REVIEW: Opeth “Pale Communion”/Lost Abbey Deliverance

My reviews have been few lately, but not for lack of material. I was really excited about this record when it came out, and wanted to give it the proper listening it deserved before writing about it. and of course, it definitely needed the beer pairing it deserved.

THE RECORD: Opeth Pale Communion 2014 Roadrunner Records

I think that I like Opeth more and more with each record they make. At least, I feel that I appreciate them more. Every choice they make in writing and recording and producing just seems like a good one to me. Opeth is continuing to exemplify everything that I want progressive rock to be right now.

Organs on a record is usually a selling point for me. The first track “Eternal Rains Will Come” really just gets down to business. And makes me think that there had better be plenty of awesome organs on this record. It really sets the stage for what to expect for the rest of the album.

Mikael Ã…kerfeldt mentioned in an interview that this would be a more melodic record. The vocals do get heavier on songs such as “Moon Above, Sun Below”, but they are not growling, death metal vocals. They are dark in a different, more beautiful way. Heritage, their previous release, began to move away from the death growls of albums past, and Pale Communion seems to bring that journey to a new level. There are vocal effects that create a sound reminiscent of a Gregorian chant taking place inside a massive cathedral.

“Goblin” is entirely instrumental, and gives the listener a chance to appreciate each instrument as it stands out. We can all thank Steven Wilson for that- he mixed this record and has done some really amazing work. My first experience with him was through his band Porcupine Tree, whom I love. Wilson is no stranger to Opeth record production; he produced Blackwater Park, Deliverance, and Damnation. On Pale Communion, Wilson is meticulous to the craft. He uses the finest tooth comb over each of the tracks. After so many years of working together on different projects, Steven Wilson has the production process of an Opeth recording down to a science that they have perfected on Pale Communion.

Folk metal is certainly a genre, but I do not often hear Opeth’s music described as such. However, the song “River” has a really interesting folk element to it. Driven mostly by an acoustic guitar and harmonies, it fosters my imagination that I am walking around a Swedish fjord in springtime. It’s serene for the most part, but about half way through the song the organ returns and introduces a gorgeous electric guitar riff. That is incidentally how I imagine Scandinavian countries; ethereal for the most part, but also full of heavy metal bands.

 

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I include a larger image of the cover art so that you can see the detail in it. It reminds me of an exhibit in a museum. Opeth’s music truly is a work of art, and seeing it portrayed as visual art is fitting. Travis Smith, who has done cover art for the likes of Death and King Diamond, designed the cover for Pale Communion. The inscriptions in Latin translate to quotes that really stuck with me, and are from a Swedish statesman, a Roman/North African playwright, and a Roman poet respectively.

“Don’t you know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?”

“In these days friends are won through flattery, the truth gives birth to hate.”

“He grieves truly who grieves without a witness.”

I am going to end on those, because I feel like between those quotes and the record itself, long conversations are destined to happen. All you need is a beer or two…

THE BEER: Deliverance- Lost Abbey- San Marcos, CA

I had this beer during my trip to San Diego last month, which was around the time that this record was released. What a gorgeous ale. There are so many “epic” beers coming out and I usually scoff at them or quote this internet meme. But I just tried this beer and loved it. Yes, it is ridiculous. It is a blend of bourbon-barrel aged Serpent’s Stout and brandy-barrel aged Angel’s Share. It’s heaven and hell that you can pour into a snifter and consume. It definitely tastes boozy, but not in an offensive way. I tried this during one of the events at the Beer Bloggers’ Conference, and I remember I really just wanted to stop whatever else was coming next to take more time to talk about this amazing beer. It tastes like a chocolate covered fig that someone let sit in a cabinet for a few years. I like the idea of blending beers too, and witnessing the ways that flavors and ingredients work together. I’m sure it does not always work out so deliciously, but I am glad that it has for this Lost Abbey offering.

THE PAIRING:

Opeth has an album called Deliverance that was released in 2002, but I actually wasn’t thinking of that when I chose this beer to pair. I thought Deliverance the beer was dark and beautiful, much like Pale Communion. I also liked the religious undertones to both the record and the brewery. I believe that 12 years of attending Catholic school has a direct relationship with my love of metal and beer, but that’s just me. Honestly, this is a record that you really need to sit down and listen to on a quality set of speakers with a delicious beer in proper glassware at the right temperature. Yes, both the beer and the album are tasty at their core, no matter what. But it is worth the extra effort to consume both of them carefully, and with an eye for all of the details.

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Karl Strauss Brewing- San Diego- BBC14

While the panels and speakers at the Beer Bloggers Conference in San Diego were very informative, it was really nice to get out and speak to some people from local breweries.

