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A few flaws for an awesome pirate folk masterpiece - 90%

Verd, November 4th, 2011

To make things clear before I start my review, I have to admit that my love story with Alestorm began right back in 2006 when they were still known as Battleheart and when they released two eps where they covered, among the other songs, Journey man by Korpiklaani, a band whose shaman symbol I had tattooed on my right shoulder many years ago. Those days are long gone though, and even if Alestorm re-recorded many of their old songs (Over the seas, Set sail and conquer, Terror on the high seas etc.) on their debut album, the great "Captain Morgan's Revenge" (great, but with many flaws, to be honest), their sound has significantly changed across the years.

2008, the year in which Alestorm released their debut album, has been the same year in which I saw them for the first time and I had really enjoyed the show (even because before that gig I had listened to their album something like two hundred times), but they were still very inexperienced and "anonymous" compared to what they are today. Yeah, I saw them some days ago; they have significantly changed their line-up by adding a live keyboard player (Elliot Vernon) and by hiring a new drummer, way better than the other one they had years ago, and it's clear to everyone that the great improvements they showed on the album I'm going to review here (and, to some extent, even in their good second album) are not a flash in the pan. There are rather unmistakable signs of an awesome growth in matter of talent and ability both in writing and playing their songs.

Anyways, coming to the review of this great album, only 3 songs out of 10 are rather anonymous and boring; excluding the 3 second song, Rumpelkombo, indeed, the rest of the album is a gem and masterpiece in today's folk metal scene. Abandoning the not-so-good sound balancing that characterized their debut album, vocalist and mastermind Christopher Bowes's keyboards bosses the show here along with really astonishing guitar work by Dani Evans. The whole album is full of catchy choruses and solos starting with the title-track Back Through Time (with some funny lyrics about pirates hunting for Vikings "six hundred years into the past") and, above all, from the great Shipwrecked that comes with a funny video you can find everywhere and with some entertaining lyrics as always, and it's nothing but the refrain that captures the listener. Great refrains you can hear on other masterpieces like Rum and the awesome cover of Barrett's Privateers by Stan Rogers, all songs that, differently from many of Alestorm's older songs, have amusing and "light" lyrics and melodies with every one of them coming with a catchy chorus and great solos.

More serious atmospheres characterize the two remaining songs. The first one is the awesome The Sunk'n Norwegian that reminds me their old song Nancy the Tavern Wench which talks about a tavern and creating an unique feeling of melancholy ("for tomorrow we sail to a faraway land..."), thanks to Bowes's raw and pirate-like voice and, of course, to his ubiquitous keyboards. The last song isn't really a new concept in Alestorm's discography (like many said) as even Captain Morgan's Revenge was a pretty long and various song, but here I'm talking about the last song on the album, Death Throes of the Terrorsquid, the dark atmosphere of the battle against that monster is generated with growl vocals and slow rhythms (just think that in Heidenfest 2011 Vreth from Finntroll sang the last part of this song), spanning through almost 8 minutes of what I can call an "epic" folk/power metal song with symphonic elements.

Besides the only track I didn't mention, Swashbuckled, a really enjoyable song that deals of course with the New Jersey thrash metal band Swashbuckle (yeah, I think that the lyrics of this song are even more enjoyable than the music itself), the remaining three tracks aren't really worthy, mainly Scraping the Barrel, a repetitively slow ballad-like song and Buckfast Powersmash, an anonymous thrashy piece. These three tracks prevent me from giving a high rating of the whole album.

The main reason why I gave a rating of 90 to this album is that seven songs out of ten are astonishing both lyrically and musically speaking. They're dominated by Bowes's keyboards and unique voice (that still reminds me of Boltendahl's raw voice from Grave Digger), but differently from their previous two albums here. Alestorm presents itself as a solid band, able to write complex songs with funny, serious, alcohol-related or fantasy lyrics, always remaining into a universe that we can call the "pirate" world, and trust me, it's not easy at all not to write (out of 10 songs) something that has little or nothing to do with the main theme that Alestorm chose to narrate. Yeah, in the end you can see every Alestorm album like a "concept" album. They all talk about piracy and nothing else, but this third masterpiece comes really near to perfection with extremely enjoyable and catchy songs that at the same time contain complex melodies, riffs, and - never forget this - awesome lyrics.