Review Summary: Ten swashbuckling pirate tunes; Alestorm proves themselves as more than just a cheap fad.
If you're a serious metal listener, after something bleak and brutal, then Alestorm, and their latest effort isn't for you. However if you're settling in for a cheerful drinking night with your mates and you want ten enthusiastic drinking anthems to accompany the whole intoxicated mayhem that follows, then look no further. I honestly don't think I've ever had this much fun with a metal album. Pirates have come back into fashion again in full swing, with the 'Pirates Of Caribbean' franchise smashing multiple box office records, so it's only fitting that a musical counterpart has presented itself. In case you haven't cottoned on to what this band is all about by now, Alestorm play what some have defined as 'Pirate Metal'; in essence it's a cross between folk and power metal. However after listening to the music, seeing the artwork, watching the music video and reading the lyrics, 'Pirate Metal' seems much more appropriate. After releasing their debut album, 'Captain Morgan's Revenge' critics were divided. While the album did receive some encouraging reviews, many pondered if there was anything else that was left to do in this very niche genre.
These fears were misplaced however, as 'Black Sails At Midnight' proves Alestorm are more than just a gimmick band. Yes it follows the same basic concept and formula of the first album, however everything has been taken to the next level; the diversity is greater, the songwriting is stronger, the instrumentation is richer. And through all this progression they've still managed to retain the sensational vibe of the first album, crafting a treasure chest of seaworthy pirate anthems. 'Quest' kicks off the album with fast paced riffs and swiftly pounding drums. The closest to a conventional power metal song on the album, it's also very theatrical and could almost be mistaken for a Rhapsody Of Fire or Sonata Arctica b-side, if not for the vocals. The vocals are - well just imagine what a pirate metal band's vocals would sound like and you'd be pretty spot on. Chris Bowes certainly has a rough pirate sounding voice; but it does wear a little thin after a few songs. He certainly doesn't scream or growl, but I'm not quite sure I'd call it singing either. Although he does attempt to sing in the general vicinity of the main melody, it's often a bit hit and miss and sometimes doesn't come through the harshly spoken lyrics. It especially apparent on the slower numbers, such as ballad 'To The End Of Our Days', which apart from a wonderfully traditional sounding singalong in the chorus, can be almost painful to listen to at times.
However it's obvious to see that this band isn't about displaying musical talent; it's just about having a bit of fun, 'Keelhauled' being a prime example of this. A hasty piano accordion riff leads us in, played by Chris Bowes on his key-tar (yes, you heard me; a key-tar), accompanied with some frantic violin work that will have you tapping your toes and humming along. However it's the chorus where things are at their best; the whole band joins in and sings the lyrics in unison;
"Keelhaul that filthy landlubber, send him down to the depths below! Make that bastard walk the plank with a bottle of run and a yo ho ho!"
As you can tell, it's not the most deep and meaningful lyrical content, however it's not trying to be. It's memorable, it's repetitive, but most importantly it's so dead simple that anybody could join in and sing along. See my problem with many bombastic power metal bands is that the vocalists have perfect pitch singing capabilities, creating beautiful operatic styled vocal lines, meaning they're often way above my pitiful one octave vocal range. In comparison it's obvious the members of Alestorm are not professionally trained or extremely talented in the vocal department, however this bridges the divide between band and audience, and it's hard to resist singing along whenever an Alestorm song comes on.
I guess it's the constant mixing up of styles and pace that keeps this album from becoming stale and repetitive. While on one hand you have songs such as 'That Famous Old Spiced' and 'Wolves Of The Sea', the latter being an inspired cover of a Eurovision song, which are both traditional grand old singalongs, with blaring trumpets and enough pirate cliches to sink a ship, you have theatrical epics such as 'Leviathan' and 'Chronicles Of Vengeance'. The album stops just short of being perfect however, as the same thing that makes it the worthy listen it is, is the album's major downfall; the key-tar. While the prominence of the key-tar taking lead melody is enjoyable and extremely cheerful, there's almost a key-tar solo on every song, and they easily outnumber the guitar solos, a strange occurrence for a power metal band, and it becomes tiresome. In any case, 'Black Sails At Midnight ' may not be the most technically impressive album to come out of the power metal scene in recent years, but it's certainly the most fun.
Chronicles Of Vengeance
Wolves Of The Sea