New Wave of British Heavy Metal band Diamond Head released a new music video for the hard rock “Diamonds” off their recent self-titled Diamond Head record to promote their upcoming US tour. Diamond Head infamously committed career suicide with the awful Canterbury just a few years after releasing the super influential to Metallica, Lightning to the Nations.
A few weeks ago I conducted a short interview with Brian Tatler (center), the guitarist and primary songwriter of Diamond Head. Their new self-titled album was released on April 7th and will be reviewed on Death Metal Underground shortly. Marred by technical difficulties, here is an edited transcript:
Hi Brian, I’m Daniel from Death Metal Underground. I understand Diamond Head has a new album coming out this spring?
Yes we do. Diamond Head comes out April 7th.
Did you try to hearken back to your early work or go in a more commercial direction?
In a way. We took a look at everything we’ve done over the years. This album should sound like Diamond Head. We took a very Diamond Head approach.
Did you modernize your music? Use digital production and all that?
Well it’s still the old Diamond Head sound. I used a Diesel amp and we recorded into Pro-Tools too. We wouldn’t have been able to get that sound back in 1982. Writing is the main thing. We try to capture the magic in the rehearsal room.
Songwriting is the most important thing.
So much modern metal is just one cool guitar riff and then chugging along until the next part that has no relation to the first.
You still need to write a song.
Who are your songwriting inspirations?
Well, Led Zepplin, Black Sabbath, those sorts of bands. I don’t listen to that modern sort of stuff that much. Some say we write the same songs over and over. That’s the way that stuff is. Diamond Head sounds like Diamond Head. The most influential records were the first few Led Zeppelin, Sad Wings of Destiny, Machine Head.
How do you feel about your influence on the metal and the more extreme sub-genres? Inspiring bands like Metallica, Celtic Frost, and Darkthrone who sometimes copied directly from you?
It’s easy to get deep into the stuff from your youth. You watch these bands play, get a tape from across the ocean a thousand miles a way, and after a few months of playing and writing your own material, what do you know? You have the same riff that’s on the tape! It’s nice to be influential. It makes the band feel important; justifies what we were doing. It’s been said Diamond Head were a musicians’ band: a band that other bands liked. We never sold that many records.
Even things like “Search and Destroy” having the same riff as “Sucking My Love” in a different key?
“Dead Reckoning”. It’s not the same; it’s slightly different. It’s flattering. I’ve got my own stuff from somewhere. Bits of Black Sabbath and AC/DC. Diamond Head were a stepping stone between thrash and them.
I noticed on songs like “The Prince”, you have tempo and rhythm changes in the drums uncommon for metal of the time.
Well we moved the drums around to get more out of each section. We had to get it as good as it had to be. No nudging through
“Am I Evil?” is perfect.
“Am I Evil?” took a while. It took a while to do it. The intro, lots of verses, the last section to the ending, and then going back to the main riff, and testing it out live.
So many bands never have the opportunity to play live now. How important was that?
We tested out everything live to see what songs and verses did work. What would work up a crowd. Some songs didn’t work. This one worked.
Did you start playing live early on?
We formed in ’76 and played our first show in February of ’77.
In local venues like pubs?
Lots of venues. Some not local. One in Birmingham. We started playing in pubs. No clubs. We would put on our own gigs.
Sabbath were from Birmingham. Was that a big deal?
We felt we were following in their footsteps: Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. It’s the second biggest city in the UK. Birmingham had so many bands. Always did too…
How much pressure did Diamond Head feel to become more mainstream and commercial rock?
A bit of pressure. We signed to MCA in 1982. Iron Maiden, Motorhead, and all UK bands appeared on Top of the Pops with their singles. Our long songs prevented that: “Sucking My Love” is 9 minutes long; “Am I Evil?” is 7:40 even. Not a comfortable fit. MCA wanted us to be more like Led Zeppelin except we had no PR, no real touring support with good lineups , nor a huge studio budget. Being managed by our singer Sean Harris’s mother didn’t help. We were dropped from MCA as she wouldn’t agree to a change in management.
Was it a Manowar type situation where he lived with his parents?
He lived with her then. I believe he still lives in the same place but on his own.
The Manowar singer still lives in his parents’ basement in upstate New York.
Any upcoming touring plans?
Lots of dates across Europe. We’re playing Hard Rock Hell and some dates in Germany, the UK, and Ireland.
Diamond Head were who Metallica and Megadeth desperately wanted to be. A seventeen-year-old Lars Urlich famously flew to London to see them play after buying their debut from a magazine ad. Celtic Frost owed their career to the Holst-opened classic “Am I Evil?” Lightning to the Nations, is the “the missing link” between the early New Wave of British Heavy Metal and later speed metal.
The guitarwork and songwriting are excellent throughout. Driving Motorhead-style rhythm riffs served by pounding pickup beats and groovy bass lines progress power chords into solos that Blackmore and Tipton wish they had written. These extended leads serve not only as climaxes but continue building tension, alleviated only when the original verse riff (or a variation thereof) returns. Clever variations in the extended riff phrasing enable verses to wind and flow freely around catchy choruses, continuing effectively long after lesser groups would have ran them their course.
