WARNING: Do not attempt this at home, unless you enjoy suffering. After reading, do not stick your fingers in your eyes or near other precious body parts. Don’t do that after eating hot sauce, either.
A spicy metal show hits the Music Hall of Williamsburg on August 18 featuring High on Fire, Pallbearer, Venomous Maximus, and Lucifer.
What makes this show spicy? For starters, High on Fire is one of many heavy bands who have a hot sauce bearing their name. It’s also a little-known fact that Trevi Biles, bass player of Houston’s Venomous Maximus, handcrafts several of these rockin’ hot sauces, including High on Fire’s. Inspired by this late-summer convergence of heat and hard music, I thought, “Why not try some heavy metal hot sauce?” Heck, why not try ’em all?
The inadvisable nature of this endeavor became apparent about halfway through. Being from Texas, I tend to have a high tolerance for spicy food, despite also having Crohn’s disease. (Don’t ask me how that’s possible, because I don’t have a clue.) Nevertheless, over the course of this experiment, my Tex-pat ego was humbled. Taste buds went numb. Mucosal membranes begged silently for mercy. Intestines threatened to mutiny. In short, this whole thing was an insane idea.
I sampled (and re-sampled) as many musical hot sauces as I could get my hands on. Here they are, ranked highly subjectively from mildest to most brutal, with metal horns — m/ — serving as a heat index. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Why does this liquid come in a bottle labeled “hot sauce”? The contents are not hot. Not even close. The mastermind responsible, guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal of Chinese Democracy–era Guns N’ Roses, hails from Brooklyn, and he offers a trilogy of sauces, “Normal” being the mildest. Truly, he seems to have confused crushed tomatoes with spice. Psh. Amateur mistake.
Brutality: m (That’s a half-horn.)
If condiments were the animal kingdom, these sauces by Dexter Holland of the Offspring would be the purring lap-cats. They’re tame, similar to the weather in California whence the Offspring sprang. The easily palatable flavors approximate those duos of free salsa served with tortilla chips at a dive Mexican cantina (except not in New York, because nothing here is free). They win the award for most amusing nutritional label: “Hot sauce really doesn’t have nutritional value. It’s vinegar and peppers, for God’s sake. What did you expect? Why are you even trying to determine the nutritional value of hot sauce? Just enjoy it!”
Stoner rockers Fu Manchu, from San Clemente, California, are currently truckin’ on their 25th anniversary tour — that is to say, they are literally burning road. Their hot sauce by the same name, made by Big Daddy’s (Trevi Biles), is a slow burner with many ingredients. The key players are pineapple, Worcestershire sauce, mustard powder, and a bit of jolokia pepper. As a standalone, it’s not a standout, but added to a stir-fry, it takes on bigger dimensions. It’s a food-improver with the right pairing.
The obvious question here is whether any sauce can be as hot as Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein himself. The answer is no. Still, this brew is pretty tasty. Fans of Crystal (pronounced “kris-STAHL” in northern Louisiana) may recognize a familiar cayenne base; it’s been Jersey’d up with subtle additions of basil and oregano. Made in Hell is made in small batches that sell out soon after being stocked. At least its desirability rivals that of its namesake.
“Hardcore” describes this NYC band’s music, but their sauce packs more complexity than punch — and that’s not a bad thing. The combination of applesauce, dates, and molasses with three varieties of pepper yields a sweetness that’s downright dessert-like. Call it the Gewürtztraminer of hot sauces. I sprinkled it on bourbon vanilla ice cream conveyed bowl-to-mouth via a piece of 85% dark chocolate, and, yes, it was strangely delicious.
Brutality: m/ m
Although this sauce comprises four respectable chiles (pequin, naga jolokia, guajillo, and árbol), it doesn’t register as very intense on the tongue. Sure, there’s a zing at the end of that slightly honeyed undertone, but in light of the bountiful ingredients, I wanted more pep from this flask. In its defense, this is one of the more versatile sauces on the list — meaning it’ll blend right in to whatever you add it to. But if that’s what you’re looking for, why not just grab a Tabasco?
Brutality: m/ m/
Oh, this sauce is naughty. Smokiness wafts from the opened bottle. I imagine Bettie Page–shaped pin-up jalapeños wearing polka-dot bikinis, sunning themselves on the hood of a red convertible until they’re as bronzed as the California Raisins. After dark, they climb into the backseat at the Fifties drive-in movie and smolder under the stars. This sultry sauce named for an Austin blues-rock band tastes as scrumptious as it smells.
Brutality: m/ m/
There’s something tropical going on here. Hawaiian psychedelic. Hippie luau. I’m seeing backyard swimming pools with plastic floating booze koozies shaped like pink flamingos. Pineapple and orange trip out in inner tubes while habanero mans the grill. Tempered with brown sugar and St. Arnold’s Lawnmower beer, the bite of the pepper mellows down; perhaps he’s been toking on the same pipe as his fruity friends. Carnivorous foodies will enjoy this on pork.
