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If one was to ask whether or not thrash metal can be funny and still be taken seriously, the first thing I’d reach for would be my copy of “Back To The Noose”, the rather hard hitting yet obviously tongue-in-cheek tale of pirates on the high seas. What is presented here is a very catchy, very brutal, and rather impressive mishmash of death/thrash, crust and folk inspired music that, while gimmicky as they come, is a load of fun. While every album this band has put out listens like a long musical story, this time around there is an actual concept at play here, which is a satirical play on the popular Hollywood pirate that is reinterpreted with the crass, buffoonish mannerisms of a modern day biker gang.
The band’s desired theatrical atmosphere is definitely lacking in subtlety, as the shorter instrumental exchanges with the attitude drenched thrashers has taken on an almost power metal character at times. Right from the onset of “Hoist The Sail” familiar images of folksy guitars and shimmering seas give way to a powerful metallic overture that is all but perfectly in line with the practices of epic bands from Ensiferum to Helloween, albeit in a much less complicated fashion. After the segue into the first full length song “Scurvy Back” things actually go a step further into the larger than life, melodic realm of power metal tinged thrash with a continued folk presence that is somewhat uncharacteristic of the band if their debut has anything to say on the matter.
The further things move along, the more the amount of growing this band did during their 3 year studio hiatus becomes obvious. The catchier, slightly 80s infused thrasher “Rounds Of Rum” shows a further extension of the band’s melodic musical material venturing outside of their instrumental ditties, while there’s a good helping of nastily performed Slayer worship in “Back To The Noose” and the somewhat humorous yet house demolishing “It Came From The Deep”. The band seems quite apt at following the lead of S.O.D. and Nuclear Assault and meshing their punk influenced shorter works with a strong D-beat influence on the quickies “We Sunk Your Battle Ship” and “Whirlpit”. And as before, insane captain Patrick Henry is throwing every sort of harsh vocal style along with the kitchen sink at every turn between the frequent gang choruses, even occasionally throwing in what sounds like grind vocals in a few spots.
In this day and age of style splicing and melding, my response to this rather comical grab-bag of archaic and modern methods is, why not. This is the sort of album that can be admired for its rather impressive mixture of riff assaults, blast beats, acoustic tunes and even some occasional Polynesian steel drum music, yet also be laughed at without the slightest hint of schizophrenia. Underscoring this is the obviously goofy “Rime Of The Haggard Mariner” with its goofy old man narration and obvious Billy Milano emulations, followed by “Cruise Ship Terror”, probably the band’s best and most well known homage to the extreme thrashers of the late 80s. It might be having your cake and eating it too, but this is just too vicious and too hilarious to hate, and it definitely deserves all the attention it has received and then some.
After seeing their hilarious ‘Cruise Ship Terror’ video I decided to give this entire album a chance. And I’m glad I did. What we have here is a nice mixture of deathrash and d-beat. I don’t hear much Running Wild or whatever going on to be honest except for the lyrics but the vocals are so UK 1989 it’s hard to imagine this bunch is American.
I’m not too fond about the current self-proclaimed pirate and battle metal scenes. Most are too musically- or compositionally challenged and resorting to imagery and cheesy melodies to compensate just a little too much. Point is, I would’ve liked Swashbuckle without the imagery as well. As said the ‘Cruise Ship Terror’ video is just about perfect and a shouting fat pirate with his modern day glasses still on plus a cute girl in white shorts is enough to put a smile on my face already but had I heard the song all by itself, it would’ve gotten my full attention as well due to the energy and catchiness. Shouting ‘party boat’ in the middle of a fast deathrash tune gives me a feeling I grew accustomed to when listening to S.O.B.’s ‘Don't Be Swindle’ album and such.
Now there’s hardly any originality to be found here apart from the fact that half the album consists of clean intermezzo’s and folky touches but the real metal tunes are just reliving the days of D-beat and deathrash from the late eighties with incidentally a mid-nineties melody thrown in (though fortunately not as much as on their next album). Of course this album is performed and produced by current standard because I couldn’t imagine a big label like Nuclear Blast taking chances with band that were as sloppy and under produced as for instance Deviated Instinct were 20 years ago, just to name one.
So all in all we have a great, mostly fast, D-beat DT album with lots of folky intermezzo’s thrown in all over the place. A fine mixture I must admit and the imagery is something you either love or just don’t get. The energy and humour on this album are, combined with the tight performance and in-your-face production, more than enough to convince a blasé type such as myself.
