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Is “extreme” metal really just like “extreme” beer?
Not being a reader of Decibel, which is the metal equivalent of Ladies’ Home Journal, I had no idea they did a beer feature every issue. Cross-interest pieces in magazines can be a recipe for total embarrassment, but at least this one makes some fundamental sense. Both metal and “extreme” beer sit outside the mainstream of their respective meta-genres and often stoke a victim mentality in their adherents. Both inspire nerdy collecting, micro-cataloging and other pencil-necked behavior that so-called outsiders, with good reason, find baffling and hilarious. Both necessitate thick beards to conceal withering jawlines.
But I kid! I love metal! I love beer! It should be obvious to anybody reading this blog that the two together can be very, very fun. Unfortunately for the book, the author only does a medicore job explaining how.
The book has six chapters, each intended to broadly group meta-styles of “extreme” beers; for example, Chapter One, “Ingredients from Hell,” reviews several beers whose profiles utterly flout the Reinheitsgebot (German Purity Law of 1516). This particular chapter closes with an interview with Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head; appropriate, considering his widely known reputation for including the experimental and highly exotic in his brewing. So far, so good.
Each interview with a brewer is followed directly by an interview with an extreme beer-loving metal musician. Apropos of nothing at all, Chapter One’s is with Jean-Paul Gaster of CLUTCH. Is CLUTCH known for strange musical inclusions? Maybe, but the book doesn’t explain either way. We learn that CLUTCH collaborated with Coloarado’s New Belgium brewery, but none of their beers are featured in the chapter, making the placement of the interview seem a totally random decision.
Wait. CLUTCH is metal? Or even granting that, extreme metal? Maybe that wasn’t the point of tying music to “extreme” beer, but it’s difficult to see what the point would be if that’s not the implication with the book title and cover and the tie to Ladies’ Home Journal.
The laughably broad definition of “extreme” (or metal) used on the music side becomes more apparent in the beer reviews, where the author has kindly offered listening suggestions sure to improve your drinking experience with each beer: THE DARKNESS? ROKY ERICKSON? JOE PERRY’s solo albums? Coors Light, Bud Light and Miller Lite is all I can think, and he does little to change my mind by tying the beer and music together in a narrative or even in a non-trivial, referential way.
Other times the music-beer pairing is just lazy: SAMAEL (the band) with Avery’s Samael; AC/DC with 21st Amendment’s Back in Black; MOTÖRHEAD with Hopworks’ Ace of Spades. Come on, man. And in no case does the author actually describe the music of the band or song pick, nor does he dedicate any space to describing metal genres the way he does beer styles. What’s the music part for again? It seems like an afterthought, much like my self-regard and penchant for volume control after seven Tw0 Hearted Ales.
In fact, with the notable and obvious exceptions of Surly’s Todd Haug (POWERMAD and VULGAARI) and Three Floyds’ Barnaby Struve (progenitor of the metal-centric Dark Lord Day), Mr. Tepedelen doesn’t ask a single question of the brewers about music. If the metal-craft beer connection is so obvious, one would think linking the two via the brewing world would practically be automatic. As it stands the watered-down connections seem merely aesthetic and often just coincidental or convenient.
Musical miscues aside, the author knows his beer. He deftly describes many challenging beers with language that’s neither esoteric nor mindless. In that sense, per the back cover, he has succeeded in creating “the first guide to the beers that merit being called extremely extreme”; if that’s your gig, the beer reviews should be informative and useful. Each of the beers has a subjective “extreme” rating to describe the madness your palate will experience, and I can’t deny that I’ve been introduced to many interesting possibilities for next time I’m within reach of these beer’s distributions and have an adventurous thirst.
Ultimately though, the book would have benefited from expanding and being more critical of the musical inclusions; barring that, removing them from the mainline thrust of the book and featuring them in a sidebar or separate chapter would have improved the flow of the best and focal part, which is the beer. The bandying about of the loaded term “extreme” starts to feel like an X-Games commercial break featuring formaldehyde-enriched Doritos, no matter how many times he points out that both “extreme” beer and metal both sometimes use Satanic names on their labels and covers.
If you want to see nearly everything of substance the book brought to the table connecting metal and beer, save yourself $20, spend it at Into the Void, and follow this link instead: Headbangers Brew: A History of Heavy Metal and Craft Beer Collaborations. If you’re interested in the beers themselves, proceed with the book; just don’t expect any truly brutal surprises on the musical front.
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