On Friday evening, we headed to Karl Strauss Brewery for some beer, tacos, and good conversation.

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Beers on draft included the tower 10 IPA, Big Barrel IPA, Wreck Alley Imperial Stout, and my favorite, the Red Trolley Ale. The outdoor beer garden was nicely set up with strings of lightbulbs illuminating the sandy ground. I also thought it was great that there were games and things to play with scattered around. A box of dominoes and cards held court on one table, ladder golf was set up in a corner, and inside the brewery next to shelves of barrel-aged beers was the Karl Strauss cornhole set. The presence of the games as well as the communal picnic tables outside gave a friendly, party atmosphere.

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After we filled up on tacos and beer, Chris Cramer, the CEO of Karl Strauss, came up to the front to speak. His talk was incredibly entertaining and also insightful. Contrasting solid facts with witty anecdotes really worked for the crowd. Although it did start to get loud towards the end of the speech, Chris did hold the crowd’s attention well.

What I thought was most interesting was the legacy of the man who was Karl Strauss, Chris’s relative that he lovingly referred to as “Uncle Karl”. Strauss was born and raised in Germany and studied brewing at the technical university of Munich-Weihenstephan, where he earned a degree in malting and brewing science and a Master Brewer certification. He moved to the US in the 1930s, where he settled in Wisconsin and got a job at Pabst and steadily moved up the ranks. He actually was a part of the team that reformulated the recipe for Pabst Blue Ribbon. Karl worked as Vice President of Production until his retirement after 44 years with the company.

 

Chris Cramer was inspired to bring good beer to San Diego through his travels. He tried Real Ale while in Europe, and at a brewpub in Australia, he saw the small production and how good the beer was and thought it could be feasible to take back to America. At a family event, he told ‘Uncle Karl’ about his idea, and Karl was delighted to pass on the brewing knowledge he has gained over his lifetime.

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The story of Karl Strauss was a feel-good one, since it stemmed from family and hard work. Karl taught Chris and his partner, Matt Rattner, the quality control he had learned from his days at Pabst. The beer was held to a higher standard, with the independence and unique brewing recipes of a small batch, with the diligent quality control of a commercial brewery.

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Karl Strauss Brewery opened in 1989, and celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

BrewTravels: San Diego, CA (BBC14 Part 1)

I find the best way to explore new cities is to start off with a beer in my hand. That is what I wanted as soon as I stepped off the plane, traveling from the east coast to San Diego, California. I arrived a day early for the Beer Bloggers’ Conference so I could explore the city on my own a bit ahead of time.

It’s amazing how saving money will cause me to go out of my comfort zone. Not wanting to pay for a $27 cab ride from the airport, and realizing that hotel was not as close as I realized, I decided to navigate the public transit system. and won! The bus line runs 24 hours and was much easier than I expected and I felt somewhat less touristy. The trolley was simple as well. After I salivated all over the bus looking at tons of taco joints, I checked into my hotel and planned the rest of my day. I originally set out for Seaport Village, but hunger for sustenance in my belly and liver won over and I stopped in the Knotty Barrel on Market Street. A nice little bar with outdoor seating and an indoor shuffleboard table, happy hour had just started so I decided on a beet salad with goat cheese and walnuts and a nice big lump of beer cheese (made with Allagash Black) with pretzel bread. What made me really happy was that I had not had OR heard of many of the beers on the menu.

I started off with a Grazias Cream Ale from Hess Brewing. Malty deliciousness, it reminded me of those Vienna finger cookies I used to devour when I was a kid. A nice simple style that went well with the bread and cheese.

My next pint was from Acoustic Ales, another San Diego brewery. I enjoyed their Shake Your Money Maker Brown chatting about New Haven with not one but TWO people sitting on either side of me. It’s funny how you can go all the way to the other end of the country and bump into people who lived in New Haven.

I never actually made it to Seaport Village, although there are still a few more days if I really want to. I ended up spending my paycheck before it got direct-deposited throughout the Gaslamp Quarter. As a brewer, bartender, and audio engineer, I work with my hands a lot. So nail polish isn’t something that sees my nails a lot. But a few beers deep and no plans to wash dishes until Tuesday, I decided I needed a manicure from the ladies at Va-Va-Varnish. It was a great little space and if I had more time, more cash, and longer nails I would have considered more of their services.

I also did some shopping for non-beer related merchandise since I figured I’d spend more than enough on beer in the coming days. Lots of interesting shops, but I am still on a quest for a coozie to add to my collection.

I’ll be at the Beer Bloggers’ Conference until Sunday, so check in on here for my daily recaps, as well as drunken/witty posts on Twitter, beer porn on Instagram, and the beers that I remember to check into on Untappd. All under @nowbeerthis.