REVIEW: Trappist – Ancient Brewing Tactics (Relapse Records)

As sub-cultures go, beer and heavy music are fairly intertwined. You just need to look at the endless number of collab beers between bands and breweries to get a rough idea of how much they enjoy each others company. It’s not even a recent thing either, bands have been swilling beers for as long as the genre has been around, some have even dedicated songs, albums, heck even their whole careers to the suds. Take a look at Tankard, the self-styled Kings Of Beer have made a career out of beer drinking, whilst heavy metal pirates Alestorm just seem intent on drinking your beer and then of course there’s Municipal Waste, who, well… Municipal Waste just want to fuck you up!

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One pool of extreme music that’s always had a funny relationship with beer is the blurred trifecta of hardcore, crust and grind. Engrained in the ethos of all three sub-genres is the need to shun big corporations and encourage a DIY approach – yet mass produced white cider and yellow macro lager are the beverages of choice. In step Trappist, who are the antithesis to stitching a Carlsberg Special Brew bar towel to your battle jacket. Instead, Trappist stick two fingers up to macro swill and yell “NO CORPORATE BEER!”.

For those not engulfed by beer culture, Trappist monks are pretty much the crust punks of the brewing world. They’re self-sufficient individuals who utilise their surroundings and live by the work of their hands. Often these monks brew beers to provide an income for the monasteries they live in. In true DIY style, there a still a number of Trappist brewers who don’t even go in for distribution, instead you have one day a year to head to the abbey to buy a case of beer. Punk. As. Fuck. It also just so happens that Trappist beers are among the best in the world, take Westvleteren 12 for instance, it’s basically the Discharge – Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing of the beer world. 

Beneath the brown habits of crusty hardcore thrashers Trappist are a trio of lifers in the form of Chris Dodge (Spazz, ex-Infest, ex-Despise You, Slap-a-Ham Records and more), Phil Vera (Crom, Despise You, ex-(16)-) and Ryan Harkins (ex-Killed In Action and co-owner of heavy metal-themed burger joint Grill Em’ All). Following on from a few demo tracks posted up on their Bandcamp back in 2017, the LA three piece are now ready to transfer their debut full-length ‘Ancient Brewing Tactics’ from the fermenter and serve it up on Relapse Records.

As crusty hardcore efforts go, ‘Ancient Brewing Tactics’ is one of the best I’ve heard in a long while. The trio certainly aren’t resting on their past laurels, and don’t play up to crust punk cliches – so if you’re here for songs of war and nuclear annihilation, then you’re in the wrong place. Sure, there are obvious nods to the likes of Anti-Cimex on 750ml pilgrimage gone wrong ‘Victims Of A Bomber Raid’, Dystopia on ‘Garbage Human’ and call to arms ‘No Corporate Beer’ wouldn’t sound a miss in an Infest set, but it’s the dedication to craft beer that really sets this apart.

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Musically the record encompasses a whole host of punk and hardcore sub-genres, opener ‘No Soldier Left Behind’ is a D-Beat ripper, whilst ‘Giving The Boot To Reinheitsgebot’ is a Poison Idea-esque look at the German Purity Laws and ‘Hymn To Ninkasi’ treads more into crossover territory, with a guest appearance from Municipal Waste/Iron Reagan vocalist Tony Foresta. ‘Ancient Brewing Tactics’ is rounded out by quest appearances from Steve Brooks of Torche on ’99 Problems (But A Beer Ain’t One)’ and Pig Destroyer’s Blake Harrison on ‘To The Pint’, before rumbling to a dirgy close with ‘Trappist-1: Final Gravity’.

If that wasn’t enough, the extra details in the packaging and marketing for this record are a beer nerds wet dream. The different colours for the vinyl release are graded on the SRM (Standard Reference Method) scale from super limited Belgian Golden Ale: SRM 3 to standard pressing Schwarzbier: SRM 80. To top it all off the band have also done a beer & song pairing for each track on the album (check it out below, it’s white whales galore) and are releasing a Stein beer named after the record in collaboration with Portland, Oregon’s Wayfinder Beer. For those who might not know, a steinbier, or stonebeer, is made by heating rocks over an open flame until it reaches extreme temperatures, then dropping it into the boiling wort. The wort is then flash-boiled and slightly caramelised from this process. As a result the beer has an intensely smooth and balanced malt profile but comes in at Bock strength.

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Ancient Brewing Tactics not enough for you? Check out Trappist’s podcast ‘Hour Of The Barbarian’ for more beery/music chatter. It’s worth it alone for Chris Dodge’s account of playing Obscene Extreme fest with Infest.

Trappist – Ancient Brewing Tactics is released on Friday August 17th on Relapse Records. Pick it up here if you’re in the UK/EU or here if you’re in the USA. For more on Trappist head to their Facebook page or listen on Bandcamp.

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