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Pirates vs. Vikings - 81%

hells_unicorn, July 10th, 2011

Rabid eclecticism and a lack of shame can be a pretty effective way at getting into phenomena in the metal world that would normally appeal to pop culture hounds. A lyrically campy take on a very often oversimplified and far from lighthearted subject such as pirates is one such situation, and Alestorm pretty well takes the rum-raisin ice cream cake, though Swashbuckle comes close and is actually a bit more tongue-in-cheek. This is a band that successfully merges most of the well-known clichés of 80s heavy metal and present day power metal practices with the emergent folk/symphonic craze popularized by Turisas, with absolutely no accounting for subtlety. Now the question becomes, will the 3rd time be the charm or the unexpected flop for all who have followed the story thus far?

The long and short of it is, this is a band that doesn’t mind being stylized and bound to a very specific formula, and “Back Through Time” is the expected continuation of that formula with maybe a handful of developments. In fact, this may be the first time that an ongoing popular story (such as “Friday The 13th” and “Leprechaun“) has gratuitously incorporated a farfetched Sci-Fi twist and not ended up turning into a horrid exercise in self-parody. There is a slight goofiness to the premise of pirates traveling back several centuries to slaughter a bunch of Vikings with their superior weapons technology. But this is the sort of tolerable and mildly amusing sort of ridiculousness that doesn’t really detract from what counts, which is the music.

In some ways the band seems to be taking a few hints from their popular New Jersey rivals and have elected for a somewhat nastier and shorter approach to making their victims walk the plank. A few surprisingly well introduced blast beats, some fairly thrashing guitar riffs to complement the over catchiness, a few other stylistic mergers on a handful songs and a greater emphasis on gang chorus work are some of the commonalities to unfold. The guitar and keyboard shredding has been downplayed a bit as well, but ultimately this is a sound more conducive to power metal than thrash metal, although one might venture to guess that if this were to get much more thrash-influenced that it might creep into hybrid power/thrash territory. But still, the common elements with past albums win out and this largely becomes a slight and fairly safe step in a gradually evolving sound, in perhaps too slow a process for some.

The hard truth is that this album isn’t going to win too many people over, though the short and sweet thrash work on “Shipwrecked”, “Midget Saw” and “Buckfast Powersmash” might rope in a few people who prefer Swashbuckle’s handiwork and who won’t miss the guttural, mostly toneless barks. For the steadfast consumer of this band’s standard fare, there’s a usual mixture of bodacious accordion/keyboard work and drinking song oriented choruses to be found in “Back Through Time” and “Scraping The Barrel” that will definitely appeal to those who couldn’t get enough of “Captain Morgan’s Revenge”. The same story generally goes for the moderately ambitious “Death Throes Of The Terrorsquid”, though there are some oddly placed Dimmu Borgir elements snuck into the middle of this thing (probably to synthesize the terror of the massive sea monster through the auditory medium) that throw things for a little loop.

The same basic story head on past endeavors holds true here, and that is that there isn’t really much of a middle ground where these plundering Scots are concerned. The formulation of accessible with some occasional extreme metal elements will either take the listener on a cartoon adventure on the high seas, or feel brutally awkward enough to make him prefer a real keelhauling. It’s the weakest of their efforts in the sense that the technical work of the guitars and keyboards, which are a staple of their live work, has been significantly drawn back. But still a sure to be winner for those who are drawn to Disney-oriented pirates with a moderate amount of attitude.