Doom Patrol

High on Fire's Matt Pike talks about Earache and stoner rocket science

When it comes to Sleep's old label Earache, however, Pike doesn't mince words: "That dude's a fuckin' scoundrel!" The "dude" to whom he refers is Digby Pearson, who started Earache in Nottingham, England, in the 1980s, and systematically fed and expanded grindcore into a million-dollar business. Napalm Death, Carcass and Bolt Thrower all were Earache bands. These days, however, some of the groups have nothing but disdain for Pearson, whom they accuse of using bands and drawing up bad contracts. Pike's opinion is pretty similar. "That dude pretty much ran over every band that was good on his label," he says. "Those bands don't own anything they ever did. Digby owns it. Still owns it. Still makes money off it." Pike claims that his band has no rights to Sleep's Holy Mountain,although he also blames himself. "You know, when you're a kid, you're like 19 years old, and you want to jump on a label like Earache...you're like, 'Earache's big!' You tend to sign anything they send you. So we just fucked ourselves, as well as him fucking us, so it's not all his fault either."

Between their wrangling with Earache, getting dumped by London and the folding of Man's Ruin, High on Fire was a bit wary of labels. But the band finally settled on the Pennsylvania-based Relapse, which has an established base of metal-influenced bands. The resulting album, Surrounded by Thieves, is awesome. (Really the only way to say it.) Repetitive guitar parts twine and build into some warped fantasy, as if the listener is being chased by a monster, then Pike throws in a nod to hardcore or a noodly guitar solo; whatever metal manual he's following, he wrote himself. "I'm trying to mix it up," he says. "I see a lot of influences from my roots coming out. I've been playing more hardcore punk riffs, fucking with them, making them a little more extended, a little more metalized. I'm just experimenting, just having fun."

The real center of Thieves, though, is Kensel; this record is all about the drums. He's been known to set up his kit right next to the lip of the stage, and he's obviously tried to reproduce the pummeling on this record. The resulting fusion is brutal. "All my songs are warped!" Pike says, laughing. "I'm just trying to do what I want to do and not what anybody else thinks I should be doing. That's when you go wrong."

Des Kensel, George Rice and Matt Pike
Des Kensel, George Rice and Matt Pike

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