Call me Diabolus. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – I granted the privateers in Alestorm a Letter of Marque and they went on to capture The Good Ship TYMHM and raise the Jolly Roger high over the AMG Staff’s Top Ten Lists. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating circulation. Whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul, I simply drink away the accursed rain. Alas, my initial deed could not go unaddressed forever; I was ordered to write about The Dread Crew of Oddwood’s Lawful Evil. With a philosophical flourish Cato threw himself upon his sword; I quietly take to reviewing.
Lawful Evil isn’t exactly a metal record, but its target audience is metal fans. Oddwood play an entirely acoustic Celtic style of folk that sounds pirate-y in nature. I was immediately reminded of Alestorm’s glorious Rümplügged acoustic EP due to this, but “bacon powered pirate core” this is not. See, Oddwood didn’t just strip away all metal pretensions from their wonderful folk music like Captain Bowes and his crew of merry miscreants, they add in metal pretensions via some riffs, progressions, and overall vibe to their folk. The brunt of lead work goes to non-traditional instruments like mandolins, toy pianos, and tin whistles, with guitar and upright bass providing a solid foundation rooted in heavy metal traditions. There’s a bit of weirdness a la Troldhaugen to my ears, but Oddwood doesn’t gleefully leap off the deep end as often as those guys. Lawful Evil is, in short, an atmospheric record. It just so happens that the atmosphere is a particularly rowdy pub.
Unsurprisingly, I like this. As is the case with Alestorm, Oddwood take full advantage of their limitations and play deftly within them. Their commitment to the bit as shoddy and perpetually hammered privateers makes songs like “Whalin’ Rumbo” and “Sand Lobster” superbly catchy folk romps that come across as endearingly familiar because you get to “know” Oddwood’s characteristics throughout the record. Attention to detail is always a good way to ensure quality. “Side Quest” represents everything good about this band, being catchy as the scurvy on a ship without oranges and going all-in on the chorus, making a short tune that wastes a grand total of zero seconds, and I have an almost pathological urge to replay it. Britney Slayes from Unleash the Archers lends her considerable pipes to “Siren’s Song” and its storytelling efforts; a pretty chorus lures our protagonists towards the rocks as sirens are wont to do, and the music takes an effective dark turn when the entire ship is massacred. When the chorus is reprised one last time, added harmonies are bittersweet; this commitment to the theme makes this track a highlight. As a self-referential track, “Heavy Mahogany” works remarkably well, being at the perfect tempo for an energetic folk track and having a strong hook in the chorus that reflects Oddwood’s heavy
metal wood aspirations perfectly.
There’s very little wrong with Lawful Evil, as Oddwood are strong songwriters with a knack for hooks and effective time management. The worst thing I can say about the songs themselves is that “Raise Your Pints” comes this close to achieving Alestorm-tier mastery of drinking songs but narrowly misses that mark. As Alestorm are savants when it comes to writing catchy tunes about booze, this is a rather small criticism. The other flaw is the mastering, which clocks in at an inexplicable DR6. With how gorgeous Rümplügged’s DR10 sounded, it seems weird that Lawful Evil is so squashed. It’s not awful or anything, but giving each instrument more room to breathe would’ve made this a great listening experience instead of a good one. This doesn’t hurt the quality of the songs though, so it’s a relatively minor issue in the grand scheme of things.
Lawful Evil is fun, well-written, and remarkably concise for a record with 14 songs on it that isn’t grindcore. What’s interesting about Oddwood’s music is that it seems gimmicky and insubstantial, as if it would get old after a few listens, a few beers, and a few laughs. However, when we pull back the curtain of the pirate stuff we see a strong and adept group of songwriters instead of the weak old man of Oz desperately pandering to gullible Alestorm fans. I can enjoy gimmickry if there’s substance behind it, and that’s definitely the case here. I feel obligated to point out that regardless of how many times I said Alestorm in this review, Lawful Evil isn’t going to be my number one record of 2016. That said, it will be one I’ll be returning to consistently throughout 2016 and the coming years often enough.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Websites: thedreadcrewofoddwood.bandcamp.com | thedreadcrewofoddwood.com | facebook.com/thedreadcrewofoddwood
Releases Worldwide: March 25th, 2016