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Yaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrr... Ahem. - 70%

TheStormIRide, November 25th, 2013

Calico Jack is an Italian folk metal band that takes their inspiration from tales of the high seas, corsairs, pirates and the like. I know you're thinking that Alestorm and Swashbuckle beat these Italians to the finish line, but what you're forgetting is that Running Wild did the whole pirate thing back in 1987 with “Under Jolly Roger”. Yes, that's at least ten years before most Alestorm and Swashbuckle fans were even born. So what's my point, you ask? Well, I really don't have one aside from making sure you, the reader, are aware that Calico Jack is not ripping anyone off, as there have been “pirate metal” bands since before many of you were born.

“Panic in the Harbour” is Calico Jack's second release, their first being a demo called “Scum of the Seas”, but it's my first time hearing their brand of piratical metal. Seriously, what kind of band can play pirate metal anymore without being compared to those bands I previously mentioned? The answer is none. When you pick a gimmicky shtick to play music to, it kind of paints you into a corner. That's not always a bad thing, because I like a good gimmick as much as the next guy, but the end result will still be likened to the rest of the groups in your given niche. I must say, though, that as far as pirate themes and music, Calico Jack has it down. It's not just because of the vocals, because the vocals actually are the least piratical thing on this release, it's the fact that they use a real violin to add the dainty jigs and images of drunken pirates at Tortuga Bay to their music. Most of these other bands just dress like pirates or use keyboards and yell “ARRRGGGHHHH” a lot, but Calico Jack's use of violin lines makes the pirate themes seem a little more authentic than the others.

Calico Jack basically plays a fast paced and punk inspired traditional metal with folky, pub styled violin lines strewn throughout. The guitar lines range from chugging chord progressions to a start stop style utilized by many folk metal bands. There are actually a few moments that sound similar to the feel of “Treasure Island” era Running Wild, but that's never a bad thing. The drums stick with a fairly standard punk beat and the bass plods along giving a very bouncy feel to the music. There are some highly melodic moments, like the beginning of “Deadly Day in Bounty Bay”, but most of the melody on “Panic in the Harbour” is derived from the violin work. The vocals are gravelly growled vocals, but the band really excels when the gang vocals kick in: it sounds like a room full of drunken pirates singing at the top their lungs. The violins, aside from adding some authenticity, also string more head-bobbing, tankard swinging moments than anything I've heard in sometime. Every violin line sounds straight from some dark, smoke-filled pub out of legend. The lead guitars are solid as well, but they are most impressive when a lead guitar line matches the violin tempo and the two just drag you into the captain's