You have got to give it to them: Whatever Christopher Bowes and his gang of merry troubadours touch is fun to listen to. Sometimes too intense for their own good or slightly overdone in reckless cheesiness, but never too serious. And always delivered with an eyewink of sorts. Their personas reach from the Davy Jones infested waters of Alestorm to galaxy hopping goblins in Gloryhammer.
Now this time we descend from bewildering space goblins to some more basic needs Heavy Metal pirates have. And turn the clock back to 2014, when Alestorm‘s fourth full length record Sunset on the Golden Age saw the light of day.
Pirate Metal has been around for a while already. Running Wild and their third album kind of kicked this new genre off its stand, but it continued to dwell in relative oblivion for a long while. And before the purist rip out a plank to make yours truly walk over it: I do know that there is a score of them in the market in the meantime. Bands like Lagerstein, Swashbuckle, Silverbones – to name just a few; and they are all pretty awesome in their own way.
Now, Alestorm really gave the ailing genre a mighty push. A dark storm to send this black pirate ship racing down the seas before the wind. Their tracks are funny, kind of light on the theme and sometimes on the verge to drown in abject silliness. However, I respect them for their ability to mix silliness and fun with stellar folksy Power Metal. Or power-laden Folk Metal, whichever pleases you best. Because underneath the fun you will find a serious steeliness and a staunch musical prowess that will end up convincing you. You will even find some pretty hardy solos scattered throughout the album. For example in Mead from Hell and Surf Squid Warfare.
Whilst the flagship track Drink walks straight into a beer swirling, dance-on-the-table quagmire, you got more serious pieces like the Magnetic North. And the band went out of their way to slap some Hardcore into the middle to highlight the more dramatic passages.
Another attempt at seriousness is the story of the battle of Cartagena of 1741. A true tale – by the way – with an outrageous outcome for the British Empire back then. In essence, Sunset on the Golden Age gets you a strange mix of light fun and more solemn subjects addressed with some gusto. Plus a few serious duds that somehow got into the track list – like the punky Wooden Leg or Hangover (Tao Cruz cover) – to name just two of them.
Now, the main issue with the album is this weird mix of dry no-nonsense parts of attempted seriousness and the attacks of gunpowder clouded general silliness. Not surprisingly, those don’t mix well – at all. I get it that the band does not take itself all that seriously, yet if you try to switch the beer songs with more sturdy tracks like Sunset on the Golden Age (the title track) things can become mighty confusing. Especially if the vocal style does not really change. And the band does not foresee any preparation in song structures.
Now, for those enjoying the DeLuxe version of the record, you will find a score of unplugged, acoustic tracks on the second disc from older albums. Those are very recommendable and give you yet another inkling of the band’s many talents. I – for one – was sometimes unsure if their vocation should not shift to the acoustic, more folksy domain entirely. But then this may be just me.
So, should we keelhaul the filthy lads of Alestorm or – instead – serve them an extra tot of rum for this album? By and large, Sunset on a Golden Age is great fun to listen to. Not taking their metal all too seriously and the inherenet silliness notwithstanding, the album still delivers a serious slice of steely metal. All this consigned by very talented musicians, inebriated as they may be after all that beer guzzling. You’ll even forgive them for the scratchy switch from serious to funny and back. As Pirate Metal goes, I will take Alestorm over the rest of the squadron anytime. So, let’s go ahead and open this barrel of rum.
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