Sound — 8
Ahoy, landlubbers! Alestorm has returned from their slumber loaded to the gunwall to deliver a new album sure to blow the man down! So batten down the hatches and splice the mainbrace, me hearties, as we haul wind into Davy Jones' locker on "No Grave But the Sea".
Active since 2004, Scottish pirate metallers Alestorm have been providing listeners with a rum-drenched mix of power metal, folk sea shanties, and lyrical debauchery since their 2008 debut "Captain Morgan's Revenge". While it's incredibly easy to pass off Alestorm as a mere gimmick, with their Caribbean pirate-themed lyrics and imagery, this has always belied the depth of the band's music. On their more recent albums, the band has started mixing different styles of metal with their trademark sound, adding more brutal vocals, and incorporating real brass and folk instruments rather than using samples.
"No Grave But the Sea" continues the band's fun-filled musical formula, showing a penchant for simple singalong choruses, heavy riffs, and blistering instrumentals. Straight from the opening drum fill of the album's opening title track, this album wastes no time in getting right to the point, with its chunky guitars and catchy melodies giving way to a fiddle solo in the middle. The experimentation starts on "Mexico", opening with an 8-bit chiptune melody that almost wouldn't make sense in the context of the band's image, but seems to suit this song just perfectly. More sonic experimentation comes on the track "Alestorm", which sees the band bring in a more metalcore-style vocal and guitar part, buoyed by an incredibly catchy folk-metal chorus. "Fucked with an Anchor" is an absolutely hilarious and vulgar tune that takes the "sea shanty" musical style to its logical conclusion. "Pegleg Potion" ups the tempo to speed metal territory. "To the End of the World" almost makes a convincing case for the band to be a melodic death metal act. "Treasure Island" is the album's closing track, and at nearly eight minutes long, the most epic. The rest of the songs are the same basic "pirate metal" formula, but are awesome songs in their own rights.
The performances on this album are very good, though one will notice that shred-style guitar solos are fewer and further between than typical power metal bands, with the band instead focusing on playing appropriately folk-y passages on their instruments. "Treasure Island" is one of the few songs where new guitarist Mate Bodor from Hungary really lets loose. Keyboardist Elliot Vernon and vocalist/keytarist Christopher Bowes get a few impressive keyboard parts in themselves, while bassist Gareth Murdock and Peter Alcorn support the band perfectly. Rather than use samples and synth brass sounds, the band has employed the talents of trumpeter Tobias Hain and trombonist Jan Phillipp Jacobs, along with violinist Tobias Waslowski, for the record.
The mixing and production is quite excellent on the record. Even though there are many layers of backing vocals and brass and acoustic instruments over all the pirate metal chaos, it's a very dynamic and clear-sounding record, but without losing any of the heaviness the band displays throughout.
Lyrics — 8
"Rum, Beer, Quests and Mead
These are the things that a pirate needs
Raise the flag, and let's set sail
Under the sign of the Storm of Ale"
Those expecting serious lyrical content best steer clear of Alestorm's records, this is a band that's certainly more about maintaining a fun, tongue-in-cheek image than any kind of deep content (unless we're talking about the depth of Davy Jones' locker, anyway). Alcohol, stealing, sailing the ocean, and killing are the themes on this record, and nearly every stereotype in the book is at play on the album (with "Mexico" even opening with a "yo-ho-ho"). Vulgarity takes many forms on this record, and probably reaches its apex on the hilarious "Fucked with an Anchor": "On a dark moonless night, when he least suspects/We'll creep up behind him , so hard to detect/We'll bring out our anchor by the light of the stars/And shove it inside of his big fuckin' arse/Fuck you!/You're a fucking wanker/We're going to punch you right in the balls/Fuck you!/With a fucking anchor/You're all cunts so fuck you all!"
Christopher Bowes' vocals are gravelly and harsh and really fit well with the rum-soaked pirate theme of the album perfectly. Keyboardist Elliot Vernon also gets in on the action with several harsh vocal moments worth mentioning, such as on "To the End of the World" and "Alestorm". There are also a large number of group sing-along choruses throughout the record, adding to the sea-shanty feel of the record.
Overall Impression — 8
Sure, the pirate-metal thing might be a complete gimmick, but this is such a fun album that it's really hard to find anything to truly dislike about it. In fact, while this album isn't going to be my all-time favourite album by any stretch of the imagination, this is definitely the album I've had the most fun listening to while reviewing. Make sure you've got a mug of grog and your best mates handy when listening to this record, and it'll be sure to turn into a party. Or a parley, if you overdo it. First single "Fucked with an Anchor" is certainly one of the most hilarious tunes I've had the pleasure of listening to for a review, and even if power metal or pirate lore isn't really thing, "No Grave But the Sea" is just an incredibly fun listen from beginning to end. While there are certainly bands that are better, with more lyrical depth and tastefulness, Alestorm's unique style is a totally fresh breath of salty sea air. And if you don't like it, well, you should be thrown to the sharks!