US stoner metal band formed in 1998 in San Francisco, California, by Matt Pike (guitar/vocals), Des Kensel (drums) and George Rice (bass). Pike had formerly worked with Sleep, the cult doom metal band that had disbanded the same year after their record company had refused to release their third album. High On Fire drew on the sound pioneered by Sleep, an intensely heavy reworking of the Black Sabbath / Celtic Frost blueprint, with Pikes aggressive guitar playing more to the fore than it had been in Sleep. The trios demo recordings attracted immediate interest from a number of independent metal labels, with Mans Ruin releasing The Art Of Self-Defense in 2000. Critics weary of the then fashionable rap metal and nu-metal sound greeted the album as a beacon of traditional heavy metal.
High On Fires follow-up, Surrounded By Thieves, was released in 2002 via the more prominent Relapse Records label. With barely any let-up in the relentless heaviness, the album was eagerly lapped up by heavy metal fans. Rice quit the line-up following a tour to promote the album, leaving Pike and Kensel to complete the recording of the bands third album with Joe Preston (1969; bass, ex-Melvins). Alternative rock producer Steve Albini was brought in as producer, but any fears that the band would abandon their trademark sound were quickly dispelled, and Blessed Black Wings was released to the usual round of tumultuous applause. Jeff Matz subsequently replaced Preston in the touring line-up.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.