Wednesday, March 28, 2012

You are a Pirate

It was 1987, and I pretty much listened only to music that came out of the 70s.  After all, the 80s was the decade when all the music sucked*, and we were being subjected to Bangles, Starship, and frikkin' Bon Jovi.**  But something happened in 1987 that completely slipped under my musical radar, and which I discovered only a few days ago.

There was a German group called Running Wild, a black metal group who used (cough) "satanic" related lyrics and the usual black vocal style.  I guess things weren't going so well for them, or maybe they just had a sudden, brilliant inspiration.  They had already released two albums of black metal, when in 1987 they released an album called Under Jolly Roger, which was basically heavy/speed metal with lyrical themes about...pirates.

And pirate metal was born.  A sub-genre that has not had very widespread popularity, for some reason.  Probably just because few people have managed to hear of it.

So how did I hear of it?  By accident, as usual.  I was looking up something on YouTube (Thyrfing, I think) when one of the "related" videos in the sidebar showed a group known as Alestorm.  I clicked on it out of curiosity, maybe just because the thumbnail showed what I thought was a cool-looking album cover, and...well, the past few days I have been immersed in listening to everything they ever did.

Alestorm bills themselves as "true Scottish pirate metal" and "the second-best pirate metal band."  I have not yet been able to determine who they consider the first best.  Whereas Running Wild's sound was pretty much like any other speed metal band of the time, Alestorm has a quite different sound.  I would describe it as a mix of power metal and folk metal, and the lead singer's Scottish accent makes it sound somehow more authentic.  Alestorm also uses synthesizers; I think they are the only band I've seen in which the lead singer is headbanging while rocking out with a Roland keyboard controller.

Alestorm began as Battleheart, but they signed with the Napalm label, there was already a group on that label with the name Battlelore, and to avoid having a too-similar-sounding name, they changed their name to Alestorm.

In 1986 they released two demo EPs as Battleheart, the first eponymously named, the second titled Terror on the High Seas.  Some of the songs on these albums (such as "Heavy Metal Pirates," below) would be re-recorded later after their signing with Napalm.

"Heavy Metal Pirates" from Battleheart.

"The Curse of Captain Morgan" from Terror on the High Seas.

They signed with Napalm, changed their name, and in 2008 released their first full-length album, Captain Morgan's Revenge.  Besides continuing the story of Captain Morgan from their previous EP, this album saw the re-recording of several of their Battleheart-era songs, such as "Nancy the Tavern Wench," "Terror on the High Seas," "Set Sail and Conquer" and "Wenches and Mead."  After all, what kind of pirate band would you be if you didn't sing about wenches?  Or mead, for that matter?

Later that same year, they released Leviathan, another EP of four songs, updating "Heavy Metal Pirates" and covering "Wolves of the Sea" by a sort of electronic dance pirate band from Latvia called Pirates of the Sea.  I think Alestorm's version is better.  The title track "Leviathan" and "Wolves of the Sea" were also included on their next full-length album.

In 2009 they released Black Sails at Midnight.  This album has an update of their instrumental "No Quarter" from their first EP, the haunting and haunted power ballad "To the End of Our Days," (a personal favorite of mine) and covers two more topics undoubtedly popular with pirates:  rum and keelhauling.

And with "Keelhauled" they finally release an official video and we can see them in action.

Back Through Time is their most recent album, released in 2011.  More piratical themes are explored, such as being shipwrecked ("Shipwrecked"), drinking rum again ("Rum"), swashbuckling ("Swashbuckled") and more.  Two notable covers on this album are Canadian folk singer Stan Rogers' "Barrett's Privateers" and The Wurzels "I Am a Cider Drinker."***  This album also had one official video release with "Shipwrecked."

I think you can see that these guys also have a good sense of self-deprecating humor.  I think you would have to, to play a pink keyboard controller in a metal band.

I can't end this post without mentioning one more song.  If you don't count the two bonus tracks, the album closes with a quick nod toward the Lovecraftian with the epic "Death Throes of the Terrorsquid."

You can find pretty much everything they've ever released on YouTube.

*As I've said before.

**I still uphold that "Livin' on a Prayer" has the stupidest rhymes of any rock song that was meant to be taken seriously.

***You need to look up the original on YouTube.  I mean it.

1 comment:

  1. I love it when metal bands don't take themselves too seriously. It makes them seem less arrogant, pretentious, and angry, and it's just more fun to listen to them. That's part of the reason I like Iron Maiden so much (I don't think I have ever seen Nicko McBrain without a big-ass grin on his face) and why I had such high hopes for Twisted Sister (which didn't pan out, alas).

    Anyone can be grumpy and look constipated for the official album photos, but it takes a special metal star to look like he's having a blast doing what he does.