Saturday, February 13, 2021

CD Odyssey Disc 1449: Alestorm

In a coincidence bordering on the uncanny, this is the third straight review from the year 2008, all determined randomly. For the stat nerds out there, it is my 36th album reviewed from that year.

Disc 1449 is…. Captain Morgan’s Revenge

Artist: Alestorm

Year of Release: 2008

What’s up with the Cover?  The titular captain, presumably seeking revenge. He definitely has an enraged look on what’s left of his face. Some captains are accompanied by parrots, but Captain Morgan has gone with a zombie rat as his beloved pet.

And if I may just say once again, heavy metal consistently has the best album covers. It isn’t even close. Kudos to artist Ingo Romling for this one.

How I Came To Know It: I discovered Alestorm in 2017 when I heard “No Grave But the Sea” (reviewed back at Disc 1317) and began digging through their back catalogue. I couldn’t find “Captain Morgan’s Revenge” anywhere, and I must shamefully admit that I bought it off of Amazon after not being able to order it via my local record store. Not my finest moment.

How It Stacks Up: I have three Alestorm albums (and on the lookout for one more). Of the three I have, I put “Captain Morgan’s Revenge in at #2, barely behind “No Grave But the Sea”.

Ratings: 4 stars

A couple albums ago I reviewed a power metal band (Sabaton) that likes to sing about war…a lot. I don’t know what it is about European power metal, but it definitely attracts the thematically inclined. In the case of Alestorm, that theme is pirates. “Captain Morgan’s Revenge” is their first album, but the theme is already well established.

Before I get into all that piratical fun, a few notes on the music, so you’ll know what you’re getting into if you decide to check these guys out. Alestorm is a mix of Celtic folk melodies, mixed with power metal chords, crunchy guitar, barroom sing-a-long choruses and healthy helping of keytar. Yes, keytar. Think Dropkick Murphys but way heavier, and with a lot more eyepatch wearing.

It sounds a bit silly, and it is meant to be. Alestorm don’t take themselves seriously, and I don’t think they want their listeners to either. However, the musicianship is anything but silly. These guys can play. You’d be surprised how good a keytar can sound in the right hands (singer and “keytarist” Christopher Bowes plays with gusto). I was particularly impressed with the heavy hitting precision of drummer Ian Wilson. He really thumps it out with staccato brilliance, grounding these tunes with the driving energy they need to work. His double bass on “Wenches & Mead” is – as a pirate might say, “full-sail and hard over”.

Also, for a band that sings about only one topic, Alestorm manage to work in a lot of sub-styles in the field of metal. The title track is classic power metal, with soaring anthemic power chords (on guitar and keytar – can’t stress that enough), “Nancy the Tavern Wench” is essentially a barroom folk song that has been metalized, and “Death Before the Mast” and “Terror on the High Seas” work out some killer thrash/speed metal.

As for the topics, did I mention it involves pirates? Sometimes the pirates are at work, (“Over the Seas”, “Terror on the High Seas”) and other times we catch up with them in their leisure time, where they mostly get hammered and chase after women (“Nancy the Tavern Wench” and “Wenches & Mead” are pretty much exactly as their titles suggest).

The best tune on the album is the title track, which tells the tale of a mutiny, a curse, and a grim reckoning in the end for the crew at the gallows, depicted by Bowes as:

“At sunrise we'll all dance the hempen jig
So raise up your pint of rum and take another swig”

I assume from this that the condemned pirates got one last night of debauchery ere the end. Proof that even in the blackest of moments, Alestorm can always find time to squeeze in another round.

All this piraticism should get old quickly, but it doesn’t. Bowes’ vocals are raspy and infectious, and he is clearly having a good time inhabiting these rogues. With lyrics like this:

“When I come back from a mighty quest
I have no need for sleep or rest
I head to a tavern for a drink
And get so drunk I cannot think”

You shouldn’t be expecting any insightful poetry, but while the rhymes may be obvious, the band sings it with so much gusto, you don’t mind. Many of the songs have choruses designed for singing along as well, so feel free to join in.

Most of the band is from Scotland, and on album’s last track, they give their homeland a little love with a cover of the Corries folk classic “Flower of Scotland.” It has a bit more thump than the original, as you might expect, but remains a ton of patriotic fun.

Fun is the name of the game on this record. Don’t expect a lot of insight into the human condition. Just sit back and have a good time.

Best tracks: Captain Morgan’s Revenge, Nancy the Tavern Wench, Death Before the Mast, Terror on the High Seas, Wenches & Mead

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