divided stands just fine.

High on Fire and Pallbearer are beneficiaries of the excitement surrounding the recent culture clash. The former is a reliable outfit of metal veterans, the latter a group of up-and-coming traditionalists. Unsurprisingly, then, their Boston show at the Royale didn’t want for canonical conduct. Throughout the night index and pinky fingers went up sans irony, downtuned guitars roared, and corny growls (High on Fire) were matched by corny Ozzy-indebted yelps (Pallbearer). Openers Venomous Maximus and Lucifer were similarly reverent. Venomous Maximus’ set, the first of the night, felt lifted straight from the thrash metal playbook: fast, aggressive riffs aligning with fast, aggressive drumming. Later, the psychedelic-leaning heavy metal of Lucifer was supported by visuals seemingly culled from the Powerslave album art.

Pallbearer, touring 2014’s excellent Foundations of Burden, followed Lucifer. On both that album and Sorrow and Extinction in 2012 the Arkansas four-piece has perfected the art of the slow burn, letting their crushing riffs unfold in multiple movements across challenging song lengths. In that way the group resembles an anesthetized Black Sabbath, one that’s rarely theatrical or overly technical. This uniformity – as well as their slow tempos – can make Pallbearer songs a marathon, especially live. Even so, the band’s individual elements hit hard that night. Mark Lierly’s feel behind the drums was heavy and lived-in, and the live setting provided guitarist Devin Holl a forum for adventure in his (often lengthy) solos. It was a small disappointment to see Pallbearer perform so within their wheelhouse; the doom metal via Beach House of Burden’s “Ashes” in particular suggests promise should the band expand beyond their formula. But for now, Pallbearer’s doom metal routine is still a satisfyingly punishing experience.

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They were succeeded by High on Fire, who brought with them a considerable energy boost. Guitarist and singer Matt Pike’s previous band Sleep could be an even greater endurance test than Pallbearer – the band’s masterpiece is an hour-long dirge called “Dopesmoker.” With hookier choruses and more dynamic arrangements High on Fire exist in stark contrast to that group, and Pallbearer as well. At their Boston date the trio ripped through song after song with abandon. The set adeptly replicated the pummeling feel of High on Fire songs on record, and featured a gleefully deranged vocal delivery from Matt Pike. Like Pallbearer though, the similarity of High on Fire’s songs to one another dulled their impact over the course of the night. Like Pallbearer too, their new record – Luminiferous, released this year – features a song intriguing in its rejection of most qualities High on Fire (“The Cave”) that regrettably didn’t make an appearance. Both songs will likely represent roads not taken for either band because, despite an occasional pivot, High on Fire and Pallbearer’s place in the Deafheaven divideTM is firmly alongside other metal conservatives. And while it’s a loaded term, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that stance. High on Fire and Pallbearer both have a distinct spin on their genre, and bolster their somewhat narrow explorations thereof with consistently confident execution. Both bands’ recent records and their Boston show supporting them are proof of that.

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