Sunset On The Golden Age
5th August 2014 – Napalm Records
01. Walk the Plank
03. Magnetic North
04. 1741 (The Battle of Cartagena)
05. Mead from Hell
06. Surf Squid Warfare
07. Quest for Ships
08. Wooden Leg
09. Hangover (Taio Cruz cover)
10. Sunset on the Golden Age
Countless years ago, while lost on barren seas, there whispered rumours of a bloody mutiny. Alestorm took their arms and slew the officers of rank, and with swords drawn, made metal walk the plank. The Scottish act’s novelty of playing at pirates and concocting what basically amounts to heavy sea shanties is really quite divisive. The secret, of course, is that they don’t take themselves seriously.
Their debut, Captain Morgan’s Revenge, was a delightful offering of gritty power metal, driven by Chris Bowes’ best ‘pirate voice’, and follow-up Black Sails at Midnight was just as well done. Back Through Time found the band losing their touch a bit – understandable, when a band uses a gimmick such as Alestorm does – but nevertheless they’ve sailed on, and have released a new album called Sunset On the Golden Age; yet another ship-raiding scourge on the high seas of metal.
One thing at which Alestorm have always been talented is telling a story; their finest songs focus on narration rather than the “drink, drank, drunk” tracks that sprinkle their discography. There are a couple of enjoyable entries of that variety too, of course – “That Famous Ol’ Spiced” and “Wenches And Mead” spring to mind – but Sunset on the Golden Age lacks any of these songs. Instead, it has the decidedly lukewarm “Drink” and “Mead From Hell”, which are just plain boring. The most enjoyable tracks on this release – namely “Magnetic North” and “1741 (Battle of Cartagena)” – are unfortunately outnumbered by mediocre numbers: “Surf Squid Warfare” goes nowhere, and “Wooden Leg!” is just plain obnoxious. The Taio Cruz cover “Hangover” is bizarre and mildly amusing, but nowhere near as fun as some of the covers the band have done in the past (Pirates of the Sea‘s “Wolves of the Sea” or “You Are A Pirate” from kids TV show Lazytown). The epic, eleven-minute closing title track “Sunset On The Golden Age” does redeem the album somewhat, but it feels almost a swansong for the band and the pirate metal style; a last hurrah before the Crown closes in and hangs them all at sunrise.
Vocalist and chief songwriter Chris Bowes has a very distinctive vocal style for this band. His vocals are probably a main point of contention for a great number of people. On early albums it’s easy to conjure up the image of Bowes as a salty sea dog with a wench on his lap, cutlass drawn, and a flagon of rum in his other hand. In contrast, on Sunset On The Golden Age, Bowes’ voice does not have the same snarl to it. His performance on “1741 (The Battle of Caragena)” is probably the best of his career, but for the most part on the album he just lacks some of the charm he had on earlier material, and hearing him sing “Hangover” is plain odd, since Bowes does not really have a very melodic style, even if it works well enough.
On the production side of things, this is probably Alestorm’s most polished album. This fact is a mixed blessing, seeing as part of the charm of early Alestorm was the salty production that made it really feel like the listener was on a pirate ship with a metal band. Now they sound more like a bunch of guys singing about pirates in a studio. The flipside of that is that everything sounds much clearer, which was a bit of an issue on Captain Morgan’s Revenge and Black Sails At Midnight.
Sunset On The Golden Age is aptly named; it likely marks the sunset on the time of pirate metal. It’s a decent album with a few likeable songs – and one really enjoyable one – but is overall mostly just a ‘meh’ effort from the band. Counter-balancing the better efforts are tracks like the entirely unpleasant “Wooden Leg” and the sad attempt at capturing drinking culture in “Drink”. Alestorm had their run, but it feels like they’re running out of creativity and ideas. Chris Bowes has another project, Gloryhammer, for which he undoubtedly puts more effort towards nowadays, and seeing as he is the main driving force behind Alestorm’s music, it makes sense that the band is losing something. Even though they are not at all a serious band, one got a sense of semi-sincerity on their first three albums. After Back Through Time, however, it is almost as if they’re doing it simply as a job. The closing title track epic is a fitting ending for the album: it’s a sunset on their career. Have no fear and don’t look back, boys; the afterlife awaits.
Best songs: “Magnetic North” “1741 (The Battle of Cartagena)” “Sunset on the Golden Age”