Crewed by the Damned was a classic example of what might be seen as refractory inspiration: high seas, pirate tumescence rendered mute and unconscious by nullified writing that did not quite service its thematic folly. The jokes were not funny, and didn't even really strive to be. The concept was not novel, having been mastered in the mid-80s by a particular German band. The composition was not cut out to serve as a deckhand for mediocre 80s thrash, and not even on the level of most of the 21st century 'retro thrash' artists (though Swashbuckle's possibly unconscious NY hardcore inclinations made it a little more unique).
Alas, as happens so often in the spheres of aural metallurgy, weak music + marketable concept = score, and thus Swashbuckle would soon be flagon to flagon with hideous ear sores like the regrettable Dethklok or 3 Inches of Blood, poisoned apples in the eyes of the ironic and identity-starved high school/college stoner metal infestation who must have grown tired of photoshopping Immortal pictures and season umpteen of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Whisked away onto the Nuclear Blast roster, the nautical thrashers were one step away from bridge duty. But let's not accuse Swashbuckle of having intentionally plotted any of this crash course, as the project was obviously out to have a bit of piss and fun, whores and rum, and can even they have known that they'd see such success with the formula? No, and in all fairness, Back to the Noose would be at least a small step up from their lamentable debut.
Once more, the Jersey crew decide to offer a lot of bang for the buck, with a total of 21 tracks, most of which are of metallic, angry thrashing nature that feels more suited to the street or mosh pit than any weathered vessel at sea. "Splash-N-Thrash", "Rounds of Rum", and "Back to the Noose" are all plank walking punishments that mark for a notable increase in intensity since the limp and listless Crewed by the Damned, surges of more technical, dense thrashing frivolity that feel like a seafaring alternative to Austrian Death Machine. The band are having a lot of fun with the lyrics, and like the Pirates of the Caribbean films, they expand upon the simple pirate backstabbing and cannon fire with more fanastical tracks like "It Came from the Deep!" and, well, a lot more about drinking. These are once more affixed with amusing traditional shanties like "Cloudy With a Chance of Piracy", "The Tradewinds", and Spanish flavored "La Leyenda", as well as a handful of tiny, thrash/core blitzes like "We Sunk Your Battleship" and "Whirlpit".
But for all the band's splashing around, for all the improvements in production, fluidity of expression, and incessant barrage of energies, nearly every track on the album fails to stick to the memory, like blank-ball firing cannons of good intentions that simply don't have the mirth and compositional value to truly absorb the listener into either the band's subject matter or the fun and irony that such a realm might unintentionally evoke. Is "Rime of the Haggard Mariner" funny? Why bother, because most of these lyrics are played all too straight, and thus a strange imbalance is manifest here that never fully commits to one side or the other. Back to the Noose is a better effort than its predecessor, but it's ultimately denigrated to Cutthroat Island status rather than The Sea Hawk; Patchy the Pirate rather than an Edward Teach or José Gasparilla.
I hated Swashbuckle. Watching their videos on YouTube, I was overcome with a primal urge to troll the comments, making fat jokes and retardation jokes. There was just something so wrong with a morbidly obese man belting out joke lyrics about pirates while his compatriots dressed in 1700's attire played along with him. Something just wasn't right, so I took it upon myself to be the ultimate internet enemy of Swashbuckle, the troll who posted everywhere and all the time, never taking a break from his incessant bashing. And whaddya know, two weeks later, Swashbuckle are opening for Korpiklaani at a show I was at; I had been dreading this moment for quite a while, thinking that the show would be spoiled by the piratical antics. But you know what? Something happened. Something changed inside me: where just two minutes ago I was sourly glaring at the band, now I was cheerily headbanging along. I know what you're thinking: how can such a bitter cynic be transformed into a worshiping zealot so quickly? Surely, you are jesting? Well, no I'm not, and I'll tell you why.
Many metal bands attempt to have a comical or radical image while maintaining their metalness, and it usually doesn't work out well. Steel Panther are a joke, White Wizzard are confusing to many (as to what they want to be) and Stovokor fail completely at this compromise. Swashbuckle on the other hand, manage it. When they're playing live, when you're listening to their albums, it sounds just RIGHT. Despite the blow-up palm trees and plushie-toy parrots, they play with overwhelming conviction and force, almost convincing you on the spot that they truly are pirates from the 1700's that traveled forward in time to play pants-shittingly awesome music. Basically, they have pulled off a comical image without losing an ounce of brutality or ferocity. And this is why they rock.
