Matt Pike has had a long and storied career as a member of pioneering stoner-metal trios Sleep and High on Fire. But the pandemic has been hard on team players, and so this year the guitarist and vocalist is releasing his first solo album, Pike vs the Automaton—a heartbreaking work of cabin fever. He recorded it largely at home with drummer Jon Reid, a current and former bandmate of Pike’s wife, multi-instrumentalist Alyssa Maucere-Pike (in Glory in the Shadows and Lord Dying, respectively). Maucere-Pike also appears on this fierce and flexible album, whose trippy gurgle is redolent of pungent bong water and whose guitars sound like they might shoot fire like in Mad Max: Fury Road. In the press materials for the album, Pike says he set out to make a psychedelic rock record that fans of Sleep and High on Fire would like, and in my opinion he succeeded. “Trapped in a Midcave” is a heavy chugging monstrosity of a riff machine, with fiendishly catchy flourishes of 80s hard rock and metal, a guitar solo that sounds like it’s blasting out of an airlock, and a charming old-school fade-out.
Possibly the most startling track is the moody, brooding “Land,” a western gothic piece that Pike wrote with Maucere-Pike. It features Brent Hinds of Mastodon on guitar and Steve McPeeks of West End Motel on bass, and it reeks of spilled whiskey and regrets—I’ll be damned if I don’t hear a little influence from cowpunks like the Gun Club and the Divine Horsemen in its unearthly revenant howls and slow-burning drawl. The next track is the utterly unhinged “Alien Slut Mum,” which premiered in December with an extended video whose delirious bad trip of horror-flick shaky cam shows us what appear to be a werewolf, an alien, a Sasquatch, and a whole lot of bones. “Latin American Geological Formation” is another delight: the slinky playfulness in its rhythms and guitar lines underpins sinister, impressionistic storytelling that sounds like someone on a long, chilly nighttime drive who’s propelled by a thirst for revenge that ends in violence. Lyrically, Pike also returns to familiar themes on this album: “Apollyon” and “Leaving the Wars of Woe,” with their occult vibes, invoke apocalyptic angels who aren’t about to say “be not afraid.” Pike vs the Automaton is a serious psych-metal record, with nothing remotely tossed-off or half-assed about it, but I came away with the unshakable sense that Pike and his friends had a jolly great time making it—just like I did listening to it.
Matt Pike’s Pike vs the Automaton drops 2/18 and is available for pre-order on Bandcamp.