November 12, 2010

Pirate Metal Albums – Reviewed

Brutal Tunes

I promised there would be more piratical posts this week, and I wasn’t lying.

Pirate metal isn’t really a genre, but I don’t mind calling any of the below bands by that name, owing to the abundance of pirate-themed lyrics, riffs, costumes and album covers.


Running Wild - Port Royal

Running Wild – Port Royal

When I first starting going out to local metal gigs and meeting other metalheads, one of the first people I started talking to (a long-haired hottie named Jonowar who was vocalist in a local power metal band and happened to have the same eye condition as me) introduced me to Port Royal. And to this day, I fucking love it.

Port Royal (1988) follows on from 1987s Under Jolly Roger, and – as you can tell by the title – continues the pirate theme the band adopted. Port Royal’s sound leans more towards power metal than the darker, rawer Under Jolly Roger, but they retain their signature heavy, almost-thrashy structures and riffs.

People who listen to Rhapsody of Fire or Hammerfall and complain they could never get in to power metal should hear this album. You won’t find any poetic interludes, keyboards or melodic choirs. It’s a power metal album about pirates which completely lacks cheese. The lyrics focus on historical events and literature, which always gets me enthusiastic, put together with masterful skill (especially considering Running Wild are German). My personal favorite, and one of Running Wild’s most popular tracks, is “Conquistadors”. It’s the power metal song every power metal band wished they’d written: thrashy, catchy and epic. Other stand-out tracks include “Port Royal”, “Blown to Kingdom Come”, and the instrumental “Final Gates”. Thrash fans will enjoy “Warchild”, I think.

You could imagine my delight when Running Wild were announced as playing their last ever show at Wacken 2009. One of the stand-out acts of a mediocre lineup, and damn, they kicked ass.


Swashbuckle - Back to the Noose

Swashbuckle – Back to the Noose

Another pirate band who played Wacken 2009, but they sounded so terrible we left. I’ve since heard some live tracks online and I think it might have been our mood on the day or some kind of sound problem (they were on the medieval stage) than any lack of ability to play live.

Swashbuckle play piratical thrash metal, and unlike Running Wild, they ham up the gimmicks. There’s pirate hats and silly stage names and song titles like. My main problem with this album is that I want so badly to like it, but I just don’t. Mediocre music at best, I found this sounded awfully generic after a refreshing listen of Port Royal. Yes, they’ve ramped up the energy since their last release. Yes, you .

Swashbuckle focus more on the fun side of pirates – the drinking and warring and wenching – rather than historical accounts of specific episodes, battles or places. “Rounds of Rum” and “Back to the Noose” being good examples of these. Not being a fan of core, I can’t get into “We Sunk Your Battleship”, but the traditional shanty touches of “Cloudy with a Chance of Piracy” and “La Leyenda” and “The Tradewinds” add a little bit of interest.

They’re competent musicians, and very popular at the moment because they have a bit of a hardcore vibe mixed in with their 80s thrash. I don’t believe this album lives up to the promise of pirate awesomeness, but then, Running Wild set the bar extremely high. If you enjoy thrash-revival bands and hardcore, you will probably find a lot to enjoy on this album.


Alestorm - Captain Morgan's Revenge

Alestorm – Captian Morgan’s Revenge

I loved these guys back when they were “Battleheart” and released their first two EPs for free online. I thought they had incredible potential and was so happy a record company snapped them up.Their 2008 debut, Captain Morgan’s Revenge, features remakes of many of their Battleheart songs.

The difference between their earlier material and this album are incredible. Better production, first of all, which is always a plus. The piratical keyboards drive the music, which gives it the most “piratey” sound of any pirate metal band, but will turn off anyone who doesn’t like keyboards in metal. Straight up – if you hate keyboards in metal, you will not like this band. The keyboards create the melody and the guitars take second stage, adding that rougher, power metal edge.

For me, the main appeal of Alestorm are the clever, catchy songs. Like Swashbuckle, they focus on the sillier side of pirates, but unlike Swashbuckle, the joke is actually funny. One reviewer classed them as “fun metal” which is not a genre term I’d like to see go mainstream, but is nevertheless an accurate term. We’ve seen a number of these “fun” metal bands pop up over the last ten years or so, mostly from Europe, mostly with some kind of “radio-friendly” folk or keyboard element, and mostly with lyrics about drinking in all its myriad forms. Turisas, Korpiklaani, Alestorm … they have their fans, and naturally, their detractors.

Personally, I love them. I love the energy they create, especially live. I love that they’re changing the image of metal from one of anger and hatred to one of fun and comradeship. I love my fair share of serious bands, too, but I don’t think waving a beer around singing “I want more wenches, more wenches and mead!” is a bad thing at all.

Alestorm won’t win any awards for technical brilliance or profound statements about human existence, but they will, if you’re open to it, show you a great time. My favorite tracks are all from the original Battleheart releases – “Wenches and Mead”, “Nancy the Tavern Wench” and “Over the Seas”.

The songs do contain generic riffs, and the vocal can be kind of naff, and the rhythm section is woefully quiet and under-utelized. But, fuck it, who cares? They’re still a rollicking good time.

What about you? Do you have a favorite pirate-themed album, band or song? I am also a fan of the Rogue’s Gallery album which came out in 2005 – classic sea songs and shanties sung by artists like Nick Cave, Bryan Ferry, Gavin Friday, Lucinda Williams, Baby Gramps, Lou Reed, Sting and Loudon Wainwright III. Over 2 CDs, some of it can be a bit hit-and-miss, but most of it is hit.


7 Comments on “Pirate Metal Albums – Reviewed

Grand Magus
September 24, 2014 at 7:41 pm

My favourite pirate songs are “Pirates” by Krux and “Black Sails” by Grand Magus

November 26, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Man I love Alestorm and Running Wild. I hope Running Wild would do a tour since they made a new album this year. The album itself wasn’t very good though, couple of nice songs.

December 24, 2010 at 11:57 pm

I know this was ages ago, but I gotta say, I like Swashbuckle quite a bit while I find Alestorm quite boring and I just can’t get into Running Wild (heresy I know – and I even saw their final show at Wacken).

My favourite pirate metal band is Verbal Deception – they have awesome pirate themes as well as a great sound that’s heavier and less thrashy than Swashbuckle. They’re more “pirate death metal” than any of the others. Although they’re a smaller band I heartily recommend you check em out:

November 20, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Thanks, Steff!

November 14, 2010 at 10:18 am

I’ve seen both Swashbuckle and Alestorm in small clubs in L.A., and I found both to be generic and completely uninteresting. I couldn’t help but think to myself “kid stuff”. Appearing at the same show with Swashbuckle were Blackguard (not really “pirate metal”, though), who were much better.

November 15, 2010 at 1:22 am

@dschalek – yes, I fucking love Blackguard. I haven’t seen Alestorm live yet, and will reserve judgement on their live show until I see them. I do think they’re great fun, though, but in terms of musical prowess, they’re not exactly earth-shattering. I can see how the pirate gimmick can seem a bit childish – after all, what is REALLY the difference between them and hevisaurus? But eh, I still like ’em :)
I love your blog by the way, and thank you for introducing me to Undertow. \m/ I find your reviews extremely readable – I hope one day to be able to review with that kind of succinct wit.

November 12, 2010 at 8:01 pm

I saw Swashbuckle in Seattle in a club, not an open air festival. I wanted to like them, and I did, sort of. They were clearly having a good time, and that was infectious. But it just wasn’t anything very memorable. Alestorm is indeed much better — I have fun listening to their album, and would love to see them live.

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