May 3, 2016

Alestorm: Captain Morgan's Revenge (2008)

As part of my informal tour through weird heavy metal genres, which has included cello metal, goth metal and kawaii metal, it was fairly inevitable that I would get around to one of my favourites: pirate metal. Scottish metal band Alestorm has been around since 2004 - originally under the name Battleheart - and has become an immensely popular cult favourite thanks to their combination of thrashing metal guitars and sea shanty lyrics.

While it seems inevitable that there will be audiences out there who treat Alestorm with undue seriousness, for me they are hysterically funny. In concert lead singer Christopher Bowes dives headlong into character, egging his audience on to join him in shouting "y'arr!!" and raising their drinks while calling them "me hearties". The genius of the band is that, while they are all enthusiastically riffing on a silly joke, they are all genuinely talented musicians. Alestorm may be silly, but they are a technically brilliant and energised sort of of silly. Captain Morgan's Revenge was their first studio album, released back in 2008. It's an absolute riot.

"Over the Seas" is a great high energy introduction to the band, with fantastic guitar riffs and keyboard sequences, all pulled together with ridiculously over-the-top lyrics about sailing the seas for treasure. It is immediately followed by "Captain Morgan's Revenge", a great little narrative song about a crew of pirates cursed after betraying their captain. It pushes the balance between pirate shanty and metal song a fair way further towards the sea-faring end of the spectrum.

As the album goes on it is surprising how much variety Alestorm can pull out of a very narrow genre niche. "Huntmaster" is an incredibly fast, energetic number, but hot on its heels comes "Nancy the Tavern Wench" - a much slower and more traditional sort of pirate song. "Death Before the Mast" is correspondingly faster and heavier. Back and forth it goes, varying both tempo and tone. Probably because of the narrow band within which the band operates there is a remarkably consistency to the album: they're all solid and entertaining but do have a tendency to blend together somewhat when listened to all at once.

"Of Treasure" is an unexpectedly pleasant stand-out: a much more traditional sounding, broadly acoustic number than anything else on the album. It's followed by the deliberately silly "Wenches & Mead", a song better experienced live than heard on the album, and finally by "Flower of Scotland": a patriotic cover version of the famous Corries song. It's a nice touch, but not particularly engaging.

Armed with talent and humour Alestorm make a pretty entertaining impact. They are not the sort of band you are going to listen to on a regular basis I suspect, and with repeated albums their appeal may fall for a lot of listeners, but if you were after after an album to pull out and tell your friends "No, no, listen to this - it's insane", they fit the bill pretty much to perfection.

Average score: 3.3

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm, not bad, although the vocals didn't quite do it for me.
    If you want some retro-Pirate-metal, try this one - Death or Glory, by Running Wild, from ... 1989 :)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8NnYi6ZSE8

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