Hellfire II: Scorched meat, bitter brews

Warm weather finally is becoming a more regular visitor here on the East Coast. For the most part. Just as I’m typing this, our local weather forecasters are warning that the weekend might not be so awesome. Eh, what can you do?

But last weekend was a different story, and it was prime time for some grilling, something I love doing. And like a dork, I eschew gas grills, preferring the archaic charcoal method. Not sure why. I think’s it’s because I like the smell of burning charcoal. When it gets closer to fall, I use some beer-soaked wood chips too, making my backyard smell like a campground. I do cheat a bit, buying the easy-light coals that only require you ignite them with a lighter, because I don’t trust me with lighter fluid.

So, as noted, since last week was a nice one and we were rewarded with a stretch of warm, sunny weather, we decided it would be a fitting time for a grilling doubleheader: Steaks on Saturday; burgers on Sunday. Pretty easy, right? Of course, but also a ton of fun. We even took an extra-long drive out to the fairly new Settler’s Ridge Giant Eagle (a good 45 minutes from where we live) to buy some freshly cut steaks from the you’re-not-rich-enough-to-shop-here butcher shop. We made the sides simple, with baked potatoes, steamed veggies and baked beans. We were stupidly excited driving home, and I even buckled and didn’t make my wife listen to the new Batillus twice, instead mixing in new ones from Low and Marissa Nadler (hers is out in June, and it’s pretty different from her other work). We didn’t have anything special planned drink-wise, though I did pick up a few bottles of choice brew for Sunday, which we’ll discuss in a moment.

The only real problem with Saturday’s steak grilling was that we used Kingsford Match Light mesquite charcoal, and it burns like total shit. The actual mesquite chunks sort of chuckle at you when you try to light them because they’re total assholes, so it took some time to get the grill hot enough to make the steaks, and once it got to the right temp, it dropped pretty quickly. Usually I’ll grill each side of the steak 5-6 minutes, but I had to do them about 8 minutes each to even get them medium rare. They were fine – my wife likes hers pretty damn rare, so she was happier than I – but I won’t use the mesquite stuff again. We followed with strawberry cupcakes with chocolate sauce and whipped cream, so yeah, can’t really complain.

Sunday was a little better. After a nice 2.5-mile walk (where my wife decided we needed a detour to go see our friendly neighborhood greyhounds … good choice, by the way), it was back for more grill action. I put on Darkthrone’s “The Cult Is Alive” (am I the only person who doesn’t hate that album?) and lit up some regular, normal Match Light charcoal. Went up in a total blaze with no problem, and it heated up properly and maintained its temperature. We used simple ground sirloin and combined it with chipotle-seasoned sweet potato fries. My burger, pictured moments after I hastily took a bite, was topped with cheddar cheese and thick cuts of turkey bacon. Pretty damn fine burger, and I’m excited to have another go at it soon. Just probably not this weekend since we’re looking at a ton of shitty rain.

I did mention finding some beers at the Giant Eagle, and it’s one I haven’t had before. Southern Tier Brewing makes a ton of interesting brews, and you can research them at the link below. I’ve had their excellent Choklat Stout, a seasonal brew available in November through the winter. It’s a potent 11 percent ABV formula, and it’s a really sweet-tasting brew. Some people have complained it’s too sweet, but I didn’t feel that way. I’m actually sad I can’t find it again for many more months. But I was able to land their spring choice Jah*va Imperial Coffee Stout, itself 11 percent ABV. I love coffee-based beers a lot, especially strong ones, so I couldn’t wait to get these chilled so they could be consumed. And that said, I was a little bit disappointed. It’s bitter, which is a plus for me, and dark, and strong, but it doesn’t really have much of a coffee kick. Tried as I might, I could detect anything other than a pleasantly bitter beer wash. Eventually, I put in a splash of vanilla vodka, to see if maybe it would have sort of a creamer effect, and that DID work. It also fairly rocked me, as the beer’s already strong, and the vodka is 80 proof, so you know … I do have another bottle, and tomorrow night I’m going to give it another shot.

For more on Southern Tier and their 52,000 beers, go here: http://www.southerntierbrewing.com/beers.html

Not sure what’s on the menu for this weekend yet. We plan to do some Record Store Day shopping, and tomorrow we’ll have a preview of some of the metal goodies available Saturday. So come back! There’s a lot of quality releases coming your way, and I know I’ll return home that afternoon a little lighter in the pocket.