Yes, Lightning to the Nations is bluesy with many influences from the riff-based hard rock of the seventies. The vocalist even multi-tracked himself on “Sucking My Love” in imitation of Robert Plant. None of these rock roots serve to lessen the force and creativity present in the music. The atrocious keyboards and reverb mixed into the 1993 Metal Blade reissue do. Stick with the original LP and the 2011 “Deluxe Edition” CD remaster from the original tapes.
Each of us finds a path through life. Along the way we collect things we believe in, and things we enjoy. Sometimes those become what our commerce-brained socially-manipulated society might call “hobbies,” but these are often closer to a calling. I was fortunate to interview someone who straddles that line. He calls himself “Metalhead Y Cigarguy” and he runs a successful YouTube channel where he analyzes cigars, pipes and often, heavy metal.
You’re both a metalhead and a pipes/cigar smoker. Do you think the two go together?
If you’re going by stereotypes, no, but that’s why stereotypes are bad. Typically the pipe/cigar smoker is viewed as educated and an upper class individual, whereas the Metalhead is viewed as the uneducated lower class individual. You and I both know this is not the case at all. Now when I first got into pipes/cigars I thought I was one of a few Metalheads that actually enjoyed “the finer things in life,” but I quickly learned that there were a lot of individuals that smoked pipes/cigars that listened to all forms of Heavy Metal music.
That’s the nice thing about the hobby of pipes and cigars, most individuals don’t care about race, religion, political view etc. as we all have a common bond and that’s pipes and cigars. When individuals come together, say the doctor and the Metalhead, at the local cigar lounge, the two can always have an interesting conversation about the hobby even if they disagree about everything else in life. The hobby of pipes and cigars is open to anyone and everyone.
How did you get into smoking cigars? When did you add pipes to your routine?
I used to just smoke a few cigars on the back deck in the summer time. At the time I really wanted to take up pipe smoking, but like most I didn’t really know where to begin, and I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money on something that I may not enjoy. Cigars seemed like an easy first step. After I found myself enjoying cigars I decided to get more into the hobby, so I purchased a small humidor and things took off from there. I soon found myself with several humidors and about 300 cigars on hand.
After being into cigars for a while I decided it was time to try a pipe, so I went to my local tobacconist and picked up a basket pipe and a couple ounces of Lane RLP-6. For the first couple months I only smoked my pipe about 2-3 times a month, but as I got the hang of it more I decided to spend a bit more money on a nicer pipe. Of course just like the cigar hobby, my pipe hobby took off as well. I now have a very well stocked cellar of tobaccos and about 35 pipes. Needless to say I really enjoy my pipes and cigars and pretty much all my spare cash goes into the hobby. My wife always asks, “Don’t you have enough tobacco/cigars?” and my response is always “no.”
You run a YouTube channel with pipe and cigar videos. Where can we find it, and what is on it?
I post a variety of videos on my channel. I have a Sunday Evening Cigar series where I usually review cigars but also discuss cigar related topics, I have a Thursday Pipe Chat where I discuss a variety of pipe/tobacco topics and sometimes I do an occasional pipe tobacco review. I have also done videos on my sports teams, as well as videos where I discuss Heavy Metal music. I’m open to all subjects, but mainly keep it to pipes and cigars.
What do you like about making videos, and why did you pick that format over others?
I started out many years ago on Heavy Metal forums like Metal Rules, Encyclopedia Metallum, Roadrunner Records etc., and when I got serious about cigars I discovered the Cigar Geeks forum. I posted on that forum daily for a good 3 years straight, and there is a great group of individuals over there. As I had grown in my cigar hobby I decided to give pipe smoking a try as I had always wanted to smoke a pipe.
After beginning my adventure into pipes I discovered there was a community on YouTube. After seeing the interaction from people I decided to jump in and give it a go and make videos. As with most people my videos sucked at first, heck they probably still do, but it gave me a better interaction with individuals in the hobby. Forums can be useful, but many times people don’t get to detailed about a particular subject; where as with YouTube a person can spend 5, 10, 15 + minutes talking about a particular subject and provide more in depth information about something you want to know about.
With YouTube its more of a face to face type interaction as you are watching the individual demonstrate tips, tricks, how-tos etc. with the actual pipe and/or cigar, so as a visual learner it was ideal for me. For a long time I didn’t have anyone to sit back and enjoy a pipe or a cigar with either, so by watching YouTube Pipe Community (YTPC) videos I was able to simulate that experience even if it was only a one way conversation. I think that’s why a lot of us do it… to share a smoke with someone and to have some interaction that way.
What is the YouTube Pipe Community (YTPC) and how did you become part of it? What does it do, and how can people find out more?
