Matt Pike of High On Fire Talks "De Vermis Mysteriis"
Mon, 16 Apr 2012 07:34:13
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High on Fire's latest album, De Vermis Mysteriis, is everything that a heavy metal record should be.
Coupling hulking thrash riffs with cinematic, vivid lyrics, it's blistering, bloodthirsty, and brilliant. Each song becomes a journey in its own right all strewn together by Matt Pike's intriguing storytelling and atomic riffing. There are moments of destruction, but there also moments of introspection. Most importantly, everything converges for one hell of a trip…
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, High on Fire vocalist and guitarist Matt Pike talks De Vermis Mysteriis, some favorite authors, and so much more.
These are some of your most visual lyrics ever.
Oh yeah, I just had an epiphany dude. I started talking to Des [Kensel] and Jeff [Matz] about it. We were up in the mountains, and I started getting deeper and deeper. It's also about reflecting what's inside of you and understanding yourself. I take Jesus as a theme, but then I combined Christianity with reincarnation, science fiction, horror, and everything I like reading about. I took all of that and I was going through a lot of soul searching. I'm sure Des and Jeff were as well, and it came out how it came out. That's all.
The reflective nature resonates. There's a solid emotional core here.
Definitely, it was one of the harder albums I've ever made. I'm on like record number ten now. Each time it gets more interesting for sure. If you put Jeff, Des, and I in a room, there's going to be something awesome that comes out of it. It's a good chemistry. We don't really fight. We have soulful disagreements, and we get through those. It really makes it easy to work when you don't have a whole lot of stress on you.
What's the story behind "Madness of an Architect"?
I was trying to explain The Vanirs killing The Stygians off and the priests from Stygia taking magical scrolls, stealing them, and exporting them into China. There's an alchemist named Liao. He makes it so Baltazine—who's Christ's stillborn brother that becomes a time traveler—is able to go back in time, but he can only see through his ancestor's eyes. "Madness of an Architect" is an explanation of how the whole story comes to be and Baltazine gets his hands on it. The title is also about life, chaos, and how we have religion to keep people at bay and under control. However, life really isn't as under control as we'd like to think it is.
Was "King of Days" really personal too?
Jeff wrote the piece, and I detailed it. I was in the studio one day and he had written that bass line with Des. I went down there by myself, and I put those lyrics together. It's very personal, and it's about inner self-exploration so to speak.
Did you always know "Warhorn" would end the record?
We didn't. That was one of the last songs we put together. We actually wrote "Warhorn" and "Fertile Green" in the studio. We didn't even have skeletons. We just had some riffs. I thought, "How can I work themes into the story we have going already?" "Warhorn" is actually about the Civil War. He wakes up in the Civil War. The lyrics are explanatory once you know that. What would it be like to wake up and have to kill your brother? You're across the river, and you're bombarding each other. It's like the same gang warring with each other. It's a harsh thing to think about. He has to wake up in all of these tribulations man has gone through like witch trials and the Civil War as well as numerous other things that have caused inhumane treatment in the last thousands of years. It's a reflection on mankind and what's in each of us that allows someone to become one way or the other.
Do you usually read while you're writing lyrics?
Yeah, that's usually when I read the most. I won't read for a while. Then, when I know I have to come up with lyrics, I need inspiration so I go right to the source and to all of my favorite authors and other things people recommend. I'll go through periods where I don't read shit. It's part of my writing process to read at that time [Laughs].
What authors do you come back to?
Robert Bloch, Edgar Allan Poe, Phillip K. Dick, and H.P. Lovecraft is one of my favorites. I've always loved The Bible. There are so many it's hard to say all of them. I always tend to study religion. I love Hunter S. Thompson. There are so many things that go into sculpting one's lyrical content and the way you write. You're taught by great people and sometimes they have different ways of looking at things. I don't want to necessarily cramp their style or step on toes. I take what I can and make it my own. It's the evolution of man, getting better at what we do and what entertains us.
Is it important to weave everything together into one piece you have to listen to from beginning to end?
That's a fine art to do. It's hard to write a bunch of songs or a couple of long pieces of music. Opeth and Mastodon do that well. Some of the people from my era are getting better at making things epic by their arrangements, how they fall into place, and create tension with people. The ultimate band for that is Pink Floyd. Rush is pretty good at it too. If you go back and listen to the way people have arranged records, you think, "What makes me want to listen to that from beginning to end? What the fuck made me want to listen to Piece of Mind from start to finish?" It's because of the way they arranged it and wrote it.
What's your favorite High on Fire song?
See our review of the album here!