Electric Messiah

Band: High on Fire
Album: Electric Messiah
Best song: The title track totally rips.
Worst song:“Drowning Dog” isn’t great.

I broadly don’t believe in the idea of “cancelling” someone, but for the thought experiment that bad faith arguers believe it to be, I’ll bite and take another shot at explaining my own thinking when it comes to delineating art and artist. As in: When do I decide to stop consuming someone’s music/movies/etc. because of their politics. My own personal cancelling, I guess.

I don’t.

I still listen to music that’s made by abhorrent people (Ted Nugent), extremely dumb people who use Nazi-adjacent imagery (Metallica, who knows how many other metal bands), pedophiles (Michael Jackson, David Bowie, etc.), spousal abusers (Ozzy Osbourne, the Beatles, etc), well-known jerks (Roger Waters) and racists (Myrkur). I listen to lots of music with awful words (the f-word –the slur, not “fuck”– in particular, is in more songs than you’d think. “Money for Nothing,” for example. ) and bands whose chief lyricist was inspired by Ayn Rand (Rush). I like comedians who are sex pests (Louis CK), alleged spousal abusers (Redd Foxx) and who knows what else. Some of these people are reformed or dead or whatever, but I still listen to their records, for the most part.

I don’t have a good way to explain myself. My morals are what they are – I am against the crimes and immoralities listed above – but I can’t bring myself to tear myself away from these people.

I think the main thing I keep coming back to this twofold:

  • The connection we have to art – music, specifically – is visceral and not intellectual .
  • I don’t go to artists for their morals or politics

The first one is complicated; it’s easy to label it as lazy or selfish (and it probably is) , but to deny it is to deny being human. People will bend themselves into a pretzel to justify why artist X is less bad than artist Y because X was important to them before they knew X’s politics or morals or whatever, but music imprints on you. It’s hard to shed.

(The easiest example for me of this principle is that I never had to have any moral complications regarding Woody Allen. I never loved any of his movies, so fine. Yes, I can say that I don’t consume them out of ~morals~ or something, but the reality is that I never liked his movies much in the first place.)

The second one is less complicated. I’ll use as a case study Matt Pike, of High on Fire and Sleep, and compare him to the intellectual idiocy that is Alex Jones’ conspiracy world of punditry.

Matt Pike rips. He’s got a wonderfully gravelly, deep voice, an on-stage persona that harkens to the 70s and 80s and a guitar sound unlike nearly anyone. I love High on Fire and hearing “Snakes for the Divine” live on the Electric Messiah tour is a live music highlight for me.

Pike also is a moron conspiracy theory person. Or he was in 2015 (I don’t have the hotline to Pikke, but let’s assume he hasn’t softened much). In an interview he did with Rolling Stone, he ran the gamut of conspiracy greatest hits ( 9/11 was an inside job, aliens live among us, something about FEMA camps, etc.). He also name-checked the awful David Icke – whose reptilian theory is basically just thinly-veiled crazy antisemitism – who is legit nuts.

Compare that to Alex Jones. The Austin-based tinfoil hat enthusiast believes the same or similar things to Matt Pike – Jones probably is not obsessed with Sumerian ziggurats, to be fair, but I don’t know if Pike thinks that modernity is turning ”the freaking frogs gay” – and he’s infintiely more dangerous because of his job. Pike’s job is to play music and music is not an avenue for most people’s worldview. An ostensible news program or network like InfoWars exists to entertain people, sure, but it’s also around to craft a worldview.

No one, I hope, is creating a worldview from Matt Pike interviews. Pike’s job in the greater society is to make music, not forge takes or influence other people’s takes. Alex Jones’ job in greater society is to be a sort of newsman – however wrong he is about most things. There is a big difference.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not trying to give Pike (or Amalie Bruun or any other musician) the “shut up and dribble” treatment. Pike is certainly free to express his opinions, but that’s very much not what I care about regarding him. I don’t want to stifle his idiotic views on ziggurats (though, he and I are in agreement that they are very cool) or reptile-people. I worry that he thinks the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is real and he’s certainly free to say so, if he wants. I’ll ignore it because I want to hear him make music.

Electric Messiah is the record that won the band its first (and only, I believe) Grammy to date. It is not their best album nor is the title track – the song that won Best Metal Performance – their best song (those would be Snakes for the Divine and “Rumors of War,” respectively). But, Electric Messiah is really great.

And, to a point, it’s an exercise in the art v. artist concept; I don’t know the lyrics the way I do other bands’ lyrics. I don’t care. “Spewn from the Earth” leads off the album with a bone-crushing riff, while “God of the Godless” is a rapid-fire thrash anthem. And, yes, the title track is a classic with all the hallmarks of a great High on Fire song (a riff with velocity, tight rhythm section and Pike’s signature vocals that sound like he’s gargling pebbles).

But, I don’t care about the lyrics or the worldview. For one, the song’s lyrics are totally scattershot (there’s a whole verse seemingly about Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister, for some reason), but mostly, I’m not here for the lyrics.

Ultimately, that’s how stuff breaks down. I need High on Fire to make the kind of music I like, not to tell me how to think about FEMA camps or 9/11 or whatever. It’s easy to put the other stuff away.

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

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