Alestorm - Captain Morgan's revenge 4/5

Reviewed: 1-25-08


1. Over the seas
2. Captain Morgan's revenge
3. The huntmaster
4. Nancy the tavern wench
5. Death before the mast
6. Terror of the high seas
7. Set sail and conquer
8. Of treasure
9. Wenches and mead
10. Flower of Scotland

Alestorm, under their former (and superior) name Battleheart, became something of an internet sensation in the short time since their formation as a 2-piece home studio project a few years ago with their pirate themed brand of folk-influenced power metal, eventually culminating in a deal with Napalm Records towards the end of 2007. Thankfully, as evidenced on their 2 highly impressive demos, they have the talent and the songs to back up their humorous image and are more than a mere gimmick.

Their style of keyboard-laced power/folk metal is mostly reminiscent of Korpiklaani (a band they would have been label mates with if the Finns hadn't vacated for the greener grass of Nuclear Blast), with similar punchy riffs and frantic melodies. The main difference is that Alestorm make use of traditional instruments on only one song on 'Captain Morgan's revenge', with keyboard playing vocalist Christopher Bowes providing the arrangements the rest of the time.

Whether providing fiddle and accordion imitations that suit the piratical theme perfectly, or more ostentatious orchestral arrangements that are more reminiscent of Turisas and conjure sweeping, cinematic images of rolling seas and rippling sails, his role in the band is probably the most vital to their success.

Bowes also proves a handy lead player, and most of the songs feature a solo trade-off between himself and guitarist Gavin Harper. Harper is another accomplished musician who provides a rock-solid base for the keyboards to jig across, while also getting to frequently show his prowess as a lead guitarist, taking turns with Bowes to carry the songs forward.

The handful of previously unrecorded songs show some of the CDs strongest points, but regrettably also some of the mild weaknesses that stop it from reaching the status of a truly great debut. On one hand, the title track is a monster of a song; opening as a pounding double-bass power metal song, it soon diverges to an enormous - and unanticipated - bittersweet chorus. A striking middle section to the song witnesses a grand orchestral arrangement (actually reprised from the intro to the 2nd demo) followed by a narrative passage before the song kicks back in with a Freedom Call-esque keyboard bridge. Why a song that seems tailor-made to be the closing track sits 2nd in the tracklist is a little baffling, especially as it is only separated by one song from the CD's sole ballad.

On the whole, the CD does seem to have been rushed out at least to some extent the acoustic song "Of treasure" promises much but feels unfinished, and the Alestorm rendition of "Flower of Scotland" (a cover version I've been lusting after for a while now) is disappointingly straightforward and undistinguished.

The songs from the Battleheart demos that have survived the transition to the full-length CD are all properly tidied up, keeping most of their original charms but also having their occasional mildly amateurish failings ironed out. The drums, previously programmed through necessity as much as anything else, are now expertly handled by session drummer Micha Wagner. Bizarrely, regular stickman Ian Wilson couldn't make the trip to Germany for the drum recordings and had to be temporarily replaced, and his stand-in offers an energetic performance in his place. Bowes vocals are also the best they have ever been - the comical-but-effective pirate brogue he adopted for the 2nd demo (after making the mistake of actually attempting to sing on the first one) has been properly refined and for the first time sounds properly commanding. "Over the seas" and "Terror on the high seas" are still speedy thrill rides, and "Wenches and mead" is a bouncy party-folk effort from the same mould as Korpiklaani's "Happy little boozer" and "Beer beer".

The hype from the breed of internet-dwelling kids that are currently finding folk metal the funniest thing of all time is likely to become irritating (Pirates! Omglolz!), but Alestorm's music has to be taken on its own terms, and it is more than good enough to avoid being dismissed along with the trend riders that are likely to be attending their gigs wearing pirate hats. Napalm will with a bit of luck be a bit more patient when it comes to the 2nd CD from their new charges. If Alestorm are given the correct time to piece their songs together instead of rushing them out to get the product on the shelf then their vast potential may eventually be properly tapped.




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