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4 Pines brewery popped up out of nowhere down here in Melbourne. Well, it seems that way to me, at any rate (the caveat of course being that I’m violently anti-social and don’t really keep my ear to the ground. The two are related, I promise you). All of a sudden, their beers were everywhere, even in my local grocery store. I was immediately suspicious and thought they were Lion Nathan or the other big mob trying to gain another foothold in the microbrew market. However, according to a source I trust, they were among the first microbreweries in Manly/Sydney/that big glamorous city to the north of us. And when I tried their beers, not knowing anything about them, I was very impressed. I’d actually rate their Kolsch over this pale, but it’s more of a summer drink, whereas for sessionability I like pales because they are suitable (for me) in almost any weather. And this is a really nice example of a pretty faultless, pleasurable pale. It’s perfectly balanced to these tastebuds, just the right amount of hop bitterness to malty flavour at the end, the body is just about right and the finish is dry enough to be satisfying but not so much that it leaves you parched. I’m quite fond of this brew, and by the looks of it, I have to go to the brewery one day to try the stuff that doesn’t make it past the doors.
And here we have one of my very favourite bands, Pagan Altar, with yet another re-release of their previously unreleased, quite poorly produced but still magical, EP The Time Lord. When they first hit the scene, they were probably just a little too weird and sinister and yet melodic for the average heavy metal listener (well, actually, hard rock listener, since this stuff was recorded and being played on stage in the late 70s) to really dig. But they were an enigma, and only years later was their material given a proper release (and a few bootlegs as well) and by then they were old farts who probably couldn’t be arsed dressing up in the robes anymore, and just let the music do the talking. And it’s the sort of stuff I just can’t describe, really - you either love it or you scratch your head and look confused. Especially with the vocals, which I think fit perfectly but others have been heard to complain about their “high-pitched, nasal shittiness”. Suffice to say, those people are wrong.
Pagan Altar’s material’s getting very hard to acquire on vinyl, so whenever I get a change I grab it, and I’m glad I managed to get my greasy hands on this beauty. Most of the songs on this EP were re-recorded on their late-released first album, but I’m quite enamoured with the murkiness of these scratchy recordings when these guys were young lads, no idea of how their music would later inspire many a young doom metal fan.
(Just a quick one before I go to bed. Yep, that’s what she said…)
Here’s a continuation of the Forrest beers that I picked up on our recent trip down to the Otways. Having liked this from the tap at the brewery, I was very eager to see what it was like out of my own fridge. And yet again, I remember this being much better from the tap. It’s a very nice example of the style, and it ticks the right boxes but doesn’t really scream “I’m a fuckin’ awesome stout!” at you. What is a surprise is the head as you can see above - dear god, that’s a big one. Like I’ve said before, when an Aussie beer pours with a head like that, it’s always a nice change. But the alcohol isn’t enough to really grab you, and the body is just a little too light and tame. It almost feels like a dark ale rather than a stout. Nice flavours of dark roasted malts and even a bitter coffee kind of aftertaste, but not striking enough to really impress me. I’m hoping the pale - which I remember as a rather nice hoppy bitchslap to the taste-buds - will be better.
Dark and filthy - that’s what I was hoping the stout would be. And it’s what this, the debut Bolt Thrower album, In Battle There Is No Law!, is. They’d been kicking around for a few years releasing demos and whatnot, but this is the earliest stuff of theirs I’ve heard. Later efforts would be midpaced, stomping and even epic death metal, but this album is really intense. In the fast and punishing death metal are strains of grind and even crust punk, which makes it a pretty unique little album. Killer early death metal mixed in with some really cool influences that just makes it even more vicious and uncompromising. I’m not a Bolt Thrower fanatic, but I’m impressed that they’ve stayed tried and true through the years and never done anything close to a Morbid Angel about face, and yet not become self-parodying or stale.
And yes, as a side note - Jo Bench, bassist of Bolt Thrower as of their inception in 1986, one of the first women in “extreme” metal. It seems like you can’t mention Bolt Thrower without mentioning her too, so why the hell should I do things any differently? But in all seriousness, she’s a goddamn trailblazer.
(sorry again for the delay - maybe I should do short and sweet henceforth)
I like this brewery’s stuff, generally speaking. They do a very nice pale ale and a serviceable amber ale - in fact, I remember drinking that pale to almost exclusion a couple of summers ago. But this witbier is, plainly speaking, fucking rank. Now, yes, I’m not all that big a fan of the style. But this is probably one of the worst microbrews I’ve ever had. So what did I get? All those nasty aromas I associate with macro lagers, a thin as hell body with an accompanying soapy, grainy taste and one of the worst LAGERARSE finishes I’ve ever had (yeah, and it’s not even a goddamn lager). Big thumbs down. I hate to give a bad rap to a local outfit but seriously, how the hell this passed muster is a mystery to me.
And here’s a little early 80s heavy metal gem, from an LA (where else?) band called Bitch, who were best known for their frontwoman Betsy “Bitch” Weiss who did the whole dominatrix getup onstage and was probably the cause of many a post-show fap by horny teens. But by god she had a voice to back up the image - rough, powerful, and utterly alluring. No, she wasn’t the best female metal singer but she’s up there in the top for me simply because it fit the music so damn well, which was dirty, sleazy, rip-roaring heavy metal to the bone. The guitar sound on this album is a personal favourite of mine - grimier than your average fare coming out of LA at the time, and rough as guts. This is a reissue which the label’s taken great pains to make look exactly like the first pressing, down to the back info, and it’s a great one to spin while drinking.