YouTube is full of different communities that cover topics from Guns/Self Defense, Bushcraft, Gamers, etc., and if you’re interested in a particular hobby then chances are there is a community for it on YouTube. YT has a strong pipe/cigar community that’s been around for a long time. I’ve been a part of the YTPC for four years now, and it was going strong when I joined. It’s basically a community of individuals that post pipe and/or cigar related videos, and create dialog with individuals based off those videos.
Its similar to a forum, but the dialog is generated from the videos. Sometimes instead of just typing out a text reply to the video, individuals will make a video response and post a video that will respond to the topic mentioned in a video by another person. Within the community you will find people that post tobacco and pipe reviews, cigar reviews, how to videos related to pipes and/or cigars, and sometimes people just create ramble videos.
Those are simply the individual talking into the camera as if they were sitting next to an individual and sharing a pipe and/or cigar with them. There are a lot of people that don’t have the opportunity to have a smoking buddy, so many of us can simulate that by watching the ramble type videos and pretend we are hanging out with said individual. Those types of video’s aren’t for everyone, but some people really enjoy them.
Anyone can join the community, all you have to do is post videos. There are no requirements to join other than to just start posting videos. What kind of videos is up to the individual. For lack of a better term, the community is filled with many “lurkers,” which are individuals that watch the YTPC videos, but don’t actually post videos themselves. Some comment on the videos and some don’t, but they watch to gain knowledge when it comes to pipe/cigar related topics.
Really that’s the whole idea behind the community, to help educate other pipe/cigar smokers with tips/tricks and how to information. For example how to pack a pipe, how to properly light a cigar etc. I started out as a lurker, and began watching how to videos before buying my first pipe. I then continued to watch and found that the community was full of a lot of great people. After watching for about five months I decided to give it a go and post a video. It was really weird just talking into a camera all by myself, but the community was very welcoming.
In the past four years I’ve made some good friends, and have had the pleasure of going to pipe/cigar related events where I’ve been able to meet up with other individuals from the YTPC in person. A lot of us will from time to time talk via Skype or Google+ Hangouts, and via a phone app called Voxer. I regularly talk via Voxer with individuals from Australia, Great Britain, and all across the the US who are a part of the YTPC. So it really is a community that goes beyond just posting how to videos etc.
When did you get into heavy metal? What attracted you to it, and what were your favorites? Do you have a “top ten”?
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest when the Grunge/Alternative Rock scene broke open it was easy to get into bands like Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Mud Honey, Soundgarden, etc. After a few years it was clear to me that the scene was dying, and the new bands that were coming out were very stale and provided nothing new. As the casual Hard Rock and Heavy Metal listener I expanded on the Heavy Metal side and I became a huge fan of Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath in the mid 90s.
I then got into the Nu-Metal scene, but realized fairly quickly that there was heavier stuff that was better. By the end of the 90s I was getting into more Thrash, outside the Big Four, and into Death Metal and even some Black Metal. As time passed I really came to enjoy the old school Death Metal and Thrash Metal that I missed in the 80s as a young kid and while I was listening to Grunge/Alternative in the early 90s.
Now days I find myself mainly listening to the Traditional Heavy Metal like Ozzy, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, along with the old school Death Metal bands, Death, Cannibal Corpse, Obituary, Deicide, Malevolent Creation, and Thrash Metal bands like Overkill, Testament, Exodus, etc. outside the Big Four. I enjoy all varieties of Metal though as you can find me listening to Progressive Metal, Power Metal, Doom, Folk Metal, Black Metal etc. I enjoy all of the sub-genres.
What do you look for in a cigar or pipe tobacco blend? Are some better than others? Are there others you “just like”?
When it comes to cigars I like anything from Mild up to Full bodied, though if I’m having a Full bodied cigar I need to go slow and make sure I have a nice meal before hand otherwise I’ll feel the nicotine punch. I prefer a nice Mild-Medium cigar in the morning with a nice cup of coffee, and in the evening I prefer a nice Medium-Full cigar with a nice ale or some whiskey. My favorite brand of cigar is Romeo Y Julieta, and of those lines I really like the Reserva Real and the classic 1875 line.
As for pipe tobacco, I started off with aromatics like many do. I still enjoy an aromatic from time to time, and if I do have an aromatic its usually in the morning with a cup of coffee. As I got more into pipes I really found that I enjoy English/Balkan blends the most. Typically anything with Latakia, Turkish/Oriental, Virginia and Perique will be a favorite of mine. Looking back on most of my favorite blends, they all have those components to them. I also find that I really enjoy McClelland tobaccos. Not saying they’re better than brands like MacBaren, Cornell & Diehl etc., but I find I really enjoy a lot of the McClelland blends.
What should people know before getting into cigar/pipe smoking? What about before they start listening to heavy metal?
With pipes/cigars… just know that its going to be expensive, especially cigars. A nice cigar here runs $5-9 so the cost can definitely add up. The higher end premium cigars range from $10-15+ so its not cheap at all. That doesn’t include accessories like humidors etc. With pipes and pipe tobacco its not as bad as you can get away with an inexpensive corn cob pipe (which are really good smoking pipes) and some inexpensive bulk blends. Though you can find yourself spending hundreds of dollars on some very nice pipes too, so it can be very costly as well. Then adding tobacco to your tobacco cellar will generate an expense as well. Either way you’re going to be spending some hard earned cash. How far into the hobby you want to go will determine how much money you’re going to invest in the hobby.
