Tasty brews from Southern Tier and Coney Island and the metal that washed them down

The last month or so has been good, personally, for beer consumption. Going on vacation to a place that houses the Dogfish Head restaurant surely helps that venture, as just about anything they offer (unless it’s out of season or they just don’t have any left) is at your disposal, so it was a nice time for sampling.

But once we got back, there was more to be had. I’m always interested in trying new beers, mainly if they’re of the craft variety or from a microbrewery, and I was able to try a few new things the last couple weeks that made me happy. Luckily, the revamped (and recently relocated) Carson Street Deli has a great supply of all kinds of beers, and both of what we’ll discuss today were purchased there. If you’re ever in Pittsburgh (or live here) and find yourself near the South Side, definitely check them out if you have a taste for something sudsy. They’re food’s pretty damn good too. (http://www.facebook.com/CarsonStreetDeli)

I love coffee a lot, and because I’m not insane, I love chocolate too. So Southern Tier’s Imperial Mokah seemed to be something I’d really enjoy, as the beer is described as a mix of their Javha and Choklat brews, both of which taste great alone but together form something otherworldly. I’ve heard and read some people complain of the sweetness of both beers, as well as their offspring Mokah, but that never really bothered me at all. This one, which has a delightfully high ABV of 11.2, does have a sweet taste, but I didn’t find it overwhelming at all. It’s a rich drink, and it comes off like you’d expect of a dark beer. The 22 oz. bottle took a little time to get through, but that seems by design. This is a sipping beer, not one you guzzle, smash the bottle, and go for another. You need to spend quality time with it and let it set up shop, and once it does, my guess is you’ll find it pleasing.

Of course, those who don’t like dark or bitter beers probably won’t be too psyched about Mokah, but whatever. It’s not for everyone, but it’s for me. And it goes great with cake and cookies. I know that from ample experience. Southern Tier also has, pretty much, a never-ending line of various concoctions, and next on my list to try is their Pumking Imperial Pumpkin Ale. I shall report back.

For more on Southern Tier, go here: http://www.southerntierbrewing.com/index2.html

For a closer look at their many brews, go here: http://www.southerntierbrewing.com/beers.html


Another interesting beer came my way when my friend Sam brought me a couple bottles of Coney Island Craft Lager for my birthday, of course from Carson Street. There were two bottles, one being the Albino White, the other being Human Blockhead, a nice bock I expected to be a little darker than it is, but once I got to drinking it, it was damn pleasing. It tastes like and feels like a darker beer, and at 10 percent ABV, it goes to your head fairly quickly. That also suggests a sipping beer so you don’t all of a sudden have no idea where you are, but its smoothness lends itself to gulping, I would imagine. I went slowly with it, but I could see someone trying to pound the thing because it tastes good and goes down quite well.

The Coney Island collection is a newer line from Schmaltz, a relatively new brewer that’s been making tasty beverages since 1996. You might know their other products – HE’BREW – better, dubbed an “American Jewish Celebration Beer.” Coney Island didn’t kick off until 2008, and it’s a venture that includes non-profit arts organization Coney Island USA. Their arty bottles, that look like old circus posters and kind of have a freak show vibe, really stand out on the shelves and have eye-catching names. I’m very new to their products, and I have yet to drink the bottle of Albino, but from what I got out of Human Blockhead, I’ll be back for more.

For more on Schmaltz Brewing, go here: http://www.shmaltzbrewing.com/

For more on Coney Island beers, go here: http://www.shmaltzbrewing.com/CONEY/hb.html

For more on Coney Island USA, go here: http://www.coneyisland.com/

Of course, we’re here for metal, too, and it’s usually playing when I’m in the lab testing these beers. This past weekend I got through the new Opeth album “Heritage,” which we’ll discuss very soon. After a few listens, I’m still formulating my opinion on the thing, and we should have something for you this week. Also, I finally got a stream of the new Mastodon album “The Hunter” from our friends at Warner Bros. That one’s taking some time to reveal itself. Not sure how I feel yet, and don’t take that as a good or bad comment. Along with that, I’ve been playing new ones from The Atlas Moth, Tiger Flowers, Rwake, Brutal Truth (the song “Butcher” will make you want to become one) and Landmine Marathon, whose last record I wasn’t that psyched about, but I feel way differently about the new one. Look for some of these to pop up on Meat Mead Metal soon.

