While strains of ultra-slow metal and hardcore had been successfully cross-pollinated by My War-era Black Flag, The Melvins and (to a lesser degree) Flipper during the 80s, when Oakland, California trio High On Fire arrived in the late 90s, they scattered their DNA all over the sludgecore genre.
Initially released on the long-defunct Man’s Ruin imprint in 2000, their debut LP The Art Of Self Defense remains one of the yardsticks all self-respecting sludge contenders should aspire to. With its six tracks clocking in at an endurance-testing 42 minutes, it’s been re-mastered and now sounds more extreme than ever. Executed with brutal precision, 10-minute epics 10,000 Years and Master Of Fists are surely the stand-outs, though the ominously funereal Fireface is within maiming distance of both.
This reissue proffers a 48-page booklet and five highly welcome bonus tracks, including a venomous cover of Celtic Frost’s The Usurper and HOF’s very first demo (featuring early versions of three LP cuts) from 1999. Though laid down 12 months prior to the LP sessions, all three are convincingly complete, lacking only the denseness of Mr Bungle deskman Billy Anderson’s gargantuan production.
High On Fire have regularly impressed since (recent new studio set De Vermis Mysteriis is also a belter), but a crash course in The Art Of Self Defense is still the best way into their thunderous oeuvre.