But now that I've finished my [lengthy] introduction, let me actually review the album in question. Since this album is much like a concept album (or Rock Opera) and follows a general storyline, I'll review the album chronologically, going from track to track. We begin with a cheery acoustic piece, which quickly turns epic and loud as electric guitars and drums join the mix. And again, just a few dozen seconds after the first transformation, we're into track 2 "Scurvy Back", which is now a general thrash song, but with a small pang of the kind of epic sorrow you get from Bathory or Tyr. But as the song ends, the pang of epic sorrow consumes the song in a heart-wrenching moment of brotherhood (We'll thrash until we die!/'Til our ships burn to the sky!) which almost makes you want to cry. But now that that "sissy" moment is over, we have a track made of 50% music and 250% ferocity, "Back To The Noose". At this point we get a good taste of how good the guys can play their instruments, and they do not disappoint. Drumming is consistent, tight and fast, bass is also great and the guitar is well-played, although at this point the riffs are still just your basic thrash-attack kind of thing, nothing fascinatingly innovative (yet). After "Back To The Noose", we have our very first WTF moment on this album: a track that is quite literally Weather Channel music. If this were any other band, I would scream and toss the CD out of the stereo before burning it in a hellish tribute to Satan. But since this album is about pirates, it works, and luckily it's only a little bit over a minute long.
We return from the bland "Cloudy With A Chance Of Piracy" to a brutal taunting song, "We Sunk Your Battleship". This song is the metal equivalent of an orgasm induced by war. It sounds as though they just tried to fit as many chords and lyrics as they possibly could into a timespan of less than one minute. The result is unrelenting shouting and pounding on instruments, a jazzy solo, then more pounding. Next is a track which could very well fit in a pirate musical, "Rounds Of Rum". With catchy choruses and a seadog attitude, this song conjures images of a flamboyant Captain giving orders to his crew in song, who respond in the same fashion. Now we have another non-metal track "Carnivale Boat Ride", although this one is not nearly as strange as the first one, since it isn't totally out of place, but does have a certain foreboding atmosphere. After "Carnivale", we have a spoken word/atmospheric piece "Rime Of The Haggard Mariner", which features an old man speaking of pirates, followed by what sounds like fat tourists trying to be their child, but their search is cut short by a pirate raid, at which point "Cruise Ship Terror" cuts in and takes you on an orgasmic ride of pirate pillaging. This is the best song on the album, with great vicious riffs and drumming and a crushing breakdown followed by one of the most complex and astonishing guitar solos I have ever witnessed. Instead of just playing scales or random notes really quickly, Commodore RedRum here uses the whammy bar to create such beautiful noises that I would never have guessed came out of a guitar. Ending with a hilarious (yet scary, in a way) line, "WE STOLE YOUR SHIT!", "Cruise Ship Terror" is the quintessential Swashbuckle song, if not the quintessential pirate metal song.
After "Cruise Ship Terror", the album decreases in quality and interesting parts. We get another non-metal acoustic piece, followed by two generic thrash songs ("The Grog Box" has a cool intro) followed by yet another acoustic piece, which is thankfully the last annoying one. After that, the album just continues in thrashing glory, with some cool riffs and lyrics on "Peg-Leg Stomp" and "It Came From The Deep!", but overall, the rest of the album is pretty generic.
All in all, this is a great thrash album, a masterpiece of "pirate" metal and a swashbuckling tale told in vicious shouting and virtuosic solos. If you love pirates, metal or anything even closely related to the two, you should get this album. It is definitely worth the money! Arr!
-Cruise Ship Terror
-Back To The Noose
-Rounds Of Rum
The influx of pirates in modern mainstream entertainment over the years has a light and dark side. The likes of Jack Sparrow and the wrestler "Pirate" Paul Burchill sparked the flame with entertaining fiascos, but the risk of a Hot-Topic style cheapening effect came to be. One would think that for all their demeanor pirates would be an ideal source of musical inspiration, especially in the metal world. Since the mid-to-late 90s we've had Vikings shoved down their throats so much that inducing vomit of the excess like so much Wotansblood took hold, and a new topic was greatly needed lest Fimbulwinter were to descend.
