Review Summary: Alestorm's first full-length heartily embraces the tales of pirating and spins them into a wild, sinful romp of alcohol, plundering, and metal.
Metal’s ocean has been charted the same way one too many times. Destinations previously stated unknown have proven time and time again that they are in fact replicas of past jaunts. With the general metal population vigorously gobbling down any similar sound thrown onto their plate, record labels constantly search for the repeated tones that echo congruent to one another in an effort to churn a profit. Throughout these seas of monotony, Alestorm have found their course.
Taking influences from bands such as Korpiklaani and Turisas, Alestorm bestow a Scottish folk influence upon their work with strong tints of power metal. This alone might not sound like anything new, but their theme is, quite plainly, pirates. Running Wild might have pioneered the pirate theme with “Under Jolly Roger”, but in reality, they only scraped at the surface of pirate folklore. Alestorm, on the other hand (or hook), heartily embrace the tales of pirating and spin them into a wild, sinful romp of alcohol, plundering, and metal.
Upon hearing the first sea-faring riffs of “Over the Sea”, a yarn depicting the voyage to claim buried treasure, the impact is immediate: they really do love pirates. Unlike most “gimmick bands” (which Alestorm distances themselves from), if the pirate theme was to be taken away, you’d still be left with passionate music. Christopher Bowes, the vocalist/keyboardist, sounds like a mangy old drunkard of a buccaneer who hasn’t seen the shore in ages, while Gavin (guitar) seems to have a brig filled to the brim of enticing leads and rhythms. The grog-chugging “Wenches and Mead” is a profound avowal to the musicianship of Alestorm, which has the crew call forth their listeners to partake in the damnable desires of liquor and the lewdness of wenches by throwing Bowe’s mesmerizing keyboards center-stage and allowing Gavin’s thickly-chopped riffs to drive the melodies home.
After a period of using a drum machine, Alestorm picked up drummer Ian Wilson, who brings a much more human feel to the music (i.e. “Set Sail and Conquer”, which now features a thundering short drum solo). While tracks on Alestorm’s past work sounded a bit monotonous due to the programming of the machine, Ian is constantly working innovatively behind his kit with well-executed fills and styles. That’s not the only difference found on “Captain Morgan’s Revenge”, since now the band has forsaken their past "D" tuning in favor of "C", which makes the songs feel a bit more powerful and upbeat. Take for instance “Terror on the High Seas”, which on the past EP of the same name felt a bit detached from itself at points; well, not anymore! The newly tuned track is alive and full of spunk, with Gavin displaying his influences on heavier metal with thrash-tinted riffs. As great as it is to hear all of the old tracks updated with better production, tuning, and an actual drummer, it’s a bit frustrating that there’s only four new tracks (excluding the cover “Flower of Scotland”).
That is not to say that the new songs do not equate to the splendor of the old ones, because they do. The ferocious, bass-chugging “Death Before the Mast” could be the heaviest song Alestorm have recorded yet, while the acoustic, folky “Of Treasure” is a wonderful break from the rest of the album as it tells a tale of woe and treasure. The other two new tracks, “Captain Morgan’s Revenge” and “The Huntmaster” are simply extraordinary. The title track is a storming account of mutinous pirates and the curse that takes them to the gallows to perform the “Hempen Jig” at the end of their rope. Gavin’s short solo is impeccable; with a lead played overtop fleeting notes that seem to shoot straight from the ocean itself. Immediately following, “The Huntmaster” takes a more straightforward approach, and its appeal will easily reach to modern head bangers. Not to mention it possesses some hilariously outrageous lyrics, such as “Up from the bowls of hell he sailed / wielding a tankard of freshly brewed ale” and constant shouts of “With the power of ale / he could not fail!” Needless to say, Bowes drunken persona once again reigns unparalleled.
“Captain Morgan’s Revenge” delivers the goods; in fact, it delivers a keg-full of them. Instead of using the pirate gimmick to garner some attention and supplement as an annoying crutch, Alestorm uses it to bolster what would have already been a memorable experience. On “Nancy the Tavern Wench”, the boys invite you to come take a drink with them. Do it, because more than not it will end up as one of the best decisions you’ll make this year.