Snakes For The Divine

High on Fire are the new Mötörhead. The Bay Area trio rage like the orc warlords of the heavy metal underground, worshiped for a hybrid hard rock sound that's instantly recognizable to band's loyal legions and too abrasive for the masses. Snaggle-fanged frontman Matt Pike is the next coming of Lemmy, a oversized character with a battlefield bark of a voice and lyrics to match it.Snakes For The Divine is everything HOF fans have come to expect, and then some.

The band's fifth album tidily splits the difference between 2005's metal meltdown Blessed Black Wings and 2007's Death Is This Communion, which had admirable artistic scope, but lacked its predecessor's visceral edge. Producer Greg Fidelman, who sharpened the latest Metallica and Slayer records, helps the heshers find new harmony between tight thrash and resolute sludge.

Snakes follows the track-by-track template from Communion. This album's left-field instrumentation is simulated strings, expertly deployed in the ponderous "Bastard Samurai," a look at the limb-losing Japanese gangsters of the Yakuza. From "spirit assassins" to a messiah Viking, Pike's lyrics follow other warriors and monsters though tales of spiritual oblivion and physical obliteration.

The tunes tend toward the epic. The album has three six-minute songs and two eight-minute tracks. As the trio trudge from one mythic landscape to another, Pike adds social commentary to tales of all things badass. In "Frost Hammer," he yelps rough poetry straight out of a Conan comic: "Messiah of the glacian heir cold born to rise/Sullen boots impact upon deep the tundran ice."

The music is scholarly, unpredictable metal that slashes from combustible thrash ("Ghost Neck") to Black Sabbath-style blues ("How Dark We Pray"). Bassist Jeff Matz and double-kickdrum killer Des Kensel flank Pike at every turn. The album-opening title track establishes a menacing, mathematical momentum, and the trio never falter.