As long as Alestorm keep doing what they do I will continue to be entertained by them. They are incredible musicians and take folk metal down a unique path. The expectations for a band of their sort are pretty demanding though. You can’t just write good music; you have to be funny, kick ass, and do it all within a narrow context–in their case pirates.
Song: Back Through Time
Three albums in, Alestorm were probably feeling the drain on original material. At first they seemed to resolve it. Back Through Time opens with a GWARish novelty. The band stumble upon a portal into the past and wage war against vikings. With lines like “you put your faith in Odin and Thor, we put ours in cannons and whores,” the door was open to develop a clever concept album.
Song: Scraping the Barrel
Unfortunately, and rather irrationally, the new novelty is dropped almost as soon as they introduce it. They got my hopes up for a rival to GWAR’s Beyond Hell, and instead went right back to the same old topics from track 2 onwards. That’s fine, but Black Sails at Midnight really raised the bar from Captain Morgan’s Revenge. “I want more wenches and mead!” was thoroughly sufficient to amuse me on their first album, where pirate metal itself was still a novelty. On Black Sails the lyrics “matured”. They weren’t just silly, they were clever, well crafted, and effective. Epic tracks like Keelhauled and Pirate Song would have amounted to nothing if they were just more mindless clamorings for loose women and alcohol.
So the second track’s chorus of “Shipwrecked! Get drunk or die!” was a definite disappointment, even if it made me giggle. The rest of the album is pretty much the same mundane thing. A few absurd lines that make you smile every time (“Slap that midget with an oar! Remove his legs with a saw!”), and a lot of mindless demands for booze. I mean, it’s not that I don’t like it. Korpiklaani have been doing pretty much the same thing now for seven albums and I still listen to them obsessively. It’s just that I expected a little bit more lyrically out of Alestorm.
At least they know it. “Many have told us that we can’t go on–That one day we’ll run out of lyrics for songs. But when the time comes to write album four, we’ll scrape at the barrel once more!” It’s just that the whole pirate vs. viking thing seemed so promising and they went nowhere with it.
Song: Death Throes of the Terrorsquid
Among the album’s high points is a pretty epic grand finale. It’s something of a conclusion to the Black Sails track Leviathan. They lost to him last time, this time they win, simple enough. The lyrics are decidedly more creative than the rest of the album. That doesn’t exactly make them poetic, but they’re at least sufficient to not make a mockery of what is a really well written song. As the pirates reach their destination and the squid emerges, black metal vocalist Ken Sorceron of Abigail Williams takes up the mic to add a whole new level of intensity that I hope we’ll hear more of on their future releases. “Epic sea battle” isn’t a theme you exactly hear much of in music, and this song is Alestorm’s best effort to date at pulling it off.
But it’s not my favorite track.
Song: The Irish Descendants – Barrett’s Privateers
The only thing I might love more than Irish folk is Irish/Canadian sea shanties. Stan Rogers might not have written Barrett’s Privateers until 1976, but it became an instant, frequently covered classic of the genre, just as authentic as anything written in the 19th century. Alestorm have established a history of cover songs. Whether covering a proper song (Flower of Scotland on Captain Morgan’s Revenge), turning a shitty pop song into something amazing (Wolves of the Sea on Black Sails at Midnight), or just trolling the hell out of us (THIS fabulous atrocity on the LTD Edition of Back Through Time), Alestorm have been consistent about including at least one cover on every album. This is the first time they’ve tackled a song that was truly excellent in its original form however, and they pulled it off to perfection.
Song: Barrett’s Privateers
The fact that Týr frontman and folk metal god Heri Joensen appears to provide a guitar solo in the middle doesn’t hurt any.
All things considered, Back Through Time is nowhere near as good as Black Sails at Midnight and ranks slightly below Captain Morgan’s Revenge, but that’s no reason to avoid it. It’s still an entertaining ride from start to finish, and one I find myself putting on repeat on a regular basis. Check it out.