Black pearls give way to glittering fruit.
Despite being roughly 14 years to the day that Alestorm (then known as Battleheart) first broke onto the power metal scene, it seems as if only yesterday that the swashbuckling historicism of Running Wild was given a comical, Disney-like twist. In his defense, mastermind, lead vocalist and now lone founding member Christopher Bowes has made no secret of his penchant for inducing laughter while recounting the past exploits of piracy on the high seas. Nevertheless, there was a high degree of musical competency behind the jests and folksy jostling of 2008’s “Captain Morgan’s Revenge” that merited their notoriety, and despite losing a certified surgeon on lead guitar in Gavin Harper soon after, this magical formula continued on with largely consistent results and provided a highly interesting yet gimmicky foil to Turisas, Korpiklaani and the rest of the folk metal wave of the 2000s.
It should be stressed that with any shifts in lineup that occur over the course of a career, will naturally come changes in presentation, even when the dominant force in the band is consistently present. For all of Alestorm’s consistent reliance upon lyrical high jinks and Bowes’ larger-than-life cliché pirate vocal persona, this is a band that has been evolving in terms of style. Their sixth studio LP “Curse Of The Crystal Coconut” definitely leans heavy on the folk elements, particularly emphasizes the violin as a dominant melodic foil to the punchy riff work and generally punk-like demeanor of the rhythm section that one might expect out of Elvenking, if said band was focused upon keelhauling their adversaries rather than quelling them with woodland spells. Nevertheless, while the bow-stringed excellence of guest instrumentalist Ally Storch-Hukriede drives much of this album’s distinctiveness, guitarist and technician Mate Bodor proves no slouch and shreds up some solos that match Harper’s contributions to Alestorm’s formative days.
In similar to fashion to much of what has followed since the close of the 2000s, this album follows a scheme of pounding out the drinking song fanfare at an upper mid-tempo and only occasionally turns on the afterburners. Generally punk-like anthems of throwing caution to the four winds while also hoping that the sails catch a bit of them in “Pirate Metal Drinking Crew” and “Treasure Chest Party Quest” are more fun than they are intricate, while the island music-infused “Tortuga” throws about every musical novelty at the listener, including a jarring interlude into hip-hop territory that’s a tad awkward next to the lofty chorus material. Pile on top a couple of brief stints into overt drinking song territory that goes a bit heavy on the Korpiklaani and Finntroll parallels like “Pirate’s Scorn” and “Shit Boat (No Fans)” with lyrics tongue-in-cheek enough to make Jersey death thrashing jokers Swashbuckle seem serious, and it seems as though Alestorm has all but abandoned their power metal roots.
This isn’t to say that putting greater emphasis on the folk metal side of the coin is a bad thing, but Alestorm’s charm has always been in their ability to balance out the overtly infectious sea shanty gimmicks with some speed and gusto. Thankfully the silliness is accompanied by some cruising, gallop-happy goodness like “Fannybaws” and even a Helloween-infused beast of a speeder in “Call Of The Waves”, both of them underscoring Bodor’s soloing chops while still maintaining the violin and quasi-symphonic elements at the periphery. The somewhat more streamlined yet heavy-hitting bruiser “Chomp Chomp” showcases a riff set that’s a good bit busier and veering a tad towards thrash territory. But the biggest boon to power metal junkies has to be “Wooden Leg Part 2 (The Woodening)”, which sees them channeling all the epic moments of their early days into a song that is essentially a comical sequel to a brief novelty pick off of “Sunset On The Golden Age”, resulting in a fun filled musical adventure that reminds every millennial power metal revivalist why the style keeps them coming back for more.
Though this doesn’t quite stack up to the same degree of compelling music meshed with comical antics that was “Captain Morgan’s Revenge”, or the two similarly styled offerings that immediately followed it, this gets the job done and will likely agree with just about every steadfast fan of folk metal out there that doesn’t mind laughing in between head-banging. The novelty of a band of Scottish rogues turning the hardship steeped life of piracy into a Saturday morning cartoon has worn a bit thin, but the staying power of a group of seasoned musicians who aren’t in the business to be taken too seriously while entertaining the metal masses with something a bit lighter hearted is still apparent. Christopher Bowes’ musical brand is something of an acquired taste, but given the ongoing success of both this outfit and his more recent concoction Gloryhammer, it’s one where the acquisition isn’t terribly difficult.
Released by: Napalm Records
Released Date: May 29th, 2020
Genre: Power Metal
- Christopher Bowes / Lead vocals, keytar
- Máté Bodor / Guitars
- Gareth Murdock / Bass
- Elliot Vernon / Keyboards, unclean vocals
- Peter Alcorn / Drums
“Curse Of The Crystal Coconut” Track-list:
- Treasure Chest Party Quest
- Chomp Chomp” (Featuring Mathias “Vreth” Lillmåns)
- Tortuga” (Geaturing Captain Yarrface)
- Zombies Ate My Pirate Ship” (Geaturing Patty Gurdy)
- Call of the Waves
- Pirate’s Scorn
- Shit Boat (No Fans)
- Pirate Metal Drinking Crew
- Wooden Leg Pt. 2 (The Woodening) (Featuring Daiki Tatsuguchi, Kaelhakase and Fernando Rey)
- Henry Martin
Scotland’s buccaneering answer to Weird Al Yankovic continues his quest for a lighter hearted take on marauding across the Caribbean than even the likes of Disney, yet still manages plenty of solid power metal anthems with the usual sea shanty twists