High On Fire Ride the Wave on 'Cometh the Storm'

High On Fire Ride the Wave on 'Cometh the Storm'

- By Perran Helyes

Bassist Jeff Matz and newest recruit drummer Coady Willis explain how High On Fire hit reset and better honed their sound for their first record since the Grammy-award winning, Electric Messiah

Photo by James Rexroad

Maybe the band that stand for unrelenting riff power in the 21st century, High On Fire - led by the usually shirtless guitar icon Matt Pike - capped off a chapter of their career with an unexpected Grammy win for such an uncompromising, anti-mainstream band for their last album Electric Messiah.

It ended up being an end of an era in more ways than one, with the COVID-19 pandemic following shortly afterwards and the band parting with their founding drummer Des Kensel. Cometh the Storm is their first album in six years, reaffirming their power with a new chemistry, as longtime bassist Jeff Matz and newly recruited Big Business drummer Coady Willis explain.


It has been the longest period between albums in your career, obviously a period with a lot of stuff going on in the world but also changes in your band and other things you have spent your time on. How did you feel having a bit of a break from High On Fire for the first time ever?

Matz - I don’t know if you could really call it a break. There was a lot of rebuilding that had to happen for a number of reasons. Obviously after Electric Messiah was released our original drummer Des Kensel left the band, and also the little thing of the global pandemic that definitely played a role. I think that having a good amount of time between albums and having Coady come into the band and getting to know him musically was a good thing for us though, that we didn’t have to rush.

Perhaps better than a break would be to say you spent time with other projects, with Jeff joining Mutoid Man and Matt doing his solo album. Did those experiences have any effect on refreshing your process when it came to going back to High on Fire?

Matz - Any time you involve yourself with something new musically it can’t help but have some sort of effect on you as a musician. You absorb elements of what you’re involved with, so definitely playing with Mutoid Man has enriched me as a musician as I’m sure Matt doing the Automaton record has with him. I’ve been doing a lot of music studies and learning about Turkish folk music, so it all serves to enrich your musical vocabulary.

A massive change on this is the first ever change in drummer. Des’ very particular drumming style was massively important to High On Fire’s music, but it’s obvious Coady Willis has been able to imprint on that style really well. How did you adapt to that change?

Willis - I’ve been familiar with the band for a long time and I was very grateful that we had some extra time to be a band a little bit before we went right into the studio. I live in Los Angeles and the band is based in Portland, so we practised as much as we can with that little bit of long distance. We got to do a six week tour in Europe and got to lock in as a band and get that muscle memory dialled in. Des is a very particular drummer and High On Fire is one of the few bands I can think of that is good at doing slower, sludgier Black Sabbath feels and also fast, brutal, tight metal and it still sounds like the same band. There aren’t a lot of bands who can sound equally comfortable at both.

In my background and where I come from I’m way more used to the groovier, slower, weirder side of things than I am the faster, tighter stuff so I’m glad I got to spend some time with those songs. When we started writing new songs to bring to the studio I felt like I had a little more experience and could do something that honours what was done before that so it didn’t sound completely out of left field, even if it will sound a little bit different any time you switch out a member and the chemistry changes.

Matz - When we got in touch with Coady, Matt and I really put a lot of consideration into it. We didn’t want someone who was going to try and replicate Des’ parts verbatim but we were fans of Coady’s drumming throughout the years and thought that was somebody who understands the band and would make sense musically. I’m super stoked on how the new album turned out and all of his contributions really helped to bring it to that level.



One of the things that feels new on this album is there's an increased presence of the Middle Eastern folk influence with Jeff mentioning studying that music. Can you tell us a bit about your experiences in that world and what drew you into that?

Matz - I got interested in that kind of music shortly after I joined the band back in 2006. My roommate at the time was Rich Doucette who was playing with Secret Chiefs 3 with Trey Spruance, and he was into a lot of this kind of music which I had very little exposure to before. He was constantly listening to Persian music, Turkish folk music, Indian classical music, so I would always hear those sounds coming out of his room that were exciting to me.

At a certain point I had to get him to show me what he was listening to, and he burned me a bunch of CDs. Throughout the years that started a love affair with these traditional Middle Eastern sounds and I’ve continued to listen to that and at times have tried to bring that influence into High On Fire, starting in 2007 with the instrumental track Khanrad’s Wall on Death is This Communion. A lot of the guitar riffs that I bring to the table are informed by that kind of music and those scales.

In 2019 just before the pandemic I decided I wanted to take it a bit more seriously so I found a teacher in Istanbul who was offering online bağlama lessons. I dove in headfirst and started learning a lot of the traditional repertoire, learning how to sing and play in Turkish which I wasn’t even anticipating doing but my teacher said “If you’re going to learn to play these songs, you’re going to learn to sing them properly too”. Steeping myself in that kind of music really served to enrich my musical vocabulary and seemed like it paired really well with the kind of heavy music that High On Fire plays.