Heavy Metal carries a bad stereotype, and the music is viewed by many as a guy standing there screaming into the microphone while the band plays unorganized loud music. Now in some cases that may be true, depends on who you’re listening to, but the professional Metal bands are actually very talented musicians with many playing at a high level. Though most people can’t get past the loud noise. Then there is the typical images of hate and satanism.
Now some bands have this image or have lyrics about these types of messages, but not all bands are that way. There are plenty of Metal bands that sing about a positive message. Its up to the listener to decide their preference. For someone that wants to explore Heavy Metal… go for it! You have to look past the stereotypes. There are all kinds of sub-genre’s of Metal so while one genre may not fit your style another might. Sometimes it takes time to really wrap your head around what you’re listening to as well.
For example the first time I listened to Mercyful Fate (King Diamond), his falsetto singing really threw me off and I was like, “What the heck is this?” I wasn’t ready for it, so I put the album on the shelf for about a year. When I came back to it I was blown away by what i was listening to. Now Mercyful Fate and King Diamond are two of my favorite bands. Sometimes you just need to recognize you’re not ready for something, and instead of just dismissing it, come back to it at a later time. Your outlook may change.
Is there a “generation gap” between older pipe smokers and younger ones regarding the video format? Are there any newer formats that bridge the gap?
The forums are most likely to bridge the gap, because unless an individual shares information about themselves you don’t really know the age of the different individuals. As for YouTube, there are many older pipe smokers that make YouTube videos. It’s not just a young pipe smokers format.
The individuals in the YTPC don’t care if an individual is in their early 20s and just picked up a pipe, or if they’re in their 60s and have been smoking a pipe for 40 years. Everyone interacts with everyone. It’s a great community full of helpful information and individuals that love to share their thoughts on the hobby.
How do you make your videos? About how long does each one take? Does it require special equipment, software or a studio?
I keep it real simple as i do it for fun. If it gets to detailed it becomes a chore and then it’s not fun anymore. When I was doing my Thursday Pipe Chat and my Sunday Evening Cigar series on a weekly basis with editing, I was spending a lot of time on my computer (hours). Now I just use my cell phone which records in HD quality. If I do any editing it can take a little bit of time, but I don’t do that much anymore as I prefer to just click record and stop and then upload. It’s so much more easier. Is the video quality lower?… that’s for the viewer to decide.
If people are interested in what they read here about you, where do they go to find out more and stay on top of your latest doings?
I still chat on the Cigar Geeks forum from time to time, but not as much anymore. I chat on the Pipes Magazine forum on a regular basis currently and of course I’m still making videos for my YouTube channel. I can’t see how anyone would want to keep up with me, as I don’t find myself that entertaining, but if they really want to then the best place is my YouTube channel.
The old saying goes that those who love to use tobacco smoke cigarettes, and those who love tobacco smoke cigars and pipes. The cigarettes give you a quicker hit because the lungs, with their much vaster absorption area, deliver nicotine to the brain within about three seconds. The cigarette ends within three to seven minutes and the craving subsides momentarily. With pipes and cigars, the nicotine slowly oozes in through the mucus membranes in the mouth, tongue and (sometimes) throat, creating a stronger dose of nicotine but without the sudden “falling off a cliff” sensation. Many metalheads smoke cigarettes, but more are branching out to pipes and cigars for the flavors, more intense dosage and less damage to the body.
Please do not read this as an anti-cigarette rant. They are wonderful, in their own right, and much less work than cigars or pipes. However, burning any leaves and inhaling them directly into your lungs 10-20 times a day would cause some kind of long term health problem as gunk — tar, ash and irritants — builds up on the alveoli. On top of that, our industry and lawmakers have decided to mandate all sorts of processing of the tobacco, so who knows what else is being inhaled. If you would not mind going into a fast food joint, taking home their lettuce, dehydrating it and sitting next to a giant pile of it burning all day, cigarettes might not bother you. And keep in mind that there are brain-boosting benefits to nicotine in addition to resistance to neurodegenerative disorders, an effect which you do not get with the charred salad.
Cigars are beyond the scope of this article, but pipes are its focus. Pipes are essentially little wooden, stone or clay cups for burning tobacco with an inhalation tube attached. The smoker fills the pipe loosely with tobacco, then ignites it with some of the many means available to us ex-hominids, inhaling the smoke into his mouth and savoring it before blowing it outward into the personal space of those around him. While the topic of smoking pipes merits a full book, this article provides an introduction to pipe smoking designed to be as simple and low-cost as possible.
To get started, you will need:
- A pipe. Generally between $35-$65 for a good starter pipe. Look for 0.7inch diameter bowls and filterless stems. This tool may help.
