To say that Alestorm are a novelty band who are just having a bit of a joke (as many of their detractors do) may not be too far from the truth these days. The band have recently been shooting themselves in the foot somewhat in interviews by admitting this whole ‘Pirate Metal’ thing is a bit of a laugh, that they don’t even like the pirate gimmick and image (erm, can anyone say ‘self-inflicted’?) and even going as far as criticizing and mocking their own fans.
This bewildering strategy for success aside, Alestorm have now put themselves in a predicament where they will be unlikely to convert many who didn’t get it before, and they risk alienating the fans who did go along with the whole thing in the first place.
particularly bemusing as even without all that, Alestorm are at that
difficult second-album stage that often proves so trying for many
‘niche’ or ‘novelty’ bands. Given that most people seem to form
strong opinions on these kinds of bands very quickly, they often
struggle to convert detractors to their cause even if they diversify
their music as most people’s minds are already made up and it is often
hard to change them once that happens. And if they did diversify then
they risk losing their core fan-base that ‘got it’ in the first
place so what tends to happen is the band carry on with what brought
them this far and hope that new people who have not yet heard them catch
on and that existing fans don’t get bored once the novelty-factor has
worn off and for all intents and purposes, this is what’s happened
here on Alestorm’s second full-length, 'Black
Sails At Midnight'.
The album begins with ‘Leviathan’, the title-track from Alestorm’s last release – a stop-gap 4-track EP of the same name. Telling the tale of the legendary sea-beast, the track has all the familiar accordion sounds and pirate-gallop that we’ve come to expect from Alestorm and is a bona-fide crowd pleaser with its shout-along chorus and gang-vocals, sure to get the crowd’s going when the band head out and tour the record.
These are musical themes that are present throughout the whole album but the other thing that one notices on ‘Leviathan’ is the vast improvement on the general musicianship from the first album, particularly the guitar solo and this is also something that is consistent throughout the majority of the album as well.
The next track ‘That Famous Ol’ Spiced’ pays homage to the finer alcoholic beverages available and is a classic drinking song in every sense of the word, very reminiscent of ‘Nancy the Tavern Wench’ from the first album. It invokes images of weary travellers drowning their sorrows in old(e) time watering-holes and will be sure to get tankards raised high in the air whenever the band roll into town.
The album’s gem however, comes in the form of the next track ‘Keelhauled’. Destined to be a live favourite and one for DJ’s to play in rock clubs when everyone’s three sheets to the wind, the song starts off with a brilliantly manic accordion/keyboard section and contains perhaps the best sing-along chorus written in (at least) the last ten years. You can’t help but want to get drunk and dance like a complete loon as soon as you hear it and there surely won’t be many who will be able to resist. As the band would be hard-pushed to top the jiggery of the aforementioned ‘Keelhauled’, they decide to slow things down with ‘To the End of our Days’ which is about as close to a ballad as Alestorm are likely to come.
The second-half of the record begins with the album’s title track. Bearing more than a slight resemblance to ‘Set Sail and Conquer’ from 'Captain Morgan’s Revenge', the song is by far the heaviest and most thrash-like song on the album with its shouted lyrics and Metallica-esque riffery and provides the listener with a tidy reminder that Alestorm can drift (if not entirely) from the polka/jig sound if they so choose.
‘No Quarter’ is an accordion-fuelled instrumental stomp while ‘Pirate Song’ does exactly what it says on the tin, although it’s somewhat forgettable compared to the rest of the album as is the mid-tempo ‘Chronicles of Vengeance’.
The album finishes with a cover song that can only be described as bizarre. ‘Wolves of the Sea’ sounds like a song that Alestorm should definitely have written yet it’s actually an old Latvian Eurovision entry from a few years ago (check out the original on YouTube after hearing this version, it’s almost surreal) and is quite frankly a great sing-along and will fit right in to the Alestorm live experience – the band will be surely be kicking themselves that they didn’t write it.
'Black Sails at Midnight' is an overall improvement on Alestorm’s first album and is definitely worth picking up if you like a break from taking metal too seriously. Time will tell whether or not there is much more mileage in the whole ‘pirate-metal’ thing before the media undoubtedly move on to the next trend but for now it’s safe to say that Alestorm sit firmly atop of the folk-metal mountain alongside the genre’s elite (Turisas, Korpiklaani, etc). It’s just a shame that (as is the case with any type of theatre), the artists felt it necessary to spoil the illusion somewhat.
Review by: Adam G
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