If Matt Pike has an official mission statement, it might well be Dopesmoker, the one-song album he helped create during his days as guitarist for the ’90s doom metal band Sleep. An epic tale about a caravan of marijuana worshippers taking bong rips as they march through Jerusalem (“Follow the smoke to the riff-filled land …”), Dopesmoker found the band stretching out what was essentially a single musical idea for more than an hour, with Pike making only occasional, momentary departures from a menacing C power chord.
Pike, now the frontman for the Oakland-based metal trio High On Fire, is clearly still high on more than fire. Ample proof of this can be found in the video for the song “Fertile Green.” Straddling the line between amazingly ridiculous and ridiculously amazing, the clip depicts a gun-toting outlaw biker using an occult text to conjure a naked female demon made of marijuana.
De Vermis Mysteriis, the album from which “Fertile Green” was culled, is a concept album that chronicles the time-traveling adventures of Jesus’ twin brother. As Pike explains, “Fertile Green” is the chapter of the tale in which Christ’s twin “has to go to an oracle and bring her a baby so she can further her herb garden.” The offering of this baby, it turns out, is a twisted metaphor for the time-tested pot grower’s practice of “sacrificing” male plants. “If you get too many males fertilizing the female, obviously you have an oversaturation of being fertile,” Pike says. “So the males usually get thrown in the fire, or they get made into hash or whatnot.”
Drawing on the works of writers like Robert Bloch, H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, Vermis raises questions about God, quantum physics, fate and the supernatural. According to Pike, a good deal of the album’s lyrics “came from always wrestling with being brought up religious, wrestling with glimpses of things that I believe are past lives, and always being very sensitive to paranormal stuff. I just think it all relates to what my soul is.” Though he’s not certain what his soul might be, he cryptically states, “I think pretty soon I’ll be a little more certain.”
The last of these comments may refer to the health problems Pike has been contending with lately: The tour that brings High On Fire to The Catalyst on Tuesday, Dec. 18 is the band’s first since Pike’s return from rehab, where he detoxed from booze and cocaine over the summer. Though he admits that it’s not easy staying clean on tour, he also notes that he’s enjoying his first taste of sobriety since age 12.
Pike hints that his new, healthier lifestyle isn’t stopping him from living up to his “Dopesmoker” title. And when he expounds on De Vermis Mysteriis’ philosophical premises, one is inclined to take him at his word.
“Everybody has their own set of binoculars,” he muses. “Even though we all share the same consciousness, it’s a different aspect of that consciousness. I suppose that consciousness is what we all call God, or whatever—the male and the female: the Goddess, which is more like a dream state, and the Father, which is more like when you’re not dreaming, but you are asleep, and then your consciousness, which is: You’re in this earth, and that could be more like Hades or more like different dimensions.”
The guitarist adds that in his view, our actions in this dimension affect life on other planes. “Everything echoes, you know? And even though there’s no sound in space, there’s vibration, and as the vibration moves through space, it directly affects what I sense to be other beings and other consciousness.”
Point taken, sir: The post-rehab Matt Pike is just as stony as ever.
High on Fire plays at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 18 at The Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Corrosion of Conformity, Goatwhore and Lo-Pan open. Tickets are $20/adv, $22/door. For more information, call 423-1338. Photo: T Couture