- Tobacco. This comes in tins and bulk, usually found at Brick and Mortar (B&M) shops, and Over the Counter (OTC) usually found at drugstores and supermarkets.
- Pipe cleaners. Each time you smoke, you will want to clean your pipe. Pipe cleaners have two ends, so that is two smokes per cleaner. It is not a terrible habit to include a bundle or package of these each time you buy tobacco.
- A pipe nail. Demystifying this tool: it can be as simple as a key. You use one end to cut up tobacco, allowing it to collapse into an ember, and the other to tamp it after you light it for the first time. Tobacco rises like a demon unleashed when touched with fire, but compressing it allows it to smoulder so you can sip the pipe.
- Fire. I favor the compressed cardboard matches in matchbooks, but you can use anything. For some, lighters and zippos taste horrible, so they prefer the match. The only trick is to burn off the tip before lighting.
To avoid the usual drama, let us launch into the process of smoking:
You go to some place with little wind, but some air circulation, where you have a comfortable chair. Sitting in it, you take out your tobacco. Holding the pipe over the tobacco container, let the shreds of tobacco fall into the pipe. When it is half-full, gently tamp with a finger. When it reaches the top, pinch from the center to one side and then the other, compressing the tobacco and letting it fall back into place. (Much has been written on this topic, usually under the unfortunate appellation of packing a pipe, when the correct word to use is fill: put tobacco into the pipe so there are no fully empty spaces, but fall short of compacting it so air — necessary for fire and smoke — can flow through. Ignore all other advice.)
Put the pipe in your mouth, holding it gently with teeth and firmly with lips. Light a match, and hold it vertically at a slight angle so the flame climbs the stalk of the match, then when the head has burned off, move the match over the tobacco in slow circles while inhaling. Take the smoke into your mouth and the top part of your throat if you wish, but try to avoid it leaking further down toward the lungs. You can compress it by gently blowing out the air from the front of your mouth, which draws in smoke from the pipe. The best way to inhale that I have found involves flaring the nose and drawing in air slowly but steadily.
My favorite cycle runs in seven second increments. For bigger mouthfuls, draw in your smoke, then keep it in your mouth for three seconds, then exhale and wait another four seconds. For slower sips, take one for about a half-second, then wait at least three seconds before the next. It helps to have a slight background circulation of air to keep the pipe oxygenated and smouldering well.
Many smokers do a “char and light” where they torch the top layer of tobacco, then tamp it lightly because it has risen up as it burned, and then light again to get the resulting compressed tobacco to blaze. At two-thirds through the bowl, it may be helpful to use a poker or the pointy end of your pipe nail to chop up the resulting ember and set it ablaze again. The lighting requirements vary between tobacco types, which will be addressed below.
When no more smoke comes out of the pipe, and you sense that the tobacco has been converted mostly to ash, tap it out into convenient bushes or a metal trash receptacle without a plastic bag. The ash will be hot and melt plastic. To tap out, hold the pipe in your hand and swing it downward to shake the ash out of the bowl. You may have to stir it with poker or nail beforehand.
Then comes the most important part of the ritual. If your pipe lacks a filter, run a pipe cleaner from the mouthpiece into the pipe and leave it there for a few minutes to absorb both direct and ambient moisture. This will keep your pipe fresh-tasting for its next use.
Pipe smokers vary. Some are hard-hitters who blaze through a bowl quickly, where others are sippers who have a pipe going all day for an hour at a time. If you re-light too frequently, or smoke too fast, the pipe may get hot; if this happens enough and to a great enough extreme, it may cause a condition known as “burnout” where the material of the pipe chars and cracks. To help avoid this, smoke on the seven-second method and also, allow some nice thick gunky tar to line the bowl, especially on the bottom. I always smoke some OTC aromatics, which are full of sugary flavoring that bonds together the goo and forms a kind of tar cement, down to the bottom of the bowl to layer it with a nice thick coating of glop. This glop chars over time and becomes a sort of pipe creosote that insulates against extremes.
Tobacco originates as leafy plant in the genus Nicotiana, which when cured, dried, pressed and shredded becomes a delicious flammable method of nicotine delivery. The great variations in what are called generically tobaccos occur in the different strains of tobacco plants, and the different methods used to grow, cure, dry, press, and cut the leaves.
That process produces a number of tobacco types, which are then combined in varying amounts into different blends, which you might think of as “tobacco recipes” because they achieve a unique flavor through the ingredients — different types of tobacco — mixed within them. These blends are also distinguished by their cut or how they are sliced, which is related to the flavor and tobacco characteristics in each blend. Many blends are then coated in flavoring known as “aromatic”; if the primary flavor to the smoking blend is the flavoring and not the underlying tobacco, the blend is referred to as an aromatic tobacco.
For the end user, tobacco is then shaped by another force — the consumer market — and placed into the following silos:
- Over-the-Counter (OTC). OTC tobaccos are designed for convenience. They are usually either aromatics or a type of shag-cut tobacco that is also used for Roll Your Own (RYO) cigarettes. These burn most easily, cost about $2 an ounce, and are generally mild in both flavor and nicotine level.
