Alestorm
Back Through Time

I’ve developed a theory that you can’t stay angry or be in a bad mood while listening to Alestorm. In recent months, that theory has been sorely tested, but every time, the goofy Scottish pirates have managed to conquer my frustrations after a few songs. So, along comes their third record, Back Through Time, just in time. I’ve used “Keelhauled” on the drive home after work so many times it was starting to lose effectiveness, so I needed some fresh piratey sing-alongs, and this record delivers a treasure chest-load of them.

If you didn’t like the first two Alestorm records, they won’t win you over with this one. The theme is the same, the sound is more or less the same, and the silliness is still in full effect. If, like me, you loved the first two records, then album number three will definitely be to your liking as well.

The tone of the album is established right away in the title track, which envisions a battle between pirates and Vikings with the aid of a time portal. The song also announces the arrival of new drummer Peter Alcorn, who, quite literally, blasts out of the gate with some pummeling skin work while guitarist Dani Evans throws down some blazing sweeps over it. The heavier guitar tone and drum sound is immediately noticeable throughout this track and gives the music a little more seriousness than on the last two albums, but the quirky pirate movie folk themes and lyrical content keep it fun.

First single “Shipwrecked” is a thrasher in the vein of some of the heavier work from their first two records with a wickedly addictive hook on the chorus. Again, Alcorn’s drumming is a noticeable addition. There’s more serious musicianship on display on “Death Throes of the Terrorsquid.” The longest track on the record, it goes for more of an epic approach, and while there are definitely some really nice musical touches, I have to admit that I prefer the shorter, catchier pieces.

Along those lines, as silly as it is, my favorite driving home from work song has become their version of “You Are a Pirate,” a song from the Icelandic kids’ television show “Lazy Town.” Having a child and the opportunity to have numerous songs from kids’ television shows stuck in my head over the years, I’ve always thought someone could make a mint recording metal versions of those insidious melodies. This song reinforces that belief. Yes, it’s goofy and silly, but it’s also the catchiest, most fun minute and a half on the record. It makes me want to grab one of my son’s plastic pirate swords and dance around with it – and believe me that’s a difficult feeling for music to evoke in me (and an even more difficult image to deal with for any poor soul that actually witnessed it. Therapy might be needed. So far, I’ve been able to restrain myself, much to the relief of my family.)

“You Are a Pirate,” though, perfectly encapsulates what initially drew me to Alestorm, and why I still love what they do. The band is, in many ways, very serious about their music, but at the same time, they want to entertain. They want their listeners to sing along with big grins on their faces. Sure, there’s fun to be found in metal still, but so often musicians and fans are obsessed with darker images, anger and aggression. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s part of what drew most of us to the music in the first place. But every now and then, I think metal needs a good “yar har, fiddle-de-dee,” and that’s where bands like Alestorm come in.

Fun is a key element on most of the songs. “Scraping the Barrel” is a somewhat self-deprecating sea shanty that addresses the band’s critics and comparisons to German power metal outfit Running Wild, which also released quite a bit of pirate-themed material, though it was less over the top than Alestorm. It’s also a quite catchy little ditty. “Rum” gives the band an excuse to riff and yell “RUM! RUM! RUM! YAR!” Not that that’s a bad thing. “I Am a Cider Drinker,” a cover of a song by the folk band The Wurzels, has a definite flavor of their Scottish home with a pumping accordion and a lot of just plain goofiness.

There are a few tracks here, to be honest, that I’m not wild about. “Buckfast Powersmash” starts as a full-on thrasher and then moves back and forth between that and the folk sound. I don’t think it makes the transition quite as well as some similar songs they’ve done in the past. I also still have mixed feelings about “Barrett’s Privateers,” though it grows on me with each listen. My first reaction was the same as “Flower of Scotland” from the band’s first record. It’s a rough, pirate sing-along – perhaps too rough. But the more you listen, the more the melody infects you.

The music has improved over the course of three albums. The addition of Alcorn has a big impact, and Evans lays down some of his heaviest riffs throughout the record. The voice of Christopher Bowes, though, is still what makes the band. He has occasionally been criticized for not being a great vocalist, and he’s not. But he’s great for Alestorm. I can’t think of a more piratey sounding voice in music, and it’s part of what makes the humor in the songs go over so well.

There is a segment of metal fans out there that tends to be uber-serious and bristles at the notion of any light-heartedness in the music. This isn’t for them. For the rest of us, who like to have a drink, sing along and laugh occasionally with our metal, it’s perfect. I can’t think of a better way to sum this record up than by returning to my favorite tune from it: “Yo ho, ahoy and avast/ being a pirate is really bad ass/ hang the black flag at the end of the mast/ you are a pirate.” Now, excuse me for a moment while I go replace the wife’s hummingbird flag in the front yard with a Jolly Roger. I promise I’ll leave the plastic sword inside.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Fred Phillips
July 11th, 2011

Comments

  1. Commented by: Clauricaune

    Got nothing against light-heartedness, but honestly this is quite a bit cheesy.


  2. Commented by: Fred Phillips

    Of course it is. That’s part of the fun.


  3. Commented by: Erik Thomas

    Awesome album, these guys get better and more fum with each release. I predict a full on Bal Sagoth typed album soon


  4. Commented by: Stacy B.

    To tie in with your mention of the children’s TV show reference and comment on Christopher Bowes vocals – can’t you imagine him being a voice actor for something animated? Would be pretty funny and cool and funny AGAIN!

    Thanks Erik, now I’m missing Bal Sagoth… hope their hiatus ends soon.


  5. Commented by: DK777

    Thanks for the review. I was avoiding the Alestorm album because, frankly, I thought I SHOULD have outgrown such silliness. But when I read this piece, I said, “Screw that–who outgrows fun???”

    A good read leads me to a good album. Cheers, Fred!


  6. Commented by: Eric Randall

    I haven’t heard of this band before the review, but now i have all 3 albums and can’t stop listening them all. Thanks for the really accurate write up.


  7. Commented by: Eric Randall

    I can’t believe you left off the Sunk’n Norwegian, which will make a great bar sing-a-long song. it is my favorite on the album and really rocks cranked really loud.


  8. Commented by: E. Thomas

    new one is better again. so fucking fun


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