By Kevin Stewart-Panko
Metal takes itself far too seriously. All the bands parroting the tired “war is hell” refrain – barring Cobalt and Agenda of Swine – are doing so from mom’s basement and couldn’t differentiate the real horrors of war from getting 0-fer’ed in a Battleship tournament. The dudes whining about Christianity are only spewing their venom in that direction because they know Christians only fight back against abortion doctors. The gory death metal misogynists are basically still hitting the girls in the school yard they like and are the first to cancel band practice when their girlfriend calls wanting to “hang out.” Sure, metal can be a serious artform, but underneath the posturing lies a segment of geek-dom who can barely run their own lives, let alone tell other people and bands how they should be running theirs.
Enter Alestorm. Yes, the concept of Scottish Pirates may be silly – although, pirate metal straight outta Jersey (hello, Swashbuckle) is infinitely more ridiculous – and that they don’t dress in pirate garb on stage is more disappointing than any measure of falseness, but in the end they have infectious, sing-a-long anthems and that’s all that matters. Black Sails at Midnight is the band’s second full-length, though featured are two tracks taken from the Leviathan EP, and it continues their sea-faring tall tales expressed through majestic power/speed metal. Alestorm’s compositions are hook, line and sinker catchy and only cave-dwelling, necro black metallers will manage to stave off the grins during the choruses of “Keelhauled,” “That Famous Ol’ Spiced” and “Pirate Song.” Captain Christopher Bowes’ brassy keyboard accents aren’t just fluff, as evidenced in the surprisingly complex layers comprising “Leviathan” and it’s always a measure of solid song writing when the technical can be molded into something the average dingbat on the street can relate to.
But is that desirable? After two albums, Alestorm’s formula has become obvious and, as the album trundles on, (dare I say?) tired with the life-affirming glory of “Wolves of the Sea,” which is a cover of a band called Pirates of the Sea, pumping energy into the album’s back end. Each song is constructed on an intro/verse/chorus/verse/chorus/solo blueprint that you can set your watch to and it does start to sound increasingly ordinary as you get more familiar with the album. Black Sails at Midnight is definitely worth a few listens, especially on a road trip or accompanied by some Caribbean rum, but let’s hope the band doesn’t sink into a rut. Or Davey Jones’ Locker. Or whatever.