ALESTORM is one of those bands that are almost too over-the-top to be real or to be taken seriously. With their latest offering, “Black Sails At Midnight”, adorned with a giant white sticker that states clearly "SCOTTISH PIRATE METAL” and cover art practically overflowing with cheesy pirate imagery from tridents and flintlocks to eye patches and bandanas, you know the band is up to their old tricks and any previous suggestion to ‘tone it down’ was thoroughly forced to walk the proverbial plank. Still, like a new MANOWAR album, we the Metalheads will march down to our favourite record store and eagerly grab the album with a big stupid grin plastered across our faces and giggle all the way back to our stereos.
The goods contained within keep the promise made by the front cover (and the delicious song titles). The opener “The Quest” blasts open the front door like a cannon to a Privateer’s portside with DARK MOOR-esque keyboard flourishes, raging guitar riffs and pummelling double bass rhythms. The chorus’ infectious call of the quest being never-ending is as much a triumphant crowd anthem as it is a guarantee that the band will continue on its chosen path regardless of whether or not the serious Metal community is willing to accept them. From there the album ducks and weaves through numerous tracks dealing with as many pirate analogies as can be conceived matched with Sea Shanty-like melodies and straight forward Power Metal musicianship. Yes, from what you can already gather, it is the logical, almost copy-cat follow-up to “Captain Morgan’s Revenge”.
Don’t misunderstand though, “Black Sails...” sounds quite distinct from its predecessor in almost every aspect. The key difference is that ALESTORM no longer have the mentality of a Metal band with a keen fascination for pirates. What we have now are instead a crew of pirates who have an affinity for Metal music. It is a key distinction that may prove to separate the fan base considerably in the end. Aside from the titular track there are no straight forward Metal tracks. If we trip down memory lane to 2008 we will recall that the entire middle section of “Captain Morgan’s Revenge” was a Thrash-Heavy Metal blitzkrieg with such standout floor dusters as “Death Before The Mast”, “Terror On The High Seas” and “Set Sail And Conquer”. If those were the highlights for you on the previous album, steer clear of the new album because its main focus is on the cheese-ball pirate antics and the Heavy Metal is something of an afterthought.
If however, you have no issue with the lore, fantasy and accordion synthesizers than get ready for a scurvy-induced affair. Standouts in this vein are the violin-led, pub-smasher “Keelhauled” and the ‘hi-hi-ho’ sing-a-long “Wolves Of The Sea”. “Famous Ol’ Spiced” ends on pan-flute doused rendition of the choral melody with a swaying rhythm that instantly brings us back to “Nancy’s Tavern” from the first album. Present on “Black Sails...” that wasn’t on “Captain Morgan...” is a spicy instrumental in “No Quarter” that is completely dominated by the virtuosic keyboard shredding of lead man Christopher Bowes.
The major concern that follows this release is that it follows a mere one and a half years after its predecessor. Coupled with rumours circling that the band is in fact just a cookie-cutter off-shoot of their former moniker, BATTLEHEART, this rushed sense of release scheduling makes the follow-up a touch sketchy. Indeed, after the giddy thrill of the first few listens wears off, one will certainly get a sense of that. Lacklustre tracks like the droning ballad “To The End Of Our Days” and the bland-as-bread “Chronicles of Vengeance” are certainly indicative of this force-fed appearance. All in all it makes the buyer feel betrayed by the record label and the band who appear to be cashing in on an unexpected success and that can hamper a positive opinion of the album as a whole.
Nonetheless, for the discerning fan, “Black Sails At Midnight” is an unmitigated success for ALESTORM. It would be far more appreciated if they would take a little more time for their next release and really hammer home a fully consistent album (maybe that extends past 10 tracks), but until that time I raise a mug of mead in the air for another successful voyage.
For Fans of: RUNNING WILD, SWASHBUCKLE, VERBAL DECEPTION
(Online July 1, 2009)