Fyrnask’s ‘Bluostar’ puts an ancient chill in the air

It’s not going to be frosty and cold where I live for many months now, though it’s supposed to be in the mid-50s on Thursday and Friday, which will feel damn close to that since we’re so used to warmer weather this time of year. That might make for suitable weather for the debut full-length  “Bluostar” from Germany’s Fyrnask, a record that feels like an arctic chill on your neck that leaves your skin prickly with goosebumps and your ears and nose numb. That’s at least how I feel about it.

After a well-received demo “Fjorvar ok Benjar” in 2010, this one-man project led by Fyrnd (though some artwork and lyrical portions were contributed by someone named Blutaar) sounds well on its way to establishing itself as one of black metal’s most exciting new acts. What you hear on “Bluostar” isn’t terribly different from any other icy, atmospheric black metal bands, as there’s a nice mix of violent, yet melodic playing and eerie, nature-embracing ambient sections. Many others have done this sort of thing before, such as Negura Bunget, Agalloch, Fauna, Wolves in the Throne Room and Arckanum. But like those bands, Fyrnask manage to carve out a passionate, memorable album that, while using familiar elements, makes a strong statement and etches its way into your mind. It’s a record that, since receiving a download, I’ve sat down with many times. I can only imagine how much better it will sound when the ground is frozen and I have dark, powerful winter ales to enjoy.

The lyrics on “Bluostar” are written in German, so if you aren’t fluent, you might be scrambling to find meaning in all of this – admittedly I know practically zero German, so I can’t quite cull the proper translation, at least lyrically – but it’s impossible not to feel the album’s spirit. Fyrnd dug back into old Northern European tales and rituals and what was intended for passage from the continent’s ancestors to those living today. It sounds like this would be perfect emanating from the deep woods, late at night, while some of those old ghosts still may be wandering, trying to find willing eras to hear their tales. It appears they may have encountered and enraptured Fyrnd one night, and this is what resulted.

The record opens on a gentle conjuring with the ambient cut “At fornu fari,” which sets the stage for the savage and thundering “Evige stier,” proving there’s menace and danger amongst the trees and in the waters. The heavy chanting that opens “Ein eld i djupna” eventually allows the song to unfurl into a dark, creaky blast of metal that might even be appreciated by those who like very early Immortal recordings. It’s one of my favorite songs on the disc. “Bergar” has an oddly digital-style opening that hints at the storm ahead, and that makes its way over land in a calculating manner, making the most of its nearly 10 minutes, eventually opening sky and blasting the earth. It’s both steeped in folklore yet crackling with modern electricity. “Ins Fenn” has moments of a power metal-style gallop and a black-and-roll style, but it has many peaks and valleys over which to cross before your journey ends; and the title cut (translated means offering or sacrifice) begins majestically, and even when it gets heavy, it metes out the crushing in a mid-tempo, but no less heavy manner. It’s an incredibly cathartic song that feels like Fyrnd has torn open his chest and let out everything he stored inside of him.

Aside from the music, the packaging of the record is gorgeous. It’s an attractive digipak created by At the Ends of the Earth Designs (Kampfar, Drautran) that captures the heart of this record perfectly. It’s one of those designs that by looking at the cover, inside and through the booklet, you almost can imagine how this is going to sound before you play it. That’s good news for people who still buy records based on presentation. You won’t be led astray.

As someone who listens to a lot of, and sometime is inundated by, this type of black metal, I found this record incredibly rewarding and, despite the epic running time of many of these songs, nicely timed. The ambient stuff allows moments to take a breath and relax, and Fyrnd keeps the metallic parts interesting, changing on a dime, and always wholly inspired. I’m glad I have my hands on this thing now, because as daylight decreases and the cold air returns, I’ll have a record to complement that time. You can’t have enough of those. At least I can’t.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fyrnask/114847128596890

To buy “Bluostar,” go here: http://templeoftorturous.com/shop/product_info.php?products_id=386&XTCsid=53ndjc7vdrhjm0ku2i9it9bcu1

For more on the label, go here: http://www.templeoftorturous.com/