Previously on AMG, heavy metal pirates Alestorm received the glowing accolade of “unceremoniously piss[ing] in the pool” of pirate metal in a Running Wild review. Today on AMG, these Scottish privateers set sail into calmer critical seas, and I’m going to spend 500 or so words telling you, our dear readers, why Alestorm’s latest record, Sunset on the Golden Age, is worth your time and attention.
First, the good news: Alestorm haven’t changed much. They still play their signature brew of keytar driven power-folk informed by Bal-Sagoth, and they still have lyrics about drinking, piracy, giant squids, or combinations thereof. Little things are what end up making big differences here. While he’s still no Hansi Kursch, Bowes has improved his singing voice significantly since 2011’s thoroughly entertaining Back Through Time, enhancing his raw charisma with an improved ear for melody and a greater tonal range. New crewmate Elliot Vernon adds keyboards alongside Bowes’ keytar into the mix, which is both not nearly as ridiculous as it sounds and actually quite beneficial, adding an addictive symphonic touch to the title track, “Walk the Plank,” and album highlight “1741 (The Battle of Cartagena).”
While all of these songs fit comfortably into a playlist of their previous three albums, Alestorm have trimmed the fat, played to their strengths, and in some absurd way managed to take themselves simultaneously more and less seriously, and these particular small changes produce huge results. “1741” is a musical retelling of the most significant battle in the War of Jenkins’ Ear with a sweeping and cinematic musical backing, becoming a seriously great pirate-y metal epic. Alternatively, “Surf Squid Warfare” tells a tale of time-travelling pirates fighting giant undead squids from space replete with Back to the Future references and some ridiculously fun, catchy music to boot. While more often than not Alestorm go the less serious route both lyrically and musically, their skill at crafting earworm melodies and tight, efficient songs has never been better. There’s not a dud in the bunch, and the production wonderfully showcases each song here, even if it is a tiny bit overcompressed. This is a minor quibble however, as the not quite brickwalled mastering does next to nothing to detract from the sheer enjoyment here.
Ultimately, if their whole silly (albeit entirely self-aware) pirate shtick bothers you to the point where it’s impossible to listen to them, Alestorm won’t win you over because, well, they’re still Alestorm. But underneath all the pirate stuff is some fantastic songwriting and serious instrumental skill that gives Sunset on the Golden Age tons of replay value. Alestorm have made an album that rests firmly within the top-tier of releases this year for sheer musical quality, entertainment value, and pure, undiluted fun. This feels like the album that Alestorm has spent their career trying to write: it’s pirate-y, it’s metal, it’s folk-y, it’s a ton of fun, and it’s got more hooks than a one-handed pirate convention [Editor’s Note: The author of this piece has been keelhauled due to questionable tastes].
Tracks to Check: “Walk the Plank,” “1741 (Battle of Cartagena),” “Magnetic North,” and “Quest for Ships”