Now, pirates in metal isn't an unheard of concept; we've had the great RUNNING WILD pillaging shores for years. As well as the all-filler-no-thriller ALESTORM boys, swigging Captain Morgan and sailing the true seas of cheese. So who could usurp the "pirate metal" throne with power and intensity, striking fear into the hearts of land-lubber metal folk the world over?
These guys came pretty damn close.
SWASHBUCKLE are an interesting trio, musically; not necessarily channeling the folky miasma of ALESTORM nor kicking it old school like RUNNING WILD, the BUCKLE boys charge ahead with both guns blazing, crafting intense, thrashy riffs with only hints of melody, thankfully lacking the glitzy appeal of the Scottish STORMers. Pirates, for all their flair, really were/are swarthy, violent reprobates, so obviously this kind of music treatment would do the likes of Blackbeard proud. Chaotic, blistering thrash metal is the order of the day, hearkening the glory days when EXODUS and SLAYER tore the heads of glam rockers the world over; riffs aplenty, raging tempos, steamrolling drumwork, flesh tearing guitars, and duets of piratey gurgling and fist-pounding chants showcased by monsterworks like "Scurvy Back", "Back to the Noose", the death metallish "Attack" and "Pegleg Stomp", offset by slower, and at times uptempo numbers like the interesting "Cloudy with a Chance of Piracy", the anthemic "Rounds of Rum" "Rime of the Haggard Mariner" (nice entertaining intermission), and "", each track clocking in at a mercifully short time; no sense in overstaying their welcomes. Overall the musical delivery thankfully shows these sea-farers are enjoying the everloving hell out of their current position, unleashing torrents of metallic fury with unyielding energy with nary a sense of by-the-numbers thrash revival nonsense other bands of their ilk are letting loose. By far one of the more entertaining releases to bear the Nuclear Blast Records mark.
So all in all this is probably one of the best and most interested albums I've heard this year. And while the year isn't over yet, this little wonder will probably be a hard one to beat. Man the cannons, you thrashers!
I think the barrel of original riffage has run completely dry in the world of thrash. If you want to wade into it's resurgent waters, then you've got to subsist on character, songwriting skills and pure metal energy. Swashbuckle took the riffage barrel, filled it with grog and spewed forth one of the most entertaining albums I've ever heard.
Back to the Noose is certainly not the best album of the year, but it is without a doubt the most fun. If you're going to dress up like a pirate, strap on your guitar and thrash, this is how you do it. I haven't paid much attention to buccaneering in metal thus far because it's been plain awful. What I've heard has been tainted with weak keyboard Velveeta and noodling, never-ending solos. Swashbuckle pilfer the fucking cheese and eat it.
"Hoist the Mainsail" starts off the album with an epic acoustic passage that foreshadows the glory to come. "Scurvy Back" thrashes hard and showcases the excellent guitar tone, bass sound and production of the album. It's sometimes hard to believe these guys are a three-piece. "Back to the Noose" kicks in with the the motivational phrase - "Let it rip!"
"Cloudy with a chance of piracy" is the first of several acoustic "sea shanties" that are interspersed throughout the thrash. This would reek of wretched Roquefort if they weren't executed with pure calypso brilliance. I half expect my boy Harry Belafonte to appear and bust out some tunes about coconuts and bananas.
I guess this is the point where I should issue a disclaimer. My dad's side of the family is French by way of the U.S. Virgin Islands. An ancestor is told to have been a pirate of some repute. My wife and I are known to fly the Jolly Roger from our house at times. Buccaneering runs in my veins. This, however, is the first time that spirit has been awoken by metal. So clearly I'm biased.
Back to the Noose is filled with top of the line thrash riffage and rhythms. The sound deviates occasionally towards more melody or more death. These variations are always perfectly executed. "Rounds of Rum" channels Clayman era In Flames riffs to great effect. "Whirlpit" starts off with a riff that dials up Trey Azagthoth for a few brief moments. But in the end, how the hell can you beat a song called "Peg-leg Stomp?"
The vocals tend to lean a little towards the guttural and deep side, which is fine for me. The lyrics are ridiculously awesome, and most every song has a gang-style sing along chorus. How can you help but yell along when the chorus is simply "Grog Box!"
Shit man, if you can handle this shtick, and enjoy a good thrashing, you've got to pick up this album.
Originally posted here: http://atanamar.blogspot.com/