For never-say-die hair farmers stoically tossing nu-metal rarefaction the finger, the un-adulterated hessian stylings of kindred spirits like Mastodon, Lamb of God, and Shadows Fall offer a shit-eating reason to hold on to blanched Eddie jackets and Jack Daniels scowls despite Vince Neil’s recent VH1-sponsored dorkification. Two Wednesdays ago at Irving Plaza, High on Fire, one of contemporary metal’s weightier weapons of mass percussion, carried balls-out sludge to noggin bangers of all ages. Emerging darkly lit from behind an in-house screen that moments earlier titillated with creepy 2001: A Space Odyssey monkey suits, the Oakland power trio’s perpetually shirtless guitarist/ vocalist/ex-Sleep maven Matt Pike launched into “Nemesis,” a bubbling stoner growl from 2002’s Surrounded by Thieves. Des Kensel’s thunder sticks were huge, the dappled drone majestic, and the new bassist, Thrones/ex-Melvins thumper Joe Preston, lent ultra-serious low-end theory to the band’s already gigantic roar.
A mix of old/new equaled harmonious yin/yang: The Art of Self Defense’s made-for-finale epic “Baghdad”—”Nameless masses cower/From horse and carriage/In the sky”—perfectly buttressed “Devilution,” a roll-rampant, war-ensemble “George W. Bush fuckin’ lullaby” (Pike said) from their upcoming gem, Blessed Black Wings. The pit, composed of standard-fare jocks, cop rockers, and has-beens, wasn’t as entertaining as last year’s Knitting Factory whirlpool, wherein a dainty umbrella became a genteel Mummer’s Parade prop in the arms of some Stone Temple Rollins guy. Here, a dude with G N’ R headgear sent instant messages to his chick on some kind of electronic gadget—”That was fucked-up. I’m fucked-up. I had fun last night”—breaking the old-timey vibe with digit-age dilettantism. But the bombast equaled Ace of Spades in bed with Master of Puppets, and whatever the context or lack thereof, Pike and company performed heavy surgery with scientific precision, pausing only briefly to part the pot haze (“Get this screen out of my fuckin’ way,” “Thank you fuckin’ New York”) after consecrating the altar with burned offerings. Transubstantiation was short-lived, though, when Clutch’s Phishy System-of-a-Bizkit bleating sent HOF devotees on a Cinderella beeline, half-finished cans of holy water changed into lukewarm, domestic-brewed swill before they reached the exit.