Breaking the Black Metal Seal

The room was a sea of black t-shirts that read “unholy” and “666” and there were more pentagrams than I could count.  Although I was there to see Myrkur, most were there to see the headliner, Behemoth, an extremely popular black metal band from Poland.IMAG01267

When it comes to what makes black metal “black” it does not get much more overt that what I saw that night.  Behemoth performed their new album, “The Satanist” in its entirety.  At one point the bassist, Orion, held a crucifix upside down over the crowd.  Later Nergal (who sings, plays guitar and is the undisputed creative force behind the band) handed out “communion” wafers that were imprinted with the band’s “unholy trinity” symbol (see below) to crazed fans in the first few rows.

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And there I was, in the front row of the balcony, trying to take it all in.

Such was my first trip to a black metal show.  Not surprisingly I was not entirely at ease with what I saw and heard.  Was my presence there inherently in conflict with my Christianity and/or my vocation as a priest?  As I have written before, this question has long vexed me.

Although I listen to a lot of dark, heavy music there have been bands that I wouldn’t listen to, not because I didn’t like their music, but because they were overtly Satanic.  But the more I thought about it, the more I began to question whether or not this divide was an artifice. After a lot of reflection, and in large part because I really wanted to see Myrkur perform her first gig in the USA, I thought it was finally time to push past those self-imposed restrictions and see how being at black metal concert made me feel.

It started with the crowd.  No one seemed particularly intent sacrificing a virgin after the show.  In fact, setting aside their appearance, most everyone I met was really nice.  It seemed that many, if not most, of the fans were there first and foremost for the music.

Of course you can find similar bands that don’t utilize satanic words and symbols so there must be some particular appeal to the pentagrams, et al.  If this wasn’t about religion per se then what was the attraction?

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If what I’ve read on the subject is correct then despite appearances to the contrary, it not actually about worshiping a supernatural being but rather the ideals they see represented by the character of Satan.  Nergal summarized it pretty well in an interview with the Guardian “To me, Satan stands for everything that is dear to me. I’ve always been very fond of independence and autonomy and freethinking and freedom and intelligence. Satan has always been a very strong symbol of all those values, so for me it’s very natural to take his side.”

Assuming that the majority of fans echo his views this means that in essence it was really all about rebellion.  All the inverted crosses and blasphemy had much more to do with the adolescent rush one gets from pissing off the establishment and giving the finger to the family, school, boss, church or culture that has frustrated you and left you feeling alienated than it did with actually worshiping Satan.

That is a sentiment I certainly understand.  Getting into music in order to freak out your parents…check.   Creating a scary persona to intimidate your classmates… check. Indulging in everything dark and brooding in order to convince yourself that you are deep and profound… check. Been there, done that, still have the tattered t-shirts.

Of course recognizing this doesn’t leave me entirely at ease .  There are still some fundamental philosophical divides that merit further exploration. And doutbless there are some for whom all this is not merely a gesture but a reflection of deeply held beliefs that are in complete opposition to my own.  Yet understanding that for most the pentagrams were largely symbolic allowed me to sit through the entire show and find something to appreciate in the sounds, theatre and above all in the energy of the crowd below.  Click here to read a review of this show and see way better pictures than I took.

I’ll be writing more on this soon.  Until then I’d really like to hear your thoughts.

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Introducing Team Eve!

We’re just two weeks out from the Biblical Brew Off. Team Moses and Team Jesus are all tied up going into this third year of competition. Just when things seemed set for the showdown a wildcard appeared.  Both Rodeph Shalom and St Tim’s count many women among the beer geeks at our congregations.  No longer content to leave the brewing to the guys, they joined forces to form Team Eve.

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In early April, under the expert guidance of Nancy Rigberg, they gathered at St. Tim’s to brew a saison, the name of which is so secret that even yours truly doesn’t know it yet.

