Let’s face it; lots of great things came out of the ’90s: Terminator 2. The hi-top fade. Saved By the Bell (yeah, it technically started in the ’80s, but does anybody really count the Miss Bliss years?) Another byproduct of that bygone era, though, is the oft-disregarded sub-subgenre of stoner rock.
While stoner rock obviously owes much to their forefathers in bands like Black Sabbath, it didn’t become clearly defined until the early ’90s with bands like Kyuss and Sleep, combining sludgy riffs with psychedelic artwork, providing valuable art to take in while fans, well . . . chased other recreational pursuits.
Stoner rock may have been a product of the ’90s, but the Bay Area’s High on Fire (featuring Sleep’s Matt Pike) has made it into the 2010s without missing a beat, with their fifth studio album, Snakes for the Divine, dropping back in February. And just like a fine wine, the band seems to only get better as time goes on.
“For some reason, the older we get, and the more out of shape we get, the faster our music gets and the harder it gets to play,” laughs drummer Des Kensel. “Our arrangements get better every time, we’re getting better at our instruments [and] just being better musicians.”
High on Fire have definitely put in their time and paid their dues; the beginning of 2010 didn’t just mark the release of their newest work, it also marked the 10-year anniversary of The Art of Self-Defense, the band’s debut album on seminal stoner rock label Man’s Ruin (“You know, it’s funny, I wouldn’t have even known it’s been 10 years,” admits Kensel. “I know it’s been a long time, but I didn’t know it’s been 10 years.”)
Over the last decade, though, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing, especially for Kensel. Fans may have noticed a longer-than-usual three-year gap in between Snakes for the Divine and its predecessor, 2007’s Death Is This Communion, the reasons for which are multiple.
“The last two records, at least for me, have been difficult,” says the skinsman. “Before recording Death Is This Communion, I had to have neurosurgery in my neck, so that was one reason it took so long for that one. Then after doing that whole touring cycle, I had to have arthroscopic surgery on my shoulder, so that definitely held things up, and also I had a kid, so [I was] recovering from surgery, and trying to juggle my son and also a practice schedule.”
But, as they say, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, and if that’s to be believed at all, Snakes for the Divine is the Oakland trio’s strongest outing yet, even if some doubts arise at first.
“Every time we write a record and it’s getting faster, we always ask ourselves, ‘Man, what the f*#k are we doing?’ But then we play it so much in the studio, so when we go out live, it’s actually easier than we all think.
As we’re writing it and then recording it and hearing it, it’s almost like we’re impressing ourselves each time. But I think every band gets psyched on their new material, so it’s not like we’re sitting around like Wicked Scepter or something, just like, ‘Yeah, we rule man!’ [laughs]”
With a brand new tour on the horizon (one that includes Thursday’s stop at Pomona’s The Glass House with Torche and Kylesa), Kensel is eager to put on a show for fans, and not necessarily just the ones that are medicating, either.
“I don’t wanna say we’ve gotten out of stoner rock, but I’d like to think of ourselves as a band like Motörhead, where …not to sound cheesy, but all different types of rockers like us. Punk kids, skater kids, old metal dudes and what have you.”
High on Fire w/Torche, Kylesa at The Glass House, 200 W. 2nd St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802; www.theglasshouse.us. Thurs, Sept. 30. 7PM. $18.