Septicflesh: The orchestral pits

For weeks now, I’ve been trying to listen to the new Septicflesh album “The Great Mass,” and for some reason, I just couldn’t make it through. Not even once.

I kept trying to go back where I left off, then I tried to do the whole thing at once again, and no matter what way I went about this thing, I couldn’t listen to it. That was odd to me because I really liked their 2008 reunion album “Communion” (as well as some of their early work) and was kind of disappointed I had to miss their stop in Pittsburgh a few years ago. So this was one I was kind of looking forward to hearing, yet the Greek orchestral black metal band didn’t seem to be holding my interest. Finally, I made myself sit down, removed all distraction, and forced myself to listen to “The Great Mass” from front to back. That was how I realized why I couldn’t get a hold of this thing: It kinda sucks.

If you’re not familiar with the band, let me give you a quick, rudimentary history. The band formed in 1990, and a year later, they released their debut EP “Temple of the Lost Race.” Their first full-length “Mystic Places of Dawn” arrived in 1994 (later repackaged with “Temple”), and they put out five more discs before their breakup in 2003, their final being “Sumerian Daemons.” They announced their reformation in 2007, and while they always had symphonic/gothic elements in their music, they heavily amplified that on “Communion,” recording with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Prague.

The Prague players returned for “The Great Mass,” and it should be pointed out that Septicflesh guitarist Christos Antoniou has studied classical and concert composition, so he’s no slouch. But simply being well educated doesn’t make you infallible, and the band just goes off the rails on “The Great Mass.” It’s a mess, the songs aren’t terribly compelling, and at times the material is laughable (“Apocalypse” starts off sounding like music from a children’s Christmas pageant; “Mad Architect” could not have a better name as it sounds like that’s who constructed this wacky piece). I don’t doubt the Philharmonic players hold their own – I’m not exactly the best judge of orchestral music, admittedly – but it’s like a head-on collision of blackened death metal and the “Fantasia” soundtrack. Dimmu Borgir often is guilty of this as well, but typically they remember to include a solid song structure and a memorable hook.

Bassist Seth Siro Anton’s growling vocals are the highlight. Many bands such as Dimmu and Cradle of Filth who dabble in this stuff often don’t have vocals you can take very seriously. As much as I like some of Dimmu’s and Cradle’s stuff, I often find myself chuckling at the overly dramatic, goofy vocals, but I never do that with Anton. So that’s a positive. But it doesn’t help this album transcend beyond silliness. I’m not even sure I totally grasp what’s going on thematically, and the band’s explanation sure hasn’t helped. Even their explanation of the album’s exansive artwork is befuddling. Try this on:

“It is a small part of an occult machine made from marble and flesh, fantasy and reality, order and chaos. A great machine composed from the blasphemous union of strange figures, creations of Man, the creator of the gods and demons. Their grotesque purpose will be revealed soon, when all the cover editions of the new album will be presented and will be combined together… Let the great self-cannibalistic symposium begin.” 

I don’t have any idea what that means, and considering it’s taken me so long to make it through this entire thing one time, I don’t even care. They lost me completely on this one. Opener “Vampire From Nazareth” probably doesn’t need (or deserve) much introspection, and even when they begin a chant that sounds like some sort of conjuration, it doesn’t chill at all. “Pyramid God” is just bizarre and eventually works itself into a jazzy sort of chugging breakdown that feels like it might want to be a pop song; “Five-Pointed Star” and “Oceans of Grey” use some sort of Middle Eastern-flavored woodwinds that feel a bit clichéd; and closer “Therianthropy” begins with terribly nasally gothic vocals, and the track doesn’t really improve from there.

I can’t say anything positive about one song on this album. Not one. I guess I admire the band’s ambition, Maybe it’s overindulgence, actually. It’s a total miss of an album, and this does no justice to “Communion” as its follow-up. It’s never a good sign when you outright laugh during a record one time, much less a bunch of times. I listen to some ridiculous shit, and there times when I can smirk at something silly that I actually like. But this reminds me of when I, as a critic, had to see the “Poseidon Adventure” remake, and when the cruise ship was being smashed to bits and people were dying horribly, I was guffawing out loud. I’m sure that wasn’t the intended reaction Septicflesh hoped their listeners would have, so I’d assume they wouldn’t be thrilled someone responded in that way. Even a cynical critic who laughs heartily when he sees people on the big screen drown on a boat.