Skull Branded Pirates - The legend of Salty Jim 3.5/5

Reviewed: 8-7-09


1. Sail to war
2. Cross-skull branded thieves
3. Hempen jig
4. Far beyond forever
5. The stormed and cursed seas
6. The legend of Salty Jim
7. Blackbeard's last stand
8. Sea doggin'
9. Inside the inn

If you're sick to death of the "pirate metal" movement that has taken root of late, you might as well skip this review. Setting sail from Leeds, England, Skull Branded Pirates have gone all in with the buccaneer motifs, from the plundered-village artwork to song titles like "Blackbeard's last stand" and "The stormed & cursed seas" to the full-on Jack Sparrow/Barbosa garb adorning the band members to the "yo ho ho" gang backing vocals. A particularly thoughtful touch was that, in filling my order for the CD, the band saw fit to enclose a plastic eye patch bearing their logo. This is either incredibly daft or incredibly cool, or perhaps an equal measure of both. So we've established that Skull Branded Pirates are dyed-in-the-wool pirate metallers. That proposition is actually self-evident from a quick scan of the band name, so I'll not belabor the point further.

The problem with the "pirate metal" label is that it doesn't reveal much about the style of the music. Running Wild are (or rather "were", alas, now that they've played their farewell gig at this year's Wacken festival) traditional German metallers with loads of speed and nifty double-picking. Alestorm play a more symphonic, keyboardy brand of metal a la Turisas or Rhapsody, but with a pirate twist in the lyrics and the occasional sea shanty about Nancy the Tavern Wench, and so on. I've not heard Swashbuckle, but I understand them to be much more death/thrash in style, with grunted vocals. Yet all of these disparate acts set sail under the banners of the Jolly Roger and pirate metal, even though they bear little if any sonic resemblance. So where do Skull Branded Pirates fit in on this spectrum? They're probably closer to Alestorm than the others, but with more guitars, no damned keytars, fewer symphonic touches, and more of a traditional pedal-to-the-metal foundation. The guitar work of Scare Y Knave and Fradders The Cabin Boy (I swear I'm not making those names up) succeeds in carrying both aggressive heft and playful rum-soaked pirate melodies, while the rough-hewn (but not harsh or growled) vocals of Captain One-Ayed Wilson often recall Frank Knight of X-Wild fame. So I actually think these scurvy, salty marauders of the high seas have carved out their own (eye)patch of sandy shoreline for themselves.

With a solitary exception, the songs are really good. The clear highlight for this listener is "Hempen jig", a catchy slice of fast-paced metal heaven with lyrics about dancing a hempen jig whilst swinging from a yard arm on a cord of justice, and featuring a stellar guest vocal performance from Conquest of Steel's Dan Durrant. But there's Grade-A material scattered throughout the 9 tracks, including the hammer-down rush of "The stormed & cursed seas", the opening salvo of "Cross-Skull branded thieves", and the awesome guitar melodies and "hey hey hos" of "Sea doggin'". The only track that falls short is "Blackbeard's last stand", in which the band attempts to write an epic sea shanty, but the quiet parts are boring, the narrative portions seem forced, and the tempo changes feel disjointed and clunky. Still, even that track is not a total loss, given the dancing lead guitar themes and the fun lyrical subject matter about a besotted Blackbeard the pirate being laid low by 20 cuts bloody on November 21, 1718.

I think these rollicking raiders of the sea are onto something. I wish the CD's running time extended longer than a land-lubberly 33 minutes. And I'd love to hear Skull Branded Pirates with a fuller, richer production that does justice to the breadth and power of their songs. And more singing contributions from Dan Durrant in the future would be most welcome to offset the rough lungs of Captain One-Ayed himself. Still, there are far worse ways to invest your hard-earned dubloons or your precious metal-listening hours than a rollicking ride aboard 'The legend of Salty Jim'. So ahoy, mateys. Don ye your eye patches, tap thy rum kegs, unfurl the blackened sails at midnight, and curses be to Davy Jones.




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