Brutality: m/ m/
Bumblefoot: sauce two of three. He’s trying to get creative now. It looks like he opened up his kitchen cabinet and shoved everything from fruit to vitamins into the blender. We’ve got papaya, guava, honey mustard, turmeric, ginger, caffeine, ginseng. (Is it supposed to be an aphrodisiac?) Apparently there’s some habanero in there, too, because the longer it sits in my fridge, the spicier it gets.
Brutality: m/ m/ m
When a hot sauce or salsa attempts to be Italian, it usually doesn’t work out. Spicy marinara does not a hot sauce make. Happily, Liquid Arson sidesteps that pitfall with a flavor profile (rosemary, oregano, and thyme) offering legitimate utility in the kitchen. You can use this handy sauce to zest pizza and pasta with serrano, cayenne, and scorpion peppers, thus making cheap meals infinitely more metal. Warm kudos to Mr. Foresta of Virginia’s Iron Reagan and Municipal Waste for devising this concoction.
Brutality: m/ m/ m/
For all I know, there might be some New Orleans voodoo happening in this bottle. Trevi of Big Daddy’s hasn’t released this product yet; the bottle he shipped had “Goatwhore” scrawled in black marker on the side. Without a list of ingredients to read, I was tasting blind, and the mystery was compelling. Most of Big Daddy’s sauces feature Worcestershire and beer, and this one seems to follow suit. But I’d be lying if I said my palate could accurately discern anything else. It’s hot and yummy, and I hope they name it after the song “FBS” (Fucked by Satan).
Brutality: m/ m/ m/
Good news, vegetarians! This powerful sauce named for the NOLA sludge band Eyehategod elevates all grilled vegetables to deified heights. Specifically suggested by its maker as a marinade for portobello mushrooms, it boasts the “holy trinity” of Cajun cooking: onions, bell peppers, celery, and garlic. (The question of why four ingredients equals a trinity is best left for Louisianans to explain.) It’s unclear whether the red peppers used here are as holy as the traditional green bell peppers. I’m no expert on the holiness of peppers, so I won’t wager a guess.
Brutality: m/ m/ m/
4. High on Fire
Matt Pike of High on Fire says he’s (mostly) sober these days. If he wants a nice hit of endorphins, he could take a swig from this bottle. New York illustrator Arik Roper fashioned the gnarly wolf creature on the label, so it complements the High on Fire album covers he’s designed. Note the fresh habanero seeds floating around inside: They ain’t no joke. Who needs a brewsky when you’ve got this sparky high in your culinary arsenal?
Brutality: m/ m/ m/ m/
This is The One: the perfect marriage of bliss and pain, of flavor and discomfort, of brio and punishment. Seven simple ingredients combined by the Tears of Joy store in Austin complete this sauce named for the town’s top metal band. Habanero and jolokia peppers join lime juice, garlic, and salt for a taste of the best of Texas. For a moment, I can almost forget all the crazy that comes out of that state; this feels like a utopian homage to the good parts.
Brutality: m/ m/ m/ m/
Ouch. The D.C. hardcore punk legends Bad Brains have selected the 7 pod (a/k/a 7 pot) pepper to fire up this sauce. The pepper is related to the extremely hot scorpion pepper and originated in Trinidad, which seems appropriate given the reggae stylings the rockers also favor. The label warns, “Use with extreme caution!!!” That’s wise advice. Each drop of this stuff unleashes a genuine sting. It purports to be a “fearless vampire killer,” and the temperature is convincing.
Brutality: m/ m/ m/ m/ m
Upon opening, the transgressive aroma of Eau de Truck Stop affronts the nostrils. The ingredients list tamarind, which is unusual. The taste is…rubber tires? Gasoline? Oh, dear God. It’s raging hot. Blazing hot! It doesn’t deserve to be this hot! I’m running to the kitchen for a glass of cold milk chased by a glass of cold water with baking soda (homemade Alka-Seltzer), followed by the lone piece of cheddar cheese in my refrigerator. Holy shit, Bumblefoot! What the hell did you put in that sauce? The pain keeps coming. I’m crying. I could die right here, you know. I could wake up in the hospital, or worse, not wake up — in the hospital. Death by hot sauce. What is this aftertaste? Armadillo scraped off Highway 71? What the fuck? How is this even food?
The label says “not for beginners.” I don’t know who this is for. It certainly lives up to its name.
Brutality: m/ m/ m/ m/ m/
Got a heavy metal hot sauce we haven’t tried yet? Send it on over and we’ll give it a taste.
Thank you iBurn, Tears of Joy, Big Daddy’s, Bruce Miyaki of the Doyle camp, Heartbreaking Dawn’s, and Bad Brains management for supplying these bottles of pleasure…and pain. High on Fire play the Music Hall of Williamsburg on August 18, but no word yet as to whether or not they’ll be hawking sauce at the merch table. Ticket information can be found here.