I’ll admit that I haven’t been into this craft beer drinking-n’-wanky-reviewing jobby for very long; the calibre of my “reviews” should tell you that. I’m not one of those people who can detect the scent of grapefruit and vestal virgins in a beer, nor can I taste liquefied rainbows and unicorns. However, I did think I knew the mechanics of the brewing process fairly comprehensively, how it’s generally quite simple, and that there wasn’t all that much room for “innovation”. Turns out I am continually surprised, not necessarily by innovation, but by the dragging out of old brewing techniques to add something special to the beer, or, if I’m being cynical, to add marketability. The latest surprise was from the brewery I formerly maligned, Stone & Wood, and this, a take on a (yet another) variety of brew which I had never heard of - the Munich Dunkel Lager. The different technique? The ancient method of using superheated stones to boil the wort, which for obvious reasons is not a widespread practise anymore, but can apparently lend some very unique flavours to a brew.
I’ll be honest here - this is the beer that started my re-evaluation of this brewery. I was very pleasantly surprised - I wish they’d brew this more often (it’s a yearly thing), although I can understand why it’s only limited batches as superheating those stones must in itself be a mammoth pain in the arse. But it produces a quite interesting brew in this case. A lovely dark ruby hue, a very savoury aroma in which even I can smell toasted malts with the usual strong hops, and that slightly roasted, smoky flavour which I associate with beers brewed in old fashion (rauchbier is another one that comes to mind). As you’d expect, the malt flavours dominate over the hops but the latter do come through at the end with a nice bitter (but not overly so) finish. I was impressed, and I plan to get a few more of these before this year’s brew is finally sold out. I still don’t know if it’s worth all the effort on the brewer’s part, but I do look forward to trying the different iterations of this brew in the future.
Sigh are one of the most intruiging bands Japan has ever produced. And if you know your Japanese metal, that’s a big call, but I’m making it anyway. Starting out in the early 90s as European-inspired black metal but with some very Japanese flourishes, they have progressed musically on pretty much every major release. This, a limited edition reissue of their second album Infidel Art, is strange and ethereal even today - black metal with symphonic elements thrown in seemingly haphazardly (not symphonic black metal ala Dimmu Borgir or similar cruddy extreme metal acts), with complex keyboards played effectively over dirty guitar riffing and tortured screams and screeching black metal vocals. It sounds like a mess, and it could have very easily turned out that way, but through some inspired, original songwriting and atmospherics they more than pulled it off - they created a masterpiece. This is up there with my favourite Sigh release, and Sigh remain one of the few black metal acts I like who are more innovative. I generally like my second-wave black metal raw and primitive (like early Mayhem), and I have very little time for modern examples of the style. Sigh are the exception, as they seem to understand what black metal is all about without being stale - a very hard thing to pull off.
The link with the beer? I suppose I could grasp at straws and say it’s like innovation come full circle or some such shit - but I just thought the colour schemes went together…
So, I said I’d re-review this beer from the days of my old Facebook photos, and I see no better time than now, a couple of days into the new year.
I did rip their lager a new one, but upon having this very Aussie version of an American pale both on tap and this new bottle, I’m finally a fan. This is the quintessential hot weather drink - it goes down so smoothly when you’re hot and bothered, and has great sessionability but, again, in the right season. When I first had this, it was winter, it was freezing, and the lack of body and the fairly minimal finish made it highly unappealing. However, right now, the amazing floral, almost tropical aromas followed by enough of a hop bite upfront to keep one interested, lack of grainy taste and that minimal finish makes it absolutely perfect for slamming down in the sun. As someone who doesn’t really like pilseners, I lack a good summer beer, and this is the one. So I apologise, Stone & Wood, for originally doubting this beer. I still don’t like your lager, though.
Again, I’ll pair it with the original vinyl I had it with, although again it doesn’t match, but for a different reason. Atlantean Kodex are an epic metal band from Germany, thus they probably require a strong ale or a Bavarian wheat beer or a pils of some kind. Anyway, they are up there on my list of favourite bands of all time. Calling to mind early Manowar, with viking-era Bathory, and a Manilla Road-esqe sense of grandeur and an obvious, obsessive love for homeland and lore, the absolute passion they display on their recordings is second to none. Beautiful, barbaric, melodic and, that word again, passionate heavy metal. When I listen to their stuff, shivers run down my spine. This double vinyl is their demos repackaged and put onto wax like it should be. I’ve annoyed many a neighbour with this band, and I will continue to do so…
I’m not well-versed with this brewery’s output. I’ve had a pale of theirs which didn’t really grab me, and this is in the same category. It’s an English-style bitter which quite faithfully replicates the style - hop driven but not overbearing, fairly middling head, English malts on the back of the tongue, and no obvious faults. As you can tell, though, it didn’t set my world on fire. I must admit I’m more partial to special bitters where everything is just a bit more…elevated. Maybe it’s my inner unacknowledged hipster, I don’t know. I do know that this wasn’t my cup of tea - all the while I was drinking it I was thinking “I’d rather be in a shitty pub somewhere in England drinking the local bitter at room temperature”. It wasn’t bad at all, just not particularly interesting.
Once again, I didn’t do so well in matching the beer to the album. This album, a reissue of the 1985 original, is from one of Italy’s most mysterious doom bands, Black Hole. Weird, obscure and a little difficult to get into at first, it’s one of those albums that takes a few spins to really comprehend. As with most Italian doom bands, they had a handle on the camp horror aesthetic but in a much more melodic and proggy way - rambling, atmospheric pieces with strange ethereal vocals and a subdued tone that at first seems a bit pedestrian but, like subliminal messaging, eventually gets stuck menacingly in your head for eternity. And like a lot of great 80s bands, they vanished into obscurity after this album (and I’m not counting the “album” that was recorded three years later but not released until 2000. There’s a good reason why certain releases should not see the light of day).