High on Fire and Pallbearer bring varied dose of heavy metal to Rickshaw

High on FireIt’s typical for metal shows to feature many bands, but there’s usually a common thread that connects the different acts together. As uniform as heavy metal sounds to the uninitiated, in reality, there’s a whole world waiting to be discovered, one with numerous sub-genres and a history that spans continents. It’s worth noting, then, that when a metal band comes to town, perhaps bringing some other acts along for the performance, the bands typically fall under whatever sub-genre the lead act itself subscribes to. Last Tuesday, the lead act was renowned Oakland, California-based metal group High on Fire. The band’s show at the Rickshaw Theatre also featured some other groups, most notably the much-buzzed-about doom metal outfit Pallbearer.

High on Fire and Pallbearer are not always dissimilar, but as far as metal goes, they are certainly different. While both groups at times play a slowed down, stoner metal form of music, High on Fire are more rooted in Motörhead-style speed metal and thrash than than Pallbearer’s Sabbath-inspired doom metal. However, the pairing oddly works in a live setting. No matter the discrepancies, fans at last Tuesday’s show were treated to a performance that satisfied their crushing desire for good heavy metal regardless of what metal genre was being dished out.

The Rickshaw is not a big space. The balcony wasn’t open for the performances, so the crowd was ushered into the narrow main floor, which also served as a merch booth, sound stage, and mosh pit. Not that there was much “moshing” going on this concert. When Pallbearer took the stage, the excited crowd immediately drew closer. The majority of the audience hadn’t seen the band play live before, but they knew this critically acclaimed new act was probably worth their time nonetheless. Pallbearer have been touring on Foundations of Burden, their masterful effort from last year that has increased their popularity substantially.

Kicking things off with the gorgeous, slow-burning textures of “Worlds Apart”, fans were mesmerized by the band’s heavy sound. Fans were all the more impressed given the appearance of lead vocalist Brett Campbell, a scrawny fellow who doesn’t fit the image of a stereotypical metalhead. Seeing Pallbearer’s competence at their craft firsthand made their understated appearance all the more alluring. The band’s songs are slow, jammy numbers, and throughout their one-hour set, they played a total of four songs, finishing with “Foreigner”. Their music evidently didn’t encourage moshing or much movement whatsoever. Their sound is too slow, too foreboding, and instead encourages a vibe that’s equal parts atmospheric, spacey, and chilled-out. Their doom metal riffs are loud and repetitive, but the band always appears in control. At times, it felt like they were building to something climatic and grand, the crashing drums and low-tuned guitars always on the cusp of falling overboard, of taking the explosiveness too far, when all of sudden, they’d bring everything back down to a manageable pace. Given the fact that the band was forced to play as a trio on Tuesday (bassist/vocalist Joseph D. Rowland was held up at the border), what they accomplished onstage was admirable. Pallbearer’s beautifully textured, simplistic riffing could have fooled anyone into believing that the band was normally a three-piece.

High on Fire were next. While the stage was being prepped, the audience fled to the foyer to get beer and take a smoke break. In contrast to Pallbearer’s more lackadaisical approach, High on Fire played with high-octane energy, and the audience definitely deserved a break in order to prepare themselves. High on Fire mastermind Matt Pike has been playing for a long time (he got his start in the early 90s with seminal band Sleep), and the audience for this show was both young and old. The trio is a captivating mix of sludge, thrash, and doom metal. One minute, the audience is grooving to the old school sludge of “Carcosa”; the next, they’re enduring the progressive thrash workout of “Snakes for the Divine”. High on Fire’s music is high-velocity, intense, technical, and aggressive. In between every song, Pike took a hit from his e-cig vaporizer, drank some water, and caught his breath. At 43-years-old, the kind of performance his band puts on must be exhausting. But that’s part of what makes them exciting as well. The fans could see how exhaustive the performance was, but High on Fire’s level of fatigue exposed a greater truth: to put on a real metal show is to suffer for it. High on Fire looked beat down because through every second, through every explosive riff and guttural yell, they gave it their all.