- Luxury. Like most things in our society, the good stuff only starts when you step off the mainstream and pony up some more cash. You would not buy Budweiser to drink, nor Marlboro to smoke, so you will choose a pipe tobacco made under the brand name of an established firm. A handful of producers make these tobaccos now, but they tend to be stronger and rely more on the flavor of natural tobacco, although many are also aromatics but with a wider variety of flavors than OTC.
- Boutique. A cottage industry has sprung up in making this variety of luxury tobacco which aims for unique and intense flavors, sometimes combining aromatic and unflavored tobaccos. These are more expensive than “regular” luxury and are made by a handful of blenders who also own mail-order tobacco shops.
- Vintage. In the past, everything was better. People have been saying that for generations, and apparently each were correct: the tobaccos of only 20 years ago were stronger and more flavorful. Luxury tobaccos, once considered regular tobacco, have been stored in sealed tins (if you buy one on eBay, make sure it is also “unopened” as opposed to re-sealed) and are now much sought-after.
I recommend starting with a solid OTC like Carter Hall, Prince Albert, Captain Black, Five Brothers or even Drum. These are the easiest to learn to pipe with, and give you a feeling for what mild levels of nicotine and flavor are like. In addition, they are low-cost so you will not howl and scream if you accidentally ruin a bowl or spill some.
You may find that these are pleasing enough for you and that you are content to smoke them for life. There is nothing wrong with this; many have done so and it provides the least fetishistic and complex smoking experience. Five Brothers stands out from most of these because it does not use aromatic flavoring or propylene glycol (PG), a moisturizing agent added to many OTC tobaccos. If your OTC tobacco comes out of the can or pouch and seems damp, it probably has a good dose of PG. Many aromatics, including those sold at the luxury level, also have this treatment.
From that point, the next stop is an entry-level luxury tobacco. I suggest going with a Dunhill blend because they are widely available, not overly flavored, and tend to be sliced for easy burning. You can generally get a tin of 50g/1.76oz for about $9 online or $15 in the real world, if you are in the United States; this will vary with local tobacco taxes. You may notice that you are paying quite a bit in taxes throughout this whole process, and wonder if that is in fact the impetus for the whole societal jihad against tobacco. Keep wondering. In places like Canada and Europe, they pay multiples of what you pay here. Scary.
At this point, I would stop moving up the ladder. Boutique blends are a variety of luxury blend that costs more and has more unique, ironic, oddball, quirky, and otherwise off-the-beaten path blends. However, it tends to be lower in nicotine content and it is unclear whether these weird little blends are actually that distinct from their archetypes. There are only so many types of tobacco and while many different combinations can be made, most of them resemble a few fundamental types. I have never ventured into Vintage tins and can say that, while undoubtedly these older blends were of a finer quality, that may not have been preserved over the years. Nicotine levels especially degrade. To my mind, the piping experience cannot be separated into “taste” or effect but must include both, and so the fetishism with flavor — even if grounded in science and experience — strikes me as perhaps being a mistake.
Tobacco comes in several cuts which reflect how the leaves are presented:
- Shag. Cut laterally across the leaf, leaving an interlocked mess like peat moss that loads easily and burns well.
- Ribbon. “Normal.” Thicker slices that seem to be vertically up and down the leaf.
- Flake -> Ready Rubbed. Flake occurs when tobacco is pressed in blocks and then sliced; Ready Rubbed is the result of “rubbing out” those slices.
- Plug. Tobacco is pressed together and allowed to mature that way, then cut into little pucks.
- Cake. Like a plug, but loosely packed, resulting in a crumbly “coffee cake” style.
- Cube. Cross-slicing the tobacco produces tiny cubes; sometimes hard to keep lit.
- Twist -> Slices. Tobacco is twisted in plugs or flake is re-twisted in tubes, then cut into little “coin” shaped bits called slices.
Multiple types of tobacco dot the landscape. These refer to the strain of tobacco plant and how it was cured and prepared. These are:
- Burley. Think cigar leaves. This air-cured tobacco has a nutty flavor and higher nicotine and oil than most others. It is used to complement other tobaccos in blends, and is known for its tongue “bite” from high alkalinity.
- Virginia. High sugar content and sweet natural taste make this type a favorite in many blends. Although this tobacco comes in many colors, its flavor stays within the mild range and makes it the basis of many blends.
- Cavendish. This term applies to any tobacco that has been aged and cured with a heating process that brings out a fuller taste.
- Latakia. This is Oriental tobacco which has been cured with smoke from burning oak, pine, juniper and yew wood to give it a bittersweet taste.
- Oriental/Turkish. Sweet and low in nicotine, this is tobacco grown using the Eastern method of low soil nutrients and plenty of sun, which produces its fragrance and flavor.
