High On Fire, 2018
[Photo by: Jen Rosenstein]

“It really is kind of the death of old-school music and shows,” laments High On Fire guitarist and vocalist Matt Pike. And as he considers music’s place in modern life, the 46-year-old performer isn’t exactly complaining. He’s just offering his legendarily bare-faced take on rock’s evaporating mainstream appeal while prepping the world on his celebrated stoner metal band’s heavy upcoming album Electric Messiah.

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And, no joke, the Shirtless One prepares by driving his car out to some presumably isolated landscape for a round of Sunday promo chats. (“I do interviews in my El Camino sometimes,” he says.) When it’s AP’s turn, we jump at the chance to pick Pike’s brain. What does he think of rock musicians’ seeming stabs against irrelevancy in a scene exponentially dominated by anything other than guitar-based rock music?

Turning to the listener for an answer, he pries open the argument of social media and mobile devices dominating young people’s attention. “Kids are fucking cool as shit, but they don’t know about shit unless their fucking phone tells them,” Pike offers. “People complaining about it need to focus on making their multimedia stronger. There’s rap and soul and all these other genres, and it’s there every time you open your phone.”

“Kids are fucking cool as shit, but they don’t know about shit unless their fucking phone tells them.”

That’s coming from the man whose new album serves as a salute to a patently old-school rock icon, late Motörhead founder Lemmy Kilmister.

“People have always compared me to Lemmy,” the High On Fire leader explains. “Even when he was alive. And I really admired him; he’s obviously a big influence. I get that I have a gravelly voice and sometimes a handlebar mustache. But I’m a normal dude. I don’t compare to Lemmy.”

Comparisons aside, Electric Messiah’s title track serves as the main Lemmy tribute, inspired by a vision Pike experienced.

“I had this weird dream where Lemmy was almost hazing me or something. You know, like, ‘You’re not taking the throne.’ He was saying if you’re going to carry the torch, you have to do it right. And we had just come up with that song, but I didn’t have the lyrics yet. And he just kept popping into my mind.”

The homage gives some ceremonial heft to the new High On Fire set. Elsewhere on the album, the band’s longtime rhythm section of bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensel propel Pike’s continued six-string excursions into the esoteric and arcane. A dedicated conspiracy theorist, HOF’s previous albums have explored various elaborate legends. Here, the journey picks right back up on the new album’s opening cut.

“I get into the mythology…and people want to put a tinfoil hat on my head. But I don’t really give a fuck what you think. I find the shit fascinating.”

“The very first track, I’m talking about the ancient watchers,” Pike says before mentioning the Sumerian creation myth and the Anunnaki. This happens shortly after discussing pirates and the British monarchy.

“I get into the mythology of all that. And people want to put a tinfoil hat on my head,” he says. “But I don’t really give a fuck what you think. I find the shit fascinating. I think it’s the origins of all our religions.”

That stubborn wisdom is probably the same flame that keeps High On Fire steady rocking after a cool 20 years. Not to mention Pike’s double-duty service in his recently reactivated doom outfit, Sleep. And the youth of America may choose their smartphone over sludge metal, but the musician doesn’t care. Matt Pike will still be shirtless and shredding a fucking guitar when we all finally get Snapchat implanted in our brains.

High On Fire’s Electric Messiah is out this Friday, Oct. 5. Preorders are available now.

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