Type: CD Company: Napalm Release: 208 Genre: Traditional Reviewer: Etiam Published: 1/6/2011
The sagas feel a little hollow
In 'Captain Morgan's Revenge', replete with sensational cover art and a perfectly illustrative name, Alestorm arrived at just the right time to capitalize on the pirate metal craze that has swept the seven seas. This 2008 maiden voyage parallels another fantasy metal mish-mash: the 2004 rise of Turisas, who made the most of epic Viking metal as it reached a peak. Crucially, after their debut Turisas reoriented, matured, and branched out on 'The Varangian Way', ensuring an enduring relevance and arguably substantiating their back catalogue by association. Without this progress, their debut 'Battle Metal' would have still been a fine record, but may not have aged too well once the metal warriors who rallied to its banner began to trade in their real axes for stringed ones.
Alestorm face a similar conundrum, with one major disadvantage: 'Captain Morgan's Revenge' isn't all that great to start with. Beneath the bombast of keyboard-laden choruses and ribald pirate verses, the sagas feel a little hollow, the arrangements staid. Some tracks, such as 'Captain Morgan's Revenge', hint otherwise and show flashes of real metal intensity, and then settle back into the same campy refrains. This would be easier to endure if their spin on the source material was especially clever, but as with many bands that incorporate (even fake) folk instrumentation and rhythms, the underlying songwriting is somewhat bland. Although Alestorm's axeman Gavin Harper makes some embellishing efforts--his ribald harmonics especially leap out--overall it is too satisfied with the same patterns and bouncy chord progressions from one song to another. Even if the production is generally good, the drums are too tight and modern to be 'piratey', and the gruff vocals of Christopher Bowes are pushed too far forward in the mix. While this does make it easier to follow along with his tales of ramshackle adventure, but it also lays bare his shortcomings as a vocalist.
One album of this will titillate audiences, drawing in fans from Pirates of the Caribbean to Running Wild without eliciting much ire from landlubbers. What's more, one could argue that true measure of Alestorm's success is not groundbreaking genius, but rather simple fun. And 'Captain Morgan's Revenge' is that, to be sure. But will anyone singing along now still care in five years, when the next 20-something male trope--Ninja or Zombie metal--is all the rage? Doubtful. 'Captain Morgan's Revenge' made a nice splash, but Alestorm will have to prove they're more than a gimmick if they hope to avoid a retirement as a Renaissance Faire sideshow.
Maximum Metal Rating Legend - Click for Full Details