- Perique. Fermentation in its own juices after Burley tobacco is pressed into barrels gives Perique a spicy-sweet flavor. This is generally an additive to other blends to give them some spark
- Dark Fired. Leaves are cured with smoke under carefully managed heat and humidity, producing a blend both strong in nicotine and flavor. It is used as an additive more than a main ingredient because of its intensity.
For more information, check out Russ Ouellette’s descriptions.
These are used in the following blends:
- English. Mostly Virginia, with Latakia for body and Oriental tobaccos to provide spice.
- Scottish. Similar to an English blend, the Scottish blend uses less Latakia and more Virginia, with little or no Orientals.
- Balkan. Strong in Orientals and Latakia, this tobacco blend uses Virginia to balance those dominant flavors.
- American. Although there are some similarities to the English, the American blend uses more Virginia with possible Cavendish or Kentucky style tobaccos.
- Danish. These resemble the English, but with a deeper flavor and less spice, using more Burley and Cavendish but emphasizing stronger, more balanced flavors.
You will probably find yourself shopping by blend, which could be a substitute term for flavor. What type of smoke do you wish to taste tonight? There are several indexes for ranking different blends:
- Harshness. How much acridity and bite there is. Strong smoke can be hard on the smoker, and “bite” is created by the alkalinity of the tobacco, which raises the pH and increases absorption of nicotine but may also cause a tangy burning sensation on the tongue.
- Strength. You are smoking a nicotine-bearing plant. How much nicotine is delivered? A tobacco with high nicotine may be worth pounds of low-nic fruity aromatics.
- Note. This refers to the smell left behind after the tobacco is burned. This influences both your taste of the tobacco, and what your friends, family and coworkers experience.
The de facto standard for tobacco assessments is Tobacco Reviews. Like other crowd-sourced sites such as Wikipedia and Metal-Archives, or reviews on Amazon, it is good for basic factual information and opinions from people whose judgment you have verified and who — as a result — you trust. It is not good for randomly reading reviews because most of them are written by twitchy, bitchy and queeny internet consumers who complain about all the wrong things, like all the irrelevant, and miss the point. Some of the tobaccos rated highly by this site’s users are excellent, but others are simply quirky hipster fodder. Tread carefully, and consider using the various pipe forums out there: Puff, Pipes, Smokers Forum, and Tamp and Puff. The private reviews at this location have endured because they are frequently strikingly accurate. The main point is: find someone whose opinions you respect and tastes who align with yours, even if the exact opposite of yours, and you can figure out what you will like.
A word on lighting pipes: some prefer magnifying glasses and sun, others coals from the fire, still others matches and apparently, most like either butane lighters or Zippos. As a diehard match user, I can say that matches fail in the wind, and there is more wind that you might think, but that they seem to create the least influence on taste. Perhaps a laser is appropriate.
The pipe world is full of both facts and lore. Lore refers to anything passed on by groups of humans in social circumstances; the idea is that if it survives a dozen generations, it might be true. In the meantime, you will be wading through mountains of nonsense and worst of all, unnecessary complexity added by people who wish to seem profound or wise. Pipe-smoking is simple: you are lighting dried leaves in a tube and inhaling. The rest is mere adjustment.
The following resources may be helpful for those seeking to know more:
Here are some good places to go shopping for pipes and luxury tobacco:
- Smoking Pipes
- West Virginia Smoke Shop
- Pipes and Cigars / Cigars International
- Pipe and Leaf
- The Pipe Guys
- Mars Cigars and Pipes
- Pipe Place
- Payless Pipes
- Cup O’ Joes
Places to buy OTC tobacco, which online is sold in bulk:
Resources for those who wish to grow or blend their own tobacco:
Tobacco blenders and brands:
- Altria/Phillip Morris
- Cornell & Diehl
- Gawith, Hoggarth and Co.
- G.L. Pease
- J.F. Germain
- Kohlhase & Kopp
- Nat Sherman
- Peter Stokkebye
- Samuel Gawaith & Co.
- Scandinavian Tobacco Group
If you do not see your favorite blend, it is probably an imprint licensed to and manufactured by a larger group, or a boutique variety manufactured by one of the tobacco shops linked above.
For kicks, here is a list of famous pipe smokers. You can add me on there when I get famous, but be sure to mention I detest wimpy tobacco and think it should leave the hall.
Finally, the best metal for pipe smoking…
Hell’s Headbangers Compilation Volume 3
1-2. Destruktor – Embrace the Fire/Nailed: At the core of this band beats a heart of NWOBHM sensibilities, although it is enwrapped in a melodic death metal influenced power metal shell, like Seance covering Helstar covering Holocaust.
3-4. Shackles – Coiled in Sin/Iron Crosses: Continuing the NWOBHM theme, this band come have come straight out of industrial England during the mid-1970s except for the fast strumming and death metal vocals; these are anthemic, heavy-hitting tunes that are easy to hum. Fans of Judas Priest’s “Painkiller” take note — this band uses a similar mix of fast riffs and dramatic anthemic choruses.
