I almost didn’t bother with this album.
Alestorm is the brainchild of singer, songwriter and exquisite keytarist Christopher Bowes (perhaps also renowned for his integral role in Gloryhammer, another silly band, only about dragons and fantasy), having taken the power metal scene by storm from their 2008 debut, Captain Morgan’s Revenge and 2014’s powerful Sunset on the Golden Age. Alestorm has been responsible, chiefly, for the rise of ‘pirate metal’ in recent years – though, of course, whether this is really a subgenre in the first place is up for discussion – inspiring bands such as Rumahoy and Paddy and the Rats.
They’re also incredibly silly, combining traditional folk and shanties of the sea with power metal and orchestral elements; as well as penning anthems around Mexican stereotypes, wooden legs, cheap pubs under the sea and generally being sodomised by anchors. The result; a half-serious attempt at genuinely good power metal. 2017’s No Grave but the Sea showcased some of the band’s best work, and longtime fans of the band were pumped for their sixth studio release.
On the 2nd April this year, Alestorm released the debut single of their new record, Curse of the Crystal Coconut, aptly named ‘Treasure Chest Party Quest’. It had a laughable music video, nice guitar licks from axe-captain Mate Bodor and even a good bit of violin thrown in. But it just wasn’t… great. The lyrics dealt with the band laughing at how un-Alestorm the song and its contents were, with lyrics like ‘We’re only here to get lit, talk s**t’ and ‘make loads of money’. And that’s fine; it was refreshing to see Alestorm shrug off the chains of ‘having to be pirate-y’ and ‘sing shanties with some guitar over the top’. I wasn’t expecting a Rumours 2. I just wasn’t blown away.
Then the band released ‘Tortuga’ and I was about ready to eject the new record into the outer reaches of known space. It’s clear the band deliberately released the album’s dregs first – possibly in order to create backlash and publicity, possibly just as a big ‘f**k you’ to critics and elitists. There are those who wish for Alestorm to return to a more speed metal origin. And the band have certainly crossed the threshold into heavy metal, thrash, death – with ‘unclean vocals’ provided by keyboardist Elliot Vernon – folk, even techno at times – but ‘Tortuga’ isn’t really any of that. Featuring the overdone character of Captain Yarrface from fellow pirate band, Rumahoy, it goes for a more rap/poppy nature (I say ‘overdone’ because creating deliberately awful characters has now seemingly seeped into long-standing power metal tradition, and though sometimes it pays off, most of the time it’s just frustrating and cringe-inducing). But whilst I have no problem with rap or pop; it certainly isn’t what I expect when I tapped ‘play’ on a new Alestorm release.
Fast forward to the band’s third single, ‘Fannybaws’ – yes, it’s Scottish slang for an idiot or young one, but it also has ‘fanny’ in the name so naturally Alestorm had to pilfer it for something – and I was blown away. It remains one of the album’s highlights; with catchy ‘Woah-oh!’s, bizarre lyrics, maritime feel and infectious violin. The music video also features Peter Dinklage. It’s the epitome of Alestorm; proving hilarious and headbanging in equal measure, especially as the song’s climax reaches ‘Universe on Fire’ levels of EDM. It will no doubt become a live staple; especially for Scottish fans who shall delight in the song’s generous use of classic highland slang.
‘Chomp Chomp’ is sea shanty injected with double doses of power metal and sounds absolutely brilliant. With lines like ‘If you find a giant caiman, you’re gonna have a really bad day, man’ and namechecking Aussie filmstar Russell Crowe with a giant crossbow, ‘Chomp Chomp’ is just ridiculous. And yet also very catchy. Then again, that could sum up most of Alestorm, and most of this album (except ‘Tortuga’. Get back in the naughty corner with you). This track even develops a very folky-metal sound toward the end (echoing the likes of Ensiferum and Tyr), with authentic hurdy gurdy and vocals from Mathias ‘Vreth’ Lillmans of Finntroll fame; a folk metal outfit from Finland.