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Not only will their presence liven up the competition, it is fully in keeping with the ancient tradition that brewing was solely a feminine art.  Even today among some of the indigenous peoples, it is women along who brew the chicha since it is common knowledge even allowing a man to walk into the brew house will spoil the beer.

A big thank you to Nancy for her expertise and to Brian Biggs for creating the logo.

The only way to taste their beer is to join us at the Brew Off on May 7th at Rodeph Shalom.  Advance tickets are just $25 ($35 at the door).  Click here to get yours now!

SUSAN stirring the wort Removing Flavors NANCY LAUREL combining flavors JESSICA stirring in malt JEANNE cooling

 

Band of Brewers

As most of you know I’m a beer lover from Philly.  That makes me pretty darn lucky because there are lots of great things about Philly… neighborhoods, museums and food, the Rocky statue, the Liberty Bell and the only place where you can enjoy a nice frosty serving of “wooder” ice.

There are also many great things about the local beer scene.  We have the nation’s first and best Beer Week, we were the first city in the USA to import and promote Belgians and by and large, even though we have a ton of great breweries and bars, there is a wonderful sense of camaraderie in the industry.

If you needed proof of why this is such an awesome place for a beer lover to live, you need look no further than the annual Band of Brewers.  The concept is simple.  A bunch of local breweries each put together a band and perform three songs. The performance is judged and at the end of the show a winner is crowned.  Better yet the whole thing is put together for charity.

So, even though this is the sixth year, it was my the first time I was able to make it (doesn’t Mat Falco know I work on Sunday?).  I was excited to say the least but by the time I got there two bands had already performed.  Fortunately there was still plenty of music to come.  I caught up with friends and sipped on local brews while listening to some surprisingly talented musicians.

When Stainless Maiden took the stage I had no idea what to expect, apart of course from presumably being an Iron Maiden tribute that is.  Heck, I had never even heard of Broken Goblet Brewing before.

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It didn’t take them long to make an impression.  The moment the singer took the stage with his beer gut and faux six pack abs, I was amused.  The music didn’t disappoint either, pumping out solid covers of Number of the Beast, Run for the Hills and, get this, The Brewer, which as you will have surmised, was The Trooper with beer-centric lyrics.

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By the time the giant Eddie took the stage for the finale, they had the crowd in the palm of their hands.  To no one’s surprise they were crowned the champs.  You can see a whole lot more pics taken by a whole lot better photographers here.

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So move over Liberty Bell, you better make room for yet another reason why this not just a great city, but a great city to be a beer lover.

The Blog is a Cruel Mistress

As you may have noticed I haven’t written anything for a long time.  Or perhaps you didn’t notice because you unsubscribed and you know what, I wouldn’t blame you.  Each week when Wednesday would roll around I would stop and think, “Kirk!  You have to write something!”  Then invariably I would find something else that required my attention and before I knew it, it would be Friday.   So I’d hit myself in the head and say, “You have to write one next week.”  This pattern went on for so long that I actually started to wonder if I’d ever get back to it.

Well as you can tell, today I finally did.  Along the way I spent some time trying to figure out why I put it off for so long,  Truth be told, I’m not really sure.  I’m busy, but no busier than usual.  I still like to write, especially when it’s not a committee report or another sermon.  As you’ll see in the coming weeks I still have lots of stuff to write about. Cracking-the-Whip-1

Maybe I just needed a break.  Way back when I first started this blog a wise friend told me, “You know, having a blog is a lot like having a mistress.  It’s great at first but eventually it’s just one more thing you have to do that makes you tired.”  For the record, I have no idea whether or not this is actually true, but it sure makes sense in theory.

Whatever the reason, I’m back and recommitting myself to churning out posts on beer, music, God and all that other good stuff.  For now let me thank you for your patience and I hope you enjoy all that I have to share about recent concerts, the return of the Biblical Brew Off, how fasting from beer for Lent got me thinking differently about drinking, and lots more.  See you next week!