5. Trench Hell – Southern Cross Ripper: This track could have come off a Diamond Head record, and shares a more intense version of the sensibility that band shared with Metallica and Blitzkrieg, in that this is high speed NWOBHM with melodic underpinnings and lots of fast strumming like the first Metallica album.
6-8. Dishammer – Bomb In the Womb/Smoke Of Death/Wish Of Suffering: No compilation would be complete without a Discharge tribute band, and an unusually metalish one here. The first track uses the same riff that graced not only Discharge but vaulted Disfear to prominence as the premiere track on “Soul Scars,” and other tracks are similar, probably best described as Discharge with small doses of Carcass and Autopsy in the rhythm section.
9-10. Manticore – Our Will Is His/Feast Of The Beast: This speed metal/black metal hybrid exceeds most USBM by keeping true to an idea per song, but gets lost in developing those ideas, so you end up with circular songwriting like the waning days of bands like Destruction, Artillery, Assassin and Nuclear Assault.
11-12. Profanatica – Black Cum/Christs Precious Blood Poisoned: Backing away from the more complex and melodic style of “Profanatitas de Domonatia,” Profanatica attempt to relive the days of their split with Masacre by reducing their music to its bare elements, but in doing so, lose a lot of their momentum. We don’t love you for making basic offensive statements, Mr. Ledney, we love you for making idiot savant metaphors of great clarity, both musical and lyrical.
13-14. Havohej – Kembatinan Premaster/Pious Breath: These tracks continue the Havohej experimentation from “Man and Djinn” that involves sampling noise to use in lieu of guitar, by using it like guitar. The difference isn’t great from standard black metal attic production of intense distortion, but the songs while ritualistic are mostly repetitive and never achieve the distinctive song structures of early Profanatica.
15-16. Arphaxat – Potrait D’un Pretre Debauche/Le Pacte Diabolique: This band makes another attempt to approach black metal as if it were a 1980s genre, taking a hybrid of Angelcorpse and Funeral Mist and giving it the distinctive percussion and catchy choruses of middle 1980s speed metal like Sodom.
17. Hunters Moon – A Light In the Abyss: Seemingly inspired by the first Immortal and second Burzum albums, this track consists of a trudging part, and a sweeping melodic part that resembles both “Call of the Wintermoon” and “Snu Mikrokosmos Tegn.” It’s not bad but the song doesn’t grow from this state, just cycles until it works itself up enough for a small explosion and foot-tapping, fist-pumping final chorus.
18-19. Atomizer – A Song to Swing To/All Disfigured and Blue: One of the more unusual things to cross my desk, these two tracks sound like The Smiths doing their version of a tribute to later Bathory; on both the vocals lead each piece like a small opera, with black metal and heavy metal riffs duking it out for support. Not everyone will like the style but this is a far more sensible direction for an indie/metal hybrid to take than the wishy-washy metalcore-cum-shoegaze/emo crap they’re pumping out of the US Northeast.
20. Atomic Aggressor – Bloody Ceremonial: During the early days of death metal, there were more bands that took this approach where a chanting hoarse voice entirely guides the music, so that an infectious rhythmic chant organizes the guitars and drums around it instead of being an instrument supporting the guitars. The problem is that this reduces music to a chant and compresses the development of the rest of the song.
21-23. Nunslaughter – Born In Hell/Power of Darkness/You Bleed: Nunslaughter is basic death metal with a heavy punk influence, a lot like Master but uptempo and charging like the first Death album. These tracks seem to be taken from different recordings and vary in quality, but expect ripping two chord riffs and hummable choruses.
You can get this CD from Hell’s Headbangers Records for free with any order. In their words, “FREE CD IN EVERY ORDER (included upon request – only valid for orders containing CDs, Vinyl, Shirts & Tapes). Simply add it to your shopping cart, you will not be charged any postage cost.” In addition, all Hell’s Headbangers compilations are streaming free online at the HHR website.
Antichrist are yet another group of millennials who want to LARP 1987 thirty years later. Sinful Birth is their second campaign in the eighties and of course Antichrist come armored with denim, leather, spandex and high tops of haste +2. Antichrist are of course of great appeal to the funderground as they ape records everyone loved as teenagers, they have riffs beer metallers have heard a thousand times before and can recognize whilst blacked out, and the vocalist isn’t aggravatingly annoying.
A member of 1970s British progressive rock band Beckett is suing Iron Maiden for a six line lyrical tribute in ‘”Hallowed Be Thy Name” off Number of the Beast to one of Steve Harris’s favorite prog rock songs, “Life’s Shadow”. Some random band manager Barry McKay is suing Iron Maiden on behalf of Brian “Ingham” Quinn, one of the two credited writers of “Life’s Shadow”. McKay is alleging that Iron Maiden came to a secret settlement with the other writer credited on the record, Bob Barton, and that Quinn really wrote the song himself back in 1969 rather than in the early 70s when both of them were in Beckett. Barton is also being sued and McKay is now trying to hit Iron Maiden up for a “few hundred pounds per live performance” for a license to perform their own music.