In a curious and completely unintentional coincidence, today's battle is a spirited grudge match two years in the making, as Ihsahn challenges High On Fire for the second time in Arsies history.
I'll be honest with you: back in 2010, when High On Fire put out Snakes For The Divine, it felt to me like High On Fire had put out their masterwork, that nothing they could do thereafter would stack up. (You get a sense about these things: we all knew that Metallica could never outdo Load.) And yet, De Vermis Mysteriis somehow improves on everything that came before it, without compromising any of the tastiness. The vocals are grittier, the bass is grosser (my god, the tone on Madness Of An Architect is probably illegal somewhere), the drums heavier. (Credit has to be given in part to the hardest working man in show business, Kurt Ballou.) At the same time, this album is more precise, more surefooted, and just better than Snakes while covering essentially the same musical ground. An impressive followup, to say the least.
One acccusation you cannot make of Ihsahn's latest, Eremita, is that it's repetitive. This record is ambitious even for Ihsahn, a sprawling work that is moodier, more expansive, and more symphonic than its predecessor, After. The guitars here are more restrained, giving room to a more unique sonic palette, and to the album's collection of guest musicians (including his wife Ihriel, Devin Townsend, Jeff Loomis, and Leprous's Einar Solberg). And yet, there's something not quite right about Eremita. Maybe the weakness lies with Ihsahn himself: on songs like Catharsis, his vocals are oddly out of place here. Or perhaps that's symptomatic of a general awkwardness that is difficult to completely get past. Either way, it's enough of a liability to rob Ihsahn of a win against his old nemesis.
High On Fire pummels their way to victory! They'll be back in two weeks to take on Enabler. That should prove to be a very aggressive day indeed. Meanwhile, in a special prog metal episode of the Arsies, we've got Between The Buried And Me up against Incoming Cerebral Overdrive tomorrow.