Alestorm – Curse of the Crystal Coconut Review

Figuring out what a band sounds like is akin to writing a biography: look first to the influences. Alestorm’s biography would need chapters devoted to a beloved and trve band named Bal-Sagoth. Early Alestorm material is based around the idea that it would be fun if Bal-Sagoth were Scottish, got drunk, played sea shanties, and kept the keyboard heroics. Alestorm’s foundation is keyboard/keytar, which necessitates making great folk melodies the foundation of their songs instead of metal riffs. Naturally, this made Alestorm less extreme than Bal-Sagoth, who put to blackened metal the Robert E. Howard-styed fantasies of Byron Roberts. Alestorm is a band with a different story to tell.

This story might, in a tremendously funny nod to Bal-Sagoth, span Alestorm’s discography. This was hinted at on Back Through Time’s “Scraping the Barrel” where Alestorm said that their lyrical tales were “just a day in the life of a man that I know.” Thanks to the catchy and energetic “Fannybaws” that man is given a ridiculous name and his own theme song. There’s more to this focus on Alestorm’s entire discography than just a funny bit, though – Curse of the Crystal Coconut looks back at Alestorm’s oeuvre in musical terms too. The quick-paced seafaring life-affirmation of “Over the Seas” is recaptured on “Call of the Waves,” an expertly written folk metal song with an exceptional guitar solo. “Tortuga” sees Alestorm writing a cross between a Eurovision hit and a pop radio smash instead of covering one of each as they did with “Wolves of the Sea” and “Hangover.”1 The thrashier elements of Black Sails at Midnight rear their head in “Chomp Chomp,” although the folk elements are more pronounced here to make a new brew that’s familiar but not tired or stale. The inclusion of what sounds like a Dethklok riff in the pre-chorus fits bizarrely well into the track, especially coupled with the tropical, DK-esque2 melody playing subtly behind it. As Captain Morgan’s Revenge closed with Scotland’s unofficial anthem “Flower of Scotland,” Coconut closes with another Scottish staple in “Henry Martin.” It’s a somber ending, and Christopher Bowes delivers an emotional vocal performance which sells the song’s tale of woe. It’s the perfect way to end a record chock-full of silliness and absurdity.

The apex of this silliness is reached on penultimate epic “Wooden Leg Part 2 (The Woodening).” An eight-minute sequel to a three-minute song from Sunset on the Golden Age, Bowes’ keytar and Elliot Vernon’s keyboard head full-bore into Bal-Sagoth territory with a masterfully overblown introduction which leads into some sharp blackened riffing recalling Starfire Burning upon the Ice-Veiled Throne of Ultima Thule. The narrative of “Wooden Leg” morphs into a revenge epic with a supernatural twist, and a callback to a melody in the first song pops up before two theatrical narrations (one in Japanese and one in Spanish; Alestorm are thematically consistent) pay further tribute to Bal-Sagoth through loving parody. The song concludes with a pitch-perfect callback to “Wooden Leg” that’s not only delightful fan service but makes musical sense as well – a great joke skillfully told.

The “Wooden Leg” callback reminded me of why I love Alestorm: their sense of humor and skill as songwriters. Coconut sees Alestorm reminding themselves why they love being Alestorm, which is another reason why it sounds so much like a discography-spanning work. The elements of every Alestorm album popping up throughout Coconut don’t show a band running out of ideas, but rather a band taking influence from themselves, combing through prior records for the elements which speak most to them where they are now, and putting them all together to make the ultimate Alestorm statement. Time will tell how successful they were in this endeavor, but I already like it more than No Grave but the Sea which, as regular readers know, I am rather fond of.

Curse of the Crystal Coconut is a tremendous record. Lasse Lammert outdid himself in production, managing to capture coherently, cleanly, and appealingly not just Alestorm and their musical personalities but live hurdy gurdy, violin, trumpet, and trombone. Little details abound, and thanks to Lammert they’re plainly audible with a focused listen. Coconut has skyrocketed up my personal Alestorm pecking order, bested only by Sunset on the Golden Age. The success of Coconut lies in translating the personality Alestorm has developed over the years into music. After seeing the band live, this is exactly the type of record you would expect. Alestorm is a top-tier live band, so it’s only fitting that Coconut is a top-tier record.3

Rating: 4.5/5.0
Format Reviewed: Stream
Label: Napalm Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: May 29th, 2020

Show 3 footnotes

  1. There’s even another metallic pirate doing a rap verse just like in “Hangover.” This time it’s Captain Yarrface from Rumahoy, who manages to cram nearly every Rumahoy catchphrase into his short verse and even an “OH WOW!,” making a convincing case for being the best rapper in pirate-themed folk metal – no small feat.
  2. Donkey Kong is all over this record. On the cover, at the bottom left, is an ape skeleton with a red tie. My younger brother, a Nintendo and Rare nerd of the highest order, pointed this out to me the day the cover was revealed. “Pirate’s Scorn” is a cover from the old Donkey Kong Country TV show. The Crystal Coconut itself appears in some episodes of that show including “Booty and the Beast,” which would also be a great title for a pirate-themed rap record.
  3. This review will forevermore be known as White Wizzard II: Electric Pirate Lou. – Steel
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