REVIEW: The Sword “Apocryphon”/Southern Tier Pumking

This week’s review is one I’ve been looking forward to writing. It covers one of my favorite bands as well as one of my favorite beers!

THE RECORD: The Sword- Apocryphon– Razor+Tie 2012

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Wow is all I can say for this record. Yet again, Austin’s own The Sword have impressed me with another solid release.

I don’t really know where to start on this one, so let’s go with the first track “Veil Of Isis”. I’m immediately ready to headbang. It kicks the record off into high gear from the instant you put down the needle (or click play or whatever). The vocals sound massive, to stay on top of the pounding guitar and drums.

The second track, “Cloak Of Feathers” is one of my favorites. The parts in the verses where all the instruments silence and all you hear is vocalist J.D. Cronise’s voice are incredibly effective. It really makes the song feel like a battle anthem.

In general I find that coming up with great riffs is the Sword’s forte. They have a catchiness that makes all these songs memorable, while the tone on the lead guitar is thick and unrelenting. Face-melting solos? Oh, they do those too. Check out the video for “Eyes Of The Stormwitch” below and you’ll see what I mean.

I also love the lyrics- they’re wonderfully colorful. The word “Apocryphon” means “secret writing”, and these songs all have a mythical, mysterious quality to their words.  From “Arcane Montane”-

Tell me, oh mountain
What secrets do you hold
Shrouded on your misty peaks
Or deep within your bones?

I say it’s colorful and it’s fitting for Apocyrphon especially because the album artwork is amazing; there’s so much going on with it, tons of color, and apparently also looks great under a blacklight. Incidentally, on impulse I decided to get the collector’s edition pre-order package which came with the album on glow-in-the dark vinyl, a slip mat with the cover artwork for my turntables, and loads more cool stuff that makes me have absolutely no remorse for this somewhat expensive purchase.

Because of this- I was able to hear a fantastic bonus. A cover of “Cheap Sunglasses” that rocks so hard I can’t really handle it. and I’ll end on that because what more do you really need?

THE BREW: Pumking- Southern Tier Brewing Company- Lakewood, NY

Well, I could talk for a long time about this beer. Southern Tier’s Pumking is my favorite pumpkin beer. There is so much going on here. Before I tried it for the first time, a friend called it “liquid pumpkin pie”. I think this is the best short description for this brew. The color is a gorgeous orange-amber. Not much head on this one , and carbonation is light. But because of the complex flavors, a heavy head and any more carbonation wouldn’t work with it. And the flavors. A lot of sweetness, you definitely get a lot of the caramel malts used in this. It goes great with fall foods- I had it with butternut squash and curry vegetables and it rocked. It is definitely a sweeter beer for sure- so it’s also really great after dinner as a dessert beer. Or just pick up a few bottles and have it with both! I recommend that anyway- this beer usually sells out quick and is not that easy to find on tap. So if you see it- try it! You may not get another chance right away.

THE PAIRING:

A record like this one calls for a powerful brew. At 8.6% ABV, the sheer alcoholic strength of Pumking immediately makes it more powerful than your average pumpkin ale. Its name alone should tell you something more. This really is the king of the pumpkin beers. I might knock down a few pints of Shaefer or something lighter if I was seeing this band live (Oh wait, I already have), but if I’m throwing on that warm vinyl, I need a beer with more substance.

Apparently, this beer is also brewed with pagan spirits (according to the label, and I don’t know of any pagan beer label laws so it must be true!). A pairing with a record named for secret words, often used when discussing religious writings and other ancient tomes, is perfect with a beer inspired by the pagan nature.

The main thing is this record is incredibly interesting, as is Pumking- so in that way they really pair exceptionally together.

I also decided after writing this review that even though they aren’t coming to my home state, I think I need to take a little road trip and go see them playing this new one live. You should too! Check out their upcoming tour dates here.

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Review: The Sheepdogs “The Sheepdogs”/Southern Tier Harvest

THE RECORD

The Sheepdogs The Sheepdogs Atlantic Records 2012

Next up- another review of a band from Canada. This week we have the Sheepdogs with their latest, self-titled record. This is a wonderful, feel-good record for the fall. Starting off with “Laid Back”, the title of this song gives you an idea of the kind of mood this album evokes. Just right for sitting around a backyard with a flannel shirt and some tasty libations, of course.

Single “The Way It Is” has an awesome video to go along with it, that features the three Bs of awesomeness: Beer, Beards, and Baseball. Check it out at the end of this. “How Late, How Long” is another one of my favorite tracks. It has a great hook with the lyric “singing your song” that keeps me singing this song in my head.

This album was produced by Patrick Carney of the Black Keys. It’s evident in the sound of this record, especially on “Feeling Good”, which has a fuzzed out guitar sound that sounds very much like some of the more recent records from the Keys. Carney’s production helps to put a modern spin on the sound of a record that takes a lot of influences from the southern rock and blues of the 70s. Lots of Allman Brothers-style guitar work and vocal harmonies galore, very present on “Is Your Dream Worth Dying For?”

The Sheepdogs self-titled album has a perfect balance of pop gems presented in a totally rockin’ manner. It’s also a 14-song record you can listen to without skipping over anything, which is a rare thing.

THE BEER

Harvest- Southern Tier Brewing Company- Lakewood, NY

Southern Tier is one of my favorite brewing companies, so I will probably be reviewing their beers many times in this blog. The beer I’ve chosen today is one of their current seasonal offerings, Harvest. Autumn is one of my favorite seasons for beer because it’s much more comfortable to drink darker beers as it gets cooler out. Autumn beers have a lot more going on with them too. You can find so many different varietals of hops in these brews, along with different blends of spices and other flavors. However, on the other hand, I often find that many fall beers fall into one of two catergories: pumpkin ale, or Octoberfest. I love both of these, don’t get me wrong, but there are so many that it’s hard to tell them apart sometimes.

ST Harvest is neither, which is why I like it from the getgo. It’s an English-style Extra Special Bitter (oh hey, I like making those!). It has a deep ruby-golden color, exactly the shade of fall foliage at its peak. Harvest pours with a decently thick head and has a medium body and a clean finish. It’s not overly sweet, with more of a bready taste and a very slight caramel flavor. I would love to drink this beer with a nice stew on a cool day.

THE PAIRING

This record and beer pairing has a lot to do with the seasonal connotations evoked from each source. Harvest is a laid back beer, much like the title of the first track off the Sheepdogs’ album. The beer takes all the best things about an ESB and puts a fall spin on it, making it just right for the present time of year. In a similar way, the Sheepdogs take all the best parts of 70s rock and make it modern and fitting for now.