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Metal Mongols

Oakland's High On Fire knows the secret of steel.

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Sleep called it quits more than six years ago, but Pike has forged ahead with an explosive metal band named High On Fire.

The Oakland-based trio (which takes its name from the ELO song "Fire on High") combines head-nodding metal riffs, stampeding drums and blistering low-end bass with lyrics usually involving supernatural beasts or apocalyptic religious theology. Its last album, "Surrounded by Thieves" (Relapse Records), featured an Earth Age where werewolves and yetis roamed to Sabbath-style doom metal and reckless guitar soloing.

"I'm a guitar geek," explains Pike, who goes into a fuzzy, Blue Cheer-like trance when performing live. "I get lost trying to channel all my energy into a song."

While the band has added "different texture" with new bassist Joe Preston (ex-Melvins), Pike says that most HOF songs are stamped by his close working relationship with pulverizing drummer Des Kensel.

"A lot of metal bands have two or three guitarists. We're at a disadvantage, but Des and I try to mold and sculpt as much as we can," he explains. "It forces me to be more creative."

Pike's singing voice is an unholy instrument itself, a cross between a hoarse dog bark and gravel being crushed.

HOF just finished its third album, "Blessed Black Wings" (due in February), with noted producer Steve Albini in Chicago. A self-described Gnostic, Pike characterizes the new album as more "epic-length" songs inspired by his personal spiritual search and books by authors such as H.P. Lovecraft.

"Stuff about addiction, politics, the media. I like it, it's really f—ing heavy," Pike says, adding that the vinyl version includes a cover of Judas Priest's "Rapid Fire."

Pike admits that he is a fan of Richmond hometown heroes GWAR and Lamb of God, although he has no love for red state politics.

"I never used to vote. Now I did and it didn't even matter," he groans. "That election was awful."

When describing his band's goals, Pike has previously used the Conan movie line, "We want to crush our enemies, drive them before us and hear the lamentations of their women." But it's not so funny now that Conan is his real-life governor.

"Yeah. It's messed up to hear Ahnuld on TV saying [imitates Schwarzenegger's voice], 'We need to keep ah teachez teeching and ah fahmez fahming.' Bizarre." S



High On Fire takes a break from touring with Clutch to headline at Alley Katz on Wednesday, Dec. 15, at 9 p.m. with Man Again and Suzikiton (18 and up). Tickets cost $10 and are available at Plan 9, Ticketmaster and musictoday.com.

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