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High On Fire Playing ‘Fear FestEvil’

In Music
Dopesmokers: Matt Pike, left, co-founded San Jose stoner-metal legends Sleep. He now fronts High on Fire.

Dopesmokers: Matt Pike, left, co-founded San Jose stoner-metal legends Sleep. He now fronts High on Fire.

The San Francisco Bay Area has long been a fertile breeding ground for metal music. It’s either given birth to, or supported the growth of, such legendary acts as Exodus, Testament, Death Angel, and of course, Metallica.

Since their foundation in 1998, Oakland’s High on Fire have proven themselves to be a most worthy addition to the list of Bay Area metal luminaries.

The power trio, known for their hard-hitting, sledgehammer riffs, is set to be one of the headliners at Kirk Von Hammett’s second annual “Fear FestEvil” this coming weekend in San Jose—sharing the stage with Meshugga, Agnostic Front and more. The event, which combines the worlds of metal music and horror films, is one that High on Fire’s singer and guitarist Matt Pike is looking forward to—both as a performer and a horror fan.

Pike, who got to know Von Hammett while High on Fire was touring with Metallica in Europe, says he jumped at the chance to play FestEvil.

“He offered us the show, and I was like, ‘Oh fuck, of course!’ I’ve always been into horror films and literature, and all that kind of stuff,” Pike says over the phone. “I think it will be interesting to walk around and trip out on the horror collection, apparently he has a huge one.”

Pike is also looking to get back into the groove of playing live shows with High On Fire again. After the band finished recording their as-yet-unnamed new album—due in stores this summer—Pike took some time off to play with Sleep, the influential San Jose stoner metal outfit he co-founded in 1990.

“We’re ready to play again, but it’s kind of like getting in shape for a boxing match or something,” Pike says. “If you’re an athlete, you’ve got to keep your chops up, and keep moving around. But it all comes back really quick. We don’t party like we used to; I’m staying off the booze.”

Pike and his fellow band members drummer Des Kensel and bassist Jeff Matz were in the studio earlier this year with producer Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou, who worked with the band on their previous effort, 2012’s De Vermis Mysteriis. The band members were so happy with that record, that it was an easy decision to tap Ballou again.

“The last one came out extraordinary, that’s why we went with him again,” Pike says. “He’s got a knack for us. He’s a great engineer and if we get stuck he always has good ideas. His band is pretty trippy, out-there music, so he’s a creative guy.”

Pike and the rest of his band still need to put the finishing on the new record, which he says he is looking forward to releasing.

“It’s really good—everybody says that about every new album that they have, but I really do think that it’s the best one we’ve ever done,” he says. “The takes on it are so good, the way it’s put together. It’s what you’d expect; but not what you’d expect.”

Fans can expect to hear a couple of the new tunes at this weekend’s gig, but not too many; Pike says he notices different audience reactions when they play new, unreleased material live.

“We’re going to be randomly playing some new songs—because if they don’t know the songs, the crowd always stares at you all uncomfortable, they don’t know what to do because they’ve never heard it,” he laughs. “You just throw one in there after you get ’em fired up.”

Pike is also excited to be performing in front of a home-town crowd.

“The Bay Area has always been a really great place for [metal],” he says. “I was fortunate enough to be dropped here as a kid; so from ’89 on, I was kind of spoiled rotten, because there was such a good scene here, and it was really easy to get into bands, and there were lots of people to jam with.”

Although fans have been enthusiastic about everything Sleep has done since reuniting in 2009—including a series of one-off concerts and the release of a new single last year (their first new material in nearly two decades)—Pike dances around discussing the possibility of any more Sleep records or shows in the near future.

“Sleep is a fun thing we can do, and go make some bucks,” he says. “We enjoy playing together, but we all have other full-time bands. We have to take things as they come. I can’t say much more than that.”

High on Fire is playing Kirk Von Hammett’s Fear FestEvil on April 11.

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