11. High on Fire, Electric Messiah (Entertainment One)
Matt Pike is my favourite guitarist in metal today. He is a riff machine, capable of robust sounding solos that alternate between all-out shredding and jazz-like nuance. From a musical standpoint his 2018 was spectacular to say the least, featuring prominently on two of the finest releases of the year. The first album I’ll talk about is the latest by his long-running project High on Fire. With Pike’s gravelly voice, the classic power trio set-up, and the band’s musical simplicity (High on Fire’s mission statement, is they had one, would be “Destroy Anything And Everything In Our Path”) the comparisons to Motörhead are inevitable, and indeed, Pike and High on Fire have become so reliable at putting out new music that doesn’t break much new ground but absolutely excels at the formula they’ve created for themselves. I prefer to avoid the Motörhead thing and allow the band’s own identity speak for itself, but Pike embraces the comparison on Electric Messiah, writing the title track in honour of the late, dearly missed Lemmy in addition to churning out a slew of speed-freak metal tunes. It’s because of that return to the speed of 2005’s “Devilution” that Electric Messiah feels so immediately rewarding, but there is a lot to discover once you delve past such catchy tunes as “Spewn From the Earth” and “Freebooter”. Namely two tracks that comprise more than one third of the album: “Sanctioned Annihilation” roars alog for ten and a half ambitious minutes, while “Steps of the Ziggurat/House of Enlil” is the best epic-length track I’ve ever heard from High on Fire, shifting from riff to towering riff. After a long period of working with different producers, the band has a true co-collaborator in Kurt Ballou, who over the last three albums has played a huge role in shaping the High of Fire sound that we know today. Electric Messiah is so rewarding from the get-go, metal at its most punishing and flat-out fun.