Album review: Alestorm – No Grave but the Sea
Genre: Pirate metal
Release date: 26th May, 2017
Record label: Napalm
The band at the forefront of the niche “Scottish pirate folk power metal” movement, Alestorm is a force that has amassed a cult following purely out of jovial insanity, as well as a relatable affinity for rum and giant, inflatable, rubber ducks. Ever since the band’s breakthrough in 2009 with the raucous anthem “Keelhauled”, fans have loved the mead-stenched breath of fresh air that Alestorm has brought with it everywhere it’s gone, with both albums and live shows defying the typically petulant metal stereotype with comedic flair and charismatic positivity.
With that in mind, Alestorm’s upcoming fifth LP, No Grave but the Sea, is something of a shock to the system, as it is definitely darker than any of the band’s prior albums. From the morbid, Curse of the Black Pearl-esque cover artwork to the introduction of growled vocals and the occasional, sadistic lyric like “Fuck you! You’re a fucking wanker / We’re going to punch you right in the balls / Fuck you! With a fucking anchor / You’re all cunts so fuck you all,” as well as a plethora of thrash-inspired riffage, No Grave but the Sea is, at times, a far less light-hearted ride than what fans may expect.
However, the main point of contention with this record, as is the case with any Alestorm album, is “Is it still fun?”
And, overall, yes, No Grave but the Sea certainly is. It still carries the band’s powerful, keytar-driven insanity and nautical compositions, with frontman Christopher Bowes more often than not singing in his uniquely raspy tone about the pursuit and endless joys of alcohol, coming across in the singles “Mexico” and “Alestorm”, alongside “Bar ünd Imbiss” and “Pegleg Potion”.
Lengthy closer “Treasure Island” is an endlessly enjoyable pirate jaunt through its simplistic yet endearing “treasure hunt” lyrics, epic composition and harmonic gang vocals. It harkens back to pirate metal of old by neglecting the sometimes unnecessary (and poorly integrated) growls found on the new entries “Alestorm” and “To the End of the World” and focusing on brilliant melodies and powerful songwriting. “Fucked with an Anchor” ascends past its violent title to create a bizarrely therapeutic experience: its aggressive but still off-the-wall nature is perfect as a hilarious catalyst for any social anger or frustration.
Overall, then, No Grave but the Sea is a record that old-school Alestorm fans will most likely need several listens with to totally appreciate. The nautical nefariousness that the band has always brought with it is still present in a big way (mostly in the opening and closing tracks of the record), while the thrashy, edgy darkness that presents itself both musically and lyrically in some fleeting sections may take some getting used to.
This is definitely the most extreme Alestorm has ever been but, as long as they can continue to bring with them that sense of hilarious anarchy that has drawn legions of fans to them, there is definitely no need for anybody to worry about these irreverent Scotsmen.
No Grave but the Sea gets 7 anchors to the balls out of 10.
No Grave but the Sea will be available physically and digitally via Napalm Records on 26th May.