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White Wizard The Devils Cut Critical Thinking

Round 1d of the 2017 Bottom Shelf Bourbon Brackets features Division 2 Number 2 seed Jim Beam Devil's Cut versus Number 3 seed Jim Beam Double Oak. 

I think this is an interesting match-up. Both of these bourbons are products of Beam-Suntory, produced at one of the two Jim Beam distilleries in either Clermont or Boston, Kentucky. Both of these products are non-age stated bourbons, meaning they are at least four years old. And both of these are attempts to add more oak than standard Jim Beam white. Devil's Cut does it by shaking the barrels with water to draw out some of the residual bourbon locked in the staves and using that to proof down the finished bourbon. Double Oak does it by putting the "fully-matured" white label bourbon into a second new, charred-oak barrel for a while.

These were tasted blind in the following order. My thoughts on each are from before the reveal.

Jim Beam Double Oak

Purchase Info: $19.99 for a 1 Liter bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN

Details: 43% ABV, no age statement.

Produced by: Jim Beam Distillery (Beam-Suntory)

Nose: Grain initially. After a bit, it settled down to mint, buttered popcorn, and brown sugar.

Mouth: Peppery heat, shortbread cookies, grain, and oak. 

Finish: Short side of medium length with peppery heat and peanut.

Pre-Reveal Thoughts: It's amazing how different a bourbon can be when you taste it side-by-side with something than it was when you tasted it alone. I'm getting much more grain on this than I remember getting on either of these when I previously reviewed them.

Jim Beam Devil's Cut

Purchase Info: $19.99 for a 1 Liter bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN

Details: 45% ABV, no age statement.

Produced by: Jim Beam Distillery (Beam-Suntory)

Nose: Alcohol, generic fruit gum, grain, and hints of mint.

Mouth: Vanilla sugar, oak, and baking spices. 

Finish: Medium with some heat, lingering dark chocolate, and peanut notes. 

Pre-Reveal Thoughts: Sweet with a richer flavor profile than the other one. The dark chocolate on the finish seals this one for me. 

Who wins?

Two bottles from the same producer. Both different ways of trying to accomplish the same goals. Both closer than I remembered them from previous reviews. Am I starting to like Jim Beam? I guess we will find out next time when Jim Beam Devil's Cut and all the other round-one winners compete for the Fancy Shelf Title. Stay tuned!

White Wizzard // The Devil’s Cut
Rating: 5.0/5.0 — A (post?) modern heavy metal classic.
Label:Earache Records
Websites:whitewizzardofficial.com  |  myspace.com/whitewizzard
Release Date: EU: Out now!  |  NA: 06.25.2013 |

Everything about this record is perfect. From the wacky, bright, colorful and sharp-looking album artwork to the catchy operatic singing, Los Angeles band White Wizzard makes sure that every detail not only pays homage to traditional heavy metal, but is also (more importantly) given a modern touch as well.

The musical similarities to earlier heavy metal bands (especially Judas Priest and Iron Maiden) can definitely be heard [O RLY? – AMG]. But the music sounds a little too modern to be considered “traditional heavy metal.” For one, the technical complexity of the instrumental performances is definitely in line with the modern phenomenon of there being many young metal instrumentalists who can play the crap out of their gear. Yet the band keeps in mind the golden rule of writing good, non-avant-garde music: songs with simple structures that are easy to follow and digest.

What stands out most in this album is the chemistry between guitarists Jake Dreyer and Will Wallner. Right from the bouncy introduction of opening instrumental track “Forging the Steel”, you can hear their signature dual-lead-guitar attack, which is very capable of coaxing one’s brain to become an endorphin junkie [You mean Murray and Smith by ‘they,’ right? – AMG]. The sheer freshness of hearing this intricate and melodic cooperative guitar playing immediately gives you a hunch that the rest of the album is not going to disappoint.

Every subsequent track not only contains this exemplary coordinated guitar playing, but smokin’ guitar solos and licks, tight and technical drumming and insanely memorable vocal hooks as well. In fact, even the breakdowns sound awesome. For example, the one heard from 4:41 to 5:34 in “Strike the Iron” re-appropriates the hitherto negative word of “breakdown” into a positive one. One will never remember it as single-note, palm-muted riffs again.

The next thing that grabs one’s attention like an Alien butthugger drawn to Ace Ventura’s butt is vocalist Joseph Michael’s powerful clean singing, which is reminiscent of the vocal work of such legendary singers as Judas Priest’s Rob Halford and Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson. His operatic and frequently stratospheric singing often alters between the tenor and alto vocal ranges as and when necessary, and it is at its very best when dishing out extremely catchy lines such as “Raise your sword and point it to the SKKKYYYYYY!!!!1 (“Strike The Iron”) and “It’s like lightning in my HAAAAANDS, eeeelectric Sun AND steel!” (“Lightning In My Hands”)

Michael also often self-harmonizes to great effect (e.g. “Strike the Iron”, “Kings of the Highway Hell” and “Lightning in My Hands”), which gives his singing a rich texture and keeps it sounding varied and interesting. There is never a moment when Michael resorts to using a ‘speaking’ voice to take up precious bits. All he does is belt out very melodic clean singing and addictive vocal hooks, and that is all that people really want to hear in their heavy metal.

There is one dude with a music degree in this group, and boy does he prove that official certification can mean something in the largely anti-establishment realm of heavy metal. He is none other than drummer Giovanni Dürst, and he is from the Berklee College of Music. His drumming is technically intricate and serves as a reliable metronome for the rest of his band mates despite frequent time signature changes.

As with any great modern metal record, the bass line plays more than just a simple accompaniment role here. Frontman and bassist Jon Leon doesn’t relegate his musical line to being mere harmonic accompaniment, for he makes it stand out at times with groovy, blues-based motifs (“Strike the Iron”, “Steal Your Mind” and “Storm Chaser”) that will be copied and pasted into one’s mental repository of humming melodies. Leon also wrote the lyrics, some of which deal with organized religion’s practice of encouraging herd mentality among its followers, and while they are certainly unoriginal, at least one could interpret them as being a cheeky postmodern parody of old heavy metal stereotypes.

With a vivid piece of artwork, cliché but apt lyrics, potent clean singing and the effective combination of technically complex instrumentals and structurally simple songs, White Wizzard has crafted a record that will be remembered by us and known to posterity as an early 21st Century heavy metal classic. Break out the wallets and start throwing wads of cash at their homepage or the Earache Records online shop!