In 2008, Scotland’s Alestorm took the international metal world by storm with their brand of likeable ‘Pirate Metal’ that mixed NWBHM, folk metal, Pirate shanty tunes and Running Wild imagery, even resulting in a US run with the Pagan Knights tour earlier this year.
Well, here is the follow up, and though I feel a tad robbed because of the 10 songs on Black Sails at Midnight, two are taken from the Leviathan EP, the fact remains Alestorm have upped their game. They have become even more Pirate-y, even more catchy, even more epic and even more complete as a utterly enjoyable metal act and as a result, Black Sails of Midnight will unquestionably be one of my very favorite albums of 2009.
Armed with a ‘bigger’ sound that includes more orchestral arrangements, resulting in a heavier Bal-Sagoth vibe and more songs that feature swashbuckling jigs and rum swillin’ anthems, Alestorm have more or so dropped some of the forced thrash harshness of the debut (i.e. “Death Before the Mast” and “Terror on the High Seas”) and basically developed into a folk/power/heavy metal act (Korpiklaani come to mind) with a Pirate backbone- and they pull if of perfectly.
As “Over the Seas” did on the debut, epic opener of “The Quest” the album simply rocks with more may catchy moments than you can shake a hook at. Those that saw the bands recent run or purchased the Leviathan EP will recognize the titular track, and I’m pretty sure more orchestral/synth arrangements have been added from the EP version. “That Famous Ol’ Spiced” is a perfect sing along drinking song while one of my personal favorites “Keelhauled”, a high octane, pure Finntroll-ish romp/jig mash up with a rollicking chorus, might be one of my favorite songs of the year (and my 9 year old daughter), even more so with the violin, which was obviously missing from their live version of it that blew my mind. The track is destined to become a live staple and fan favorite like “Wenches & Mead”. Things settle down a bit with the somber ballad “To the End of Our Days” (this albums, “Nancy, the Tavern Wench”) which sees front man Chris Bowe do a bit of rough and ready crooning and nice bagpipe/hammond break, and while I’m not sure if it completely ‘works’, it shows a softer side of Alestorm.
Initially, the title track starts as the albums weakest cut, harkening back to the debut’s slightly forced thrash hues, but it ends with a simply brilliant power metal segment/solo that’s to die for. “No Quarter” is a rambunctious instrumental track, but for those that are familiar with the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, a nice nod to the movie’s main theme surfaces, bringing a smile to my face, though I wish they had carried it through to its climax or flat out covered the whole theme like Epica did recently on their The Classical Conspiracy release. I can’t think of a more fitting cover. Then, the band delivers my second favorite track and another front runner for me and my daughter’s favorite song of the year, the simply titled “Pirate Song” where a killer chorus and a simple, head-banging, killer C, D, E chord progression all come together to form a rousing shout along number to die for. I can only hope they play it on their upcoming fall US tour.
The increased Bal-Sagoth influence is no more apparent than on penultimate track, “Chronicles of Vengeance”, especially glorious epic second half, that features a simply epic synth flocked blast beat. Then the album appropriately closes out with “Wolves of the Sea” the ridiculously catchy cover of a god awful Song for Europe pop song, that like “Leviathan” seems to have some added orchestral grandeur from the EP version, making the fact I’ve heard it before sting less.
As much as I enjoyed Captain Morgan’s Revenge, only about 4 songs were in regular rotation (“Over the Seas”, “Captain Morgan’s Revenge”, “The Huntmaster”, “Wenches and Mead”) however, Black Sails at Midnight I enjoy from start to finish over and over again and while I hate to anoint an album of the year only halfway through 2009, chances are Black Sails at Midnight will be vying for that spot.[Visit the band's website]