Beer and Metal: At the mercy of the Beast

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The cover of the Power Metal EP
  • The cover of the Power Metal EP
Last month at Cosmic Hearse, Agalloch drummer Aesop Dekker posted a 1983 EP called Power Metal from New Jersey band the Beast. It's 12 minutes and change of no-bullshit punky thrash, heavy on hooks and attitude—the latter mostly thanks to front man Scott Ruth. "The guy is Danzig without the fanboy horror nerdisms, Rollins without the Manson/Jim Morrison affectations," Dekker writes, "but still remains Scott Ruth, Long Branch badass wise guy." Jack "the Hinge" Pitzer, who according to the Devil's Music later played in the better known Chronic Sick, contributes some solos so ridiculously unhinged they make the frantic drumming feel almost measured by comparison.

As far as I can tell, Power Metal is about a third of the Beast's recorded output, and the closest they ever came to an album. It doesn't seem to have seen a CD reissue, and the vinyl has been out of print since Reagan was president. Even the Last Beastial Incarnation compilation CD, a 2002 French release that includes all four Power Metal tracks, is impossible to find—the Internet tells me that a copy sold for $30 in 2005 through MusicStack.com, but that's as close as I can get. In other words, if you follow the download link at Cosmic Hearse, I don't think you need to torture yourself with guilt. There doesn't seem to be any feasible way to pay for this music.

One thing that charms me about this stuff is how gung-ho and unself-conscious it is. I am entirely in favor of bands telling you their name in their lyrics—and the chorus to the opening track on Power Metal goes, "We are the Beast / A heavy metal power beast / Bow to the Beast / Now on your feet or on your knees." (Or something like that.)

The least crappy photo I could find of the Beast
  • The least crappy photo I could find of the Beast
However the nature of, um, the Beast did create a problem when I set about trying to find a beer to talk about—this is my second "Beer and Metal" post, after all, and a beard-stroking review of a bourbon-barreled Belgian-style weizenbock just wouldn't cut it this time. I mean, look at these guys. They drink out of cans. Cans that can be bought in cases of 30. They probably shotgun 'em with their teeth.

Then I remembered a beer in whose company I'd spent quite a few very long nights when I was in grad school in Eugene, Oregon, in the mid-90s. (Let's not discuss how not-metal it is to go to grad school in the first place, let alone in a pretty little hippie town where it actually smells good outside. For bonus laffs, what did I study? That's right—creative writing!) Milwaukee's Best is known by its loyal consumers as "the Beast," an affectionate nickname in the same way that calling gonorrhea "the clap" is affectionate.

Aw shit.
  • Aw shit.
In Eugene I spent most of my time hanging out with undergraduate punk rockers afflicted with varying degrees of functional alcoholism—because, honestly, I couldn't fucking stand hippies. You have to understand: I lived three blocks from the University of Oregon campus, and during harvest season in the fall I'd get offered weed five times in the ten minutes it took me to walk to my office. Rusted Root, Bob Marley, Blues Traveler, and the Grateful Dead poured out of frat-house windows. White kids with dreadlocks would tie their dogs to trees while they panhandled on the main drag—I remember one guy who'd made a cardboard sign to inform passersby that he needed money to buy acid. I was living on a $530 monthly stipend and paying $360 in rent, so as far as I was concerned he and his dreads could go fuck themselves.

I'd committed to move into a five-person house without so much as meeting the guy in the other first-floor bedroom. I saw the three posters he'd hung up—Black Flag, Run-DMC, and Miles Davis—and decided we'd be OK. We were more than OK, in fact. His name was Isaac (no last names please) and he played drums in a hardcore band called the Goody-Goodies. He was five foot one and seemed to have all the energy of an Olympic hurdler compressed into his body. He introduced himself to me as an "anarchist Jewish yuppie scum punk rocker," or words to that effect. He was on the forensics team (a slightly misleading way to describe individual debate events), and he read voraciously in philosophy and history.

Isaac's bandmates were Bob, Jon, and Jess, and they became the heart of my biggest group of friends in Eugene. Bob and Jon, collectively referred to as "the Boys," were both about six foot three and rail thin. Jon was from Regina, Saskatchewan (which a cashier at Safeway who was carding him for beer once refused to accept as a real city), and he tutored other students in French. He liked to wear a suit jacket held together along its former seams by upwards of 200 safety pins. Bob was a brilliant poet with a sly, dry sense of humor, and onstage he routinely dropped what appeared to be his only guitar pick, so that he'd end up covering the instrument's top plate with blood. Jess was the pretty boy of the band (and he knew it), but he wasn't a piece of fluff—he'd later spend years in Chiapas working with the Zapatistas.

Of the five of us, Bob and Jon were the most prodigious drinkers. They liked to get loaded and charge onto the porches of frat houses during parties, brandishing five-dollar switchblades they'd bought in Canada—the kind of pot-metal knife you couldn't break a guy's skin with unless you fired it out of a cannon. It's a miracle they never got hit with anything more dangerous than beer bottles by the frat boys chasing them down the street.

We frequented a bar in the local VFW hall, informally known as as "the vets' club," and a pub a few blocks from my house called Max's, which earned some notoriety after my departure from Eugene by attempting to secede from the city to evade a smoking ban. (Oregon is very serious about smoking—this summer UO banned smoking everywhere on campus, even outdoors.)

Oh my God. Tell my mother I love her.
  • Oh my God. Tell my mother I love her.
Often on our way home after last call—well, not to my home, since I had three housemates who didn't approve of drinking until five in the morning, but to one of our homes—we'd stop by a Circle K and pick up a case or a 30-pack of whatever was cheap enough. That often meant Olympia, whose cans bore the slogan "Good Luck," which has never made more sense to me than it did in grad school. I favored Henry Weinhard's Blitz, because (a) the name and (b) I could get a half rack of bottles for less than four bucks a block from my house. But bottles are heavy, and when the goal was a lot of beer, not necessarily palatable beer, the winner was usually the Beast—or, on darker nights, Milwaukee's Best Ice, which had been engineered to fuck people up faster, since a bit of the water had been frozen out of it to boost the alcohol content. (I did drink decent beer in grad school too—my favorite was Deschutes Brewery's Black Butte Porter, which Max's sold for three bucks a pint—but mostly by accident.)

I don't remember a hell of a lot about those postbar drinking sessions, and not just because they were more than 16 years ago. There was one night when I helped a few of the guys brand the letter "A" on their biceps, using a bent coathanger heated to glowing on an electric stove. They were commemorating our friend Aimee, who was about to leave town—her parents had refused to continue paying for her schooling unless she went home to Nebraska for a few months in rehab. The boys had managed the two long diagonal lines of each "A" with a single strike from the bent hanger, but they worried they were too fucked-up to place the crossbar legibly. That's where I came in.

Often I switched to water at around 3 AM, so that by the time anybody might need walking home I'd be sober enough to do it. I was a young grad student, just turned 23 when my first classes began, but I was still a few years older than most of my friends, and I felt like I ought to at least try to be the "responsible" one. (Everything is relative.) One morning around dawn I helped Isaac get home, with my arm around him to keep him upright. He couldn't even stay on the sidewalk under his own power, but the whole time he was talking to me about Kant's categorical imperative faster than I could keep up.

"Unleash the Beast" indeed. This commercial postdates my relationship with Milwaukee's Best, but I still feel for those guys.

Philip Montoro writes about beer and metal, singly or in combination, every Monday.

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