There’s a breakdown moment in Lambsbread which combines that folk element with a very heavy traditional High On Fire riff. Was that a natural thing to bleed into High on Fire and not suddenly be “guys, we're a Turkish folk band now”?

Matz - That song is a good example in using those scales and melodic progressions. Trismegistus is another which is a direct result of me studying the Turkish folk music and using a Turkish makam scale.

Willis - It’s new for me, but I really like it. Certainly not to the level that Jeff does but I dabble in other areas of music, like I mess around with some Tony Allen African influence and some Brazilian grooves with just different approaches to the kit. It’s fun to get into these other modes where you can lean into those in a heavy way. Jeff’s instrumental composition that’s midway through the record, the beat behind the riff is just this pulse trying to be in the spirit of what he’s showed me for reference. I think it came out really cool and it’s fun for me to play with this co-ordination and physicality that is completely different, but once you lock into it it’s almost hypnotic and forget that you’re playing it. It’s a very layered song where every time I listen to it I hear something new.

There are a few songs like the lead single Burning Down that have that emphasis on the slower kind of riff hypnotism, almost going back to a Art of Self Defense era sound. What brought you there?

Matz - The music was manifesting that way with the three of us throwing ideas at one another and reacting. That’s just the stuff that seemed to come naturally as we were writing this one. Personally The Art of Self Defense is one of my favourite albums in the band’s catalogue and is the one that drew me to the band initially and made me a fan, so I have a fondness for those kinds of grooves. I think there’s enough other elements going on as well so that it’s not rehashing the early High On Fire sound.



Is that why the classic logo on the album is back from the 2000s records?

Matz - Yeah, I think that was Arik Roper’s doing. We gave him full control over the album cover, giving him the album title we were thinking of. He usually likes to hear the full album and have a copy of the lyrics on hand to help guide him in the creative process, and he came back with this sketch with the old logo that he chose to adorn the cover. It seemed appropriate like a return to some of the earlier sounds and having the first time Arik’s done a cover for us since Snakes for the Divine in 2010.

Another song that stands out is Hunting Shadows for being far more melodic. Can you speak a bit to where that song came from?

Matz - Matt was over at my house and we were jamming, and that sort of Dorian mode stuff that sounded like Thin Lizzy just started flowing out. The main riff of the song first appeared there and then all three of us jammed it down at the rehearsal space the other sections presented themselves. That’s a really different song for us. We dabble in being melodic here and there but that song in particular we’ve not done anything quite like.

This is of course the album following the one on which you won a Grammy, and of all the recent metal Grammy wins, that one felt like they were recognising a band who comparatively were more underground. For a band who had been doing this for over 20 years before that point, was there any tangible effect for a band like yours winning a Grammy?

Matz - It’s hard to say. I think there has been some effect in terms of people who did not know who High On Fire were before now know who we are, but it was a weird sequence of events after that where we did one tour on that album. It was a total shock to us where we were not expecting either a nomination or a win, so it was pretty wild, but then Des left the band shortly after that and then basically the world shut down. Any perceived effects of a Grammy win on a band like us and our draw or anything like that, it was very hard to gauge. We’re just doing what we’ve always done which is getting out there and working. The name of the game is turning out the best music that we can and bringing it to the people.


In support of the band's latest full length, High On Fire kick off a stretch of US tour dates starting May 4th in Orlando, Florida and closing out May 18th in Chicago for a headlining set at the annual Dark Lord Day at 3 Floyds Brewing along with Abbath, Fugitive, 1349 and Spiritworld. 

Set to join High On Fire for the run of dates, post-rock collective ZETA will anchor the direct support slot with highly-touted crossover prospects High Command opening each evening of the tour. See the complete list of dates below. 

Cometh The Storm, the latest album from High on Fire is now available - HERE


 High on Fire 'Cometh the Storm' spring U.S. tour
   May 4    Orlando, FL            Conduit
   May 5    Columbia, SC         The Senate
   May 7    Greensboro, NC     Hanger 1819
   May 8    Richmond, VA         The Broadberry
   May 10  Baltimore, MD         Baltimore Soundstage
   May 11  New Haven, CT       Toad's Place
   May 12  Jersey City, NJ        White Eagle Hall
   May 13  Cambridge, MA       The Middle East
   May 15  Albany, NY              Empire Live
   May 16  Cleveland Heights, OH   Grog Shop
   May 17  Detroit, MI               The Magic Stick
   May 18  Chicago, IL              3 Floyd's Brewing

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