Aftermath: A Metal Reawakening With High On Fire And Priestess At Walter's

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So about a month ago Aftermath swore off metal shows. Well serious ones that is. Yeah, we hit up Steel Panther, who are in fact metal but that didn't count, seeing that they are hair metal which immediately disqualifies them. Anyhow, High on Fire's packed gig at Walter's on Washington Friday night was our first time back in the denim-and-bearded saddle in weeks. We gave up the hard stuff because we were growing immune to it. Nothing was clicking anymore, and when you can sit through a Megadeth show and snicker most of the time, it's your cue to leave for a bit. It's like taking time apart from your better half to reappreciate them, in the hopes that when you reunite you don't want to stab them with a butterfly knife under the table at Wendy's for eating a Frosty wrong. We walked in Friday night just in time to see Black Cobra, the third band of a five-band bill. The San Francisco two-piece comes off as an aggressively more pissed-off early Early Man, before they added more guitars. Their latest LP, Chronomega, was massively produced by Billy Anderson. His list of credits reads like the ingredients on the back of a Black Cobra cereal box: Melvins, Swans, HOF and Orange Goblin, among many others. In a live setting, all of Chronomega is a ball-ripping good time. "Chronosphere" and "Storm Shadow" were lethal too; drummer Rafa Martinez plays his kit like a lead guitarist plays his axe.

Yeah, on our metal hiatus, we tried to come up with new descriptive terms for how metal makes us feel. Face-melting, epic, and brutal aren't cutting it. Stay tuned for more. Also, this bill proves our new theory that we will like any band whose name contains the words, black, fire, cobra, death, tusk, venom, sword, witch, priest, eternal, acid or weed. It's just science, baby.

Priestess came on after BC very quickly, surprising the smokers outside into slamming their cigs down into the pavement. The Canadian band had one of the best boogie-metal albums of 2005 with Hello Master, but didn't get around to recording another slab until last year's Prior To The Fire. During 2005-06, we estimate we saw them at least three times coming through Houston headlining or supporting. The band's new material is heavy on the boogie this time around, whereas Master was catchy as hell, a little too hooky in parts but nonetheless enjoyable.

High On Fire, on the other tattooed hand, is beastly live, from opening slots to headlining spots like Friday night. The last few times HOF has been through Houston it's been as a supporting act, the last instance being the big Dethklok/Mastodon/Converge gig at Verizon. People love HOF so intensely that they even leave after they play at the bigger supporting shows, or just ignore the rest of the entertainment.

HOF's live show is much better obviously in the smaller confines of somewhere like Walter's. Last we remember them anywhere in Houston that small it was across the street at Mary Jane's Fat Cat. The rest of the time they played big rooms, but any room lead singer and guitarist Matt Pike occupies becomes his room. The band's sound hangs in the room like fog, and Friday night wasn't any different.

The band's new album, Snakes For The Divine, marks a change, as Pike sings and bellows unlike the rasp-screaming like on the previous albums. Things are getting more melodic, but denser and more corrupt. For a huge fan it's been fun to hear the journey from 2000's Art Of Self Defense to now, as their massive clamor became more sprawling. Most people are still reeling from 2007's stellar Death Is This Communion, which was speed-metal compared to the rest of the HOF discography.

One of the best things about watching HOF, besides Pike's manic metallic smile, is drummer Des Kensel. He's unsung, and plays the way Ginger Baker played in Cream, if Cream was influenced by Celtic Frost. Like Black Cobra's Martinez, Kensel's playing is at the forefront of the band's sound and not just a time-keeping piece.

The Snakes tracks were firing all cylinders, but undoubtedly HOF's greatest album at this point (too many) is 2005's Blessed Black Wings. Most sets are highlighted by that albums handful of ragers. Friday night's "Devilution" and "Cometh Down Hessian" helped the bar at Walter's run out of Lone Star Beer. That's always the high-water mark of a show.

So we guess that Aftermath is back in the metal saddle. Vacation was nice, but it's time to start growling like a bear again and get back to trying to decipher the names on flyers in that nut-ass metal font. Also, please refrain from using the metal horns. We stopped doing that along time ago. What are you, Miley Cyrus? Now you gotta rock the goblet-holder move, which looks like you are handing someone their own heart after you rip it out of their chest.

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