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Review Zoo get onboard with 'High on Fire' at Thekla / Bristol

Tonight we’re on a mission to find an awesome American metal band playing on a boat in the heart of Bristol. Our luck is in, as “High on Fire” is on tour and has stopped by to play “Thekla.”

As we approach, the importance of this band to the metal scene is evident from the hustle and bustle around the boat.

Fans eagerly await the band's set, mingling among clouds of strawberry-scented vape smoke. Huge beards and checked shirts dominate the crowd, making it easy to identify the die-hard “High on Fire” fans.

The energy is palpable, and there's an air of camaraderie among the fans, a shared anticipation of the raw power about to be unleashed.

Boarding “Thekla,” we realize the fanbase outside is just the tip of the iceberg. Inside, the ship is teeming with metalheads ready to catch a glimpse of HOF.

The ship's unique ambiance, with its confined space and low ceilings, adds to the sense of intimacy and intensity. Spirits are high as the anticipation builds, the crowd buzzing with excitement.

When “High on Fire” takes to the stage, the crowd erupts in cheers. The red lighting engulfs the band like fire, perfectly accompanying their entrance.

The sound is thick and monstrous, with the kick drum thumping through our chests and rattling the ship's structure. This is beastly, dirty heavy metal, and I love it!

Matt Pike steps up the edginess with his Lemmy-style vocals and filthy riffs, commanding the stage with a presence that’s both ferocious and magnetic.

From where I’m standing, the vocals are a bit low in the mix, but the sound is like a beautiful sandwich of audio. Each note rings out with the crystal-clear highs of the cymbals, the mids of the guitar, and the low frequencies of the bass, all blending into a thick and heavy sound. It's a wall of sound that’s immersive, enveloping the audience in a sonic embrace that’s as relentless as it is exhilarating.

As HOF takes us through our paces, bassist Jeff Matz directs the audience to pit, and the crowd answers his call instantly. A mass movement in the pit ensues, with push coming to shove in a shared moment of pit bonding. It’s a ritualistic display of energy and aggression, a testament to the power of music to unite and invigorate.

Though I’m in an area where the vocals are harder to hear, the venue is so packed due to HOF's popularity that it’s difficult to move through the teeming audience. I’m happy to stay put, feeling the power of the instruments projecting around the room. The barrage of sound hits me full force, ensuring I don’t just hear HOF’s set but feel it as well. The vibrations reverberate through my body, a physical reminder of the music’s potency.

The setlist is a relentless assault of heavy metal mastery. Songs like “Snakes for the Divine” and “Electric Messiah” showcase the band’s technical prowess and raw energy. Matt Pike’s guitar work is particularly impressive, his solos slicing through the dense wall of sound with precision and ferocity. The band’s tightness is evident, a well-oiled machine that delivers a powerful performance without missing a beat.

As HOF ends their set, they leave the stage with the drone of low-frequency feedback as their outro. A guitar tech turns off their amps, signalling the end. Tonight, HOF doesn’t follow the usual set routine of lengthy chats between songs and announcing the approaching end. Instead, they choose a relentless approach with only short chats in between songs and no warning of the end. This makes for a refreshing change and maintains the evening's pace.

The relentless approach keeps the energy high and the audience engaged, a nonstop barrage of metal that leaves no room for downtime.

Walking away from “Thekla,” I’m keen to see “High on Fire” again and will definitely be looking out for future shows. The experience is not just about the music, but the atmosphere, the camaraderie, and the sheer intensity of the live performance. High on Fire delivers on all fronts, providing a night of metal that’s as memorable as it is powerful. Whether you’re a long-time fan or a newcomer to their music, a High on Fire show is an experience that stays with you, a testament to the enduring appeal of heavy metal.


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