In an administrative oversight that’s a combination of letting the lunatics run the asylum, a fat kid choose his diet in a chocolate factory, and an AA experiment where everyone is told to drink themselves sober, our trusted leaders at AMG have, for some reason that will forever remain in the abyss of the unknown, decided it was a good idea to let yours truly review Alestorm’s latest. For those unaware, it’s called No Grave but the Sea, and is the follow-up to the masterful, magisterial, and award-winning Sunset on the Golden Age. Spoiler: it’s fantastic, and I’m writing this, in the true spirit of Alestorm, solely while under the influence. As such, this may be the last you’ll ever hear from old Diabolus, so I sincerely wish all of you the best. May your hearts overflow with joy and cups overflow with mead.
While just writing “orgasmic” is a lot easier than describing Alestorm’s sound in the flowery prose required – nay, demanded – of me, I’m not (not) paid the big bucks to be a hack. Alestorm, especially here and on Sunset, have truly become a folk metal band. They sound like a competent metal band covering a bunch of great folk songs, but they’re all originals. Unlike the Pop Goes Punk series, where there are twice as many misses as hits on the best day, all of Alestorm’s folk songs are meticulously tailored to their metal accoutrements, making for a scintillating combination of the two genres with folk as the base and metal as the special sauce. This is simply fun-loving, apolitical, and downright celebratory music made for everyone to enjoy. Unlike the usually motivational Hatebreed’s moronic turn towards socialism and the soporific pretensions of “smart” bands like The Faceless, this is joyful music to bring new and old friends together in fun and familiarity, albeit in a more effective sense than the pop culture reference carpet bombing of newer Fall Out Boy.
It’s impossible to pick a favourite here, because Alestorm have gone and crafted a near-perfect record again. “Mexico” isn’t leaving anyone’s head for a long time, and the beautiful camaraderie of “Rage of the Pentahook” will surely warm the heart of anyone with friends. The title track is an energetic and catchy opener that’s new and exciting yet still immediately familiar; upon first hearing it, I found myself singing the chorus the second time it rolled around as if I’d known the song for years. “Alestorm” is a great song in the mold of Sunset’s “Drink,” gleefully diving full bore into the raucous party vibe that Alestorm’s tremendous live shows are made of. Like Sunset, No Grave is sequenced brilliantly: “Alestorm” is followed by the “Wild Rover”-inspired “Bar und Ibiss,” which slows things down a bit at the perfect time. “Man the Pumps” is essentially “Pirate Song” 2.0, which is fine because that song was stupendous the first time around and Alestorm’s songwriting has improved immensely since Black Sails at Midnight.
Like the venerated, vivacious, and velvety voice of Jorn, there is nothing to gripe about here so I’ll just continue saying nice things about No Grave but the Sea. If you like ridiculous drinking songs, “Pegleg Potion” brings the most absurd recipe to the bar I’ve ever heard over an incredibly catchy and coherent instrumental. The only downside is that unlike Tech N9ne’s legendary “Caribou Lou,” you can’t actually make the drink yourself. “Treasure Island” takes up the mantle as a closing epic in the vein of Sunset’s title track, managing its time a bit more effectively but toning down the bombast a wee bit. Its sombre acoustic outro ends No Grave on a well-earned emotional note, their best ode to the more mournful side of folk on the record.
Like DJ Khaled, Ludacris, Rick Ross, T-Pain, and Snoop Dogg, all Alestorm does is win. Given where this stands next to Sunset (essentially right beside it), Alestorm have probably gone and made the Record o’ the Year once again, crafting a collection of unforgettable tunes that are endlessly enjoyable and spectacularly written as to never get old. Eliot Vernon’s keyboards once again compliment the songs in a huge way, adding a layer of depth to the compositions of keytarist/vocalist Chris Bowes, who has improved his singing voice once again and made the tunes here even better. Production is big, loud, and clear, which suits the music perfectly.
If you’re tired of politicization, pretension, polarization, and vapidity, crack a beer and throw on No Grave but the Sea. I felt like Madonna in the not repugnant and decrepit sense: every listen was just as fresh as the first time. If I’m somehow not canned by year’s end, expect this to be number one on my list.1