Concert preview: High on Fire’s Matt Pike loses his “darkness,” continues to destroy

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From the November 14, 2013 edition

Matt Pike, singer and guitarist for metal trio High on Fire, spent his 40th birthday in far-from-glamorous fashion: detoxing on a long flight home from Spain.

In June 2012 Pike, now 41, was forced to cancel an appearance at Barcelona’s Primavera festival when he awoke in his hotel room experiencing numbness on the left side of his body and unable to see out of one eye. A week later he entered rehab to begin treatment for a longtime addiction to alcohol.

“I wasn’t drinking to get drunk; I was drinking to ease the shakes,” the frontman said in a recent phone interview. “The pattern worked for a really long time until one day it didn’t. It’s really a typical rock star story, so I just kind of giggle and get on with my life.”

Since completing rehab, the guitarist, who brings High on Fire to A&R for a show on Wednesday, Nov. 20, has done precisely that, immersing himself in art (he has taken up drawing and recently designed his first band tour shirt), taking a more concerted interest in his health (he started kickboxing and has been cooking at home more) and continuing to make music that sounds engineered to level entire cities. The band’s latest single, “Slave the Hive,” for one, is as brutal as anything in its dark matter-heavy catalog, built on Pike’s Viking growl and a guitar riff that comes on like an industrial-grade asphalt cutter.

Even so, the musician said sobriety has been quite an adjustment, particularly when it comes to dealing with his social anxieties.

“I always had a pleasant buzz on before, and when that isn’t there there’s this total clarity of a roomful of people staring at you,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Oh my God. This is my job? How did I do this before?’”

Then there was a second, far more unexpected change: Pike, long tormented by a deep-seated anger (“A lot of it was me holding the world in contempt,” he said) and a range of internal demons, said he recently discovered a genuine sense of peace for the first time in ages.

“I always had this weird, dark place I could go to, but a lot of that despair has lifted,” he said. “My darkness is missing.”

Still, don’t expect High on Fire’s music to mellow in the slightest. As Pike said, “We’re not going to do anything that doesn’t completely destroy.”

T Couture photo