For those familiar with Gloryhammer’s newest album, Legends from Beyond the Galactic Terrorvortex, the next track is perhaps comparable to its ‘Power of the Laser Dragon Fire’. ‘Zombies Ate My Pirate Ship’ has that epic feel; with great, goosebump-inducing chorus and surprise female vocals from Patty Gurdy (also wielding the hurdy of the same name). I have no doubt this will go down as a fan favourite; and prove an awesome spectacle onstage. Also, envisioning a horde of undead ghouls rise up from the milky depths and ravenously devour an entire galleon is… well it’s a bit funny.
‘Call of the Waves’ gives us the album’s contractual inspirational message (‘Rise up and conquer the world, the oceans are calling your name’) but still rocks and bangs; fueled by Peter Alcorn’s phenomenal beating. I’d say it’s one of the album’s lesser tracks, but still easy to shout along to – especially when loaded up on rum.
It was at this point, when researching the next track, ‘Pirate’s Scorn’, that I realized it was, in fact, a cover. The original comes from the Donkey Kong Country animated television show which, according to the band, ‘…the CGI animation was horrendous. Good songs, though.’. And it’s hard to disagree. Alestorm’s faithful cover adds a heavy, power metal spin that takes a pretty decent animated tune to something genuinely catchy and fun; echoing the tale of the great Quint Skurvy. Also yes, I realize now that the ‘Crystal Coconut’ the band are searching for in the album’s title is a direct reference to the very same objects from the Donkey Kong franchise. I’m a young boy and those games never really interested me. But I still find the joke hilarious. Of course Alestorm would do that.
The next track will go down as possibly the band’s best. It’s not their most ambitious, it’s not their most eloquent. It’s not their longest, nor is it even that good. But it’s very catchy and tells the narrator’s enemy that their ‘pirate ship can eat a giant bag of d**ks’. Paralleled only by the band’s previous ‘F**ked With an Anchor’, ‘S**t Boat (No Fans)’ is either coma-inducing or fit-inducing on the first listen. After that, one strangely accepts the references to Scottish slang and likening of a ship’s crew to LEGO bricks with surprising speed; clapping along and chanting as if a suitably barnacle-ridden tavern. It’s Alestorm summed up, really – I’m saying that a lot, aren’t I?
‘Pirate Metal Drinking Crew’ is a feelgood pre-drink anthem before any night out at the local gulley or dock. There’s little more to say than that it’s another great rocker, and a testament to the band’s enduring ability at creative riffs and suitably pirate attitude.
2014’s Sunset on the Golden Age featured a little throwaway song by the name of ‘Wooden Leg’. It was largely shit and no one cared. So of course, Alestorm doubled down (in true pirate fashion) and crafted an epic, tear-jerking sequel with ‘Wooden Leg Part 2 (The Woodening)’. It’s eight minutes long, features speed metal, synth, 8-bit instrumentation, mind control, Spanish and Japanese lyrics; and ultimately results in the protaganist’s cursed wooden limbs causing him to fear and/or drink beer. It’s insane. At this point, I don’t know what the album is anymore. I don’t want to know. But once more, it’s catchy, and it’s grandiose. It will certainly close the bands’ main set.
Curse of the Crystal Coconut closes with the strikingly well-crafted ‘Henry Martin’, a cover of the 17th century folk tale of the same name (also known as ‘The Lofty Tall Ship’). The song regales the story of privateer Andrew Barton – over the years morphing into ‘Henry Martin/Martyn’ – who ended up engaging in general piracy. Martin is tasked with turning to the very same in order to support his two brothers. Bowes sings it faithfully and beautifully; creating a true shanty that is bound to please any Alestorm fan. Also very well picked as the album’s closer.
So there. You have it. I did it. I reviewed the bloody thing. The whole of Alestorm’s Curse of the Crystal Coconut, from start to finish. It was a hell of a ride, and truth be told, one I’m glad I set off on. Much like the ever-tumultuous waves of the Pacific; my voyage has taken me from the very brink of human endeavour to the calm, serene beaches of familiar white sand I know (Sorry, tried a bit too hard there).
But nonetheless, I should never have been so quick to doubt the Scottish-made band, and let that be a lesson to any doubters of the record itself. Sure, it has a couple of weaker tracks, but on the whole, Alestorm’s latest offering is a hearty meal as opposed to sea-salted leftovers. It’s power metal with that pirate feel; brimming with shanties and folk tales. And most of all, it’s a bit of fun. It’s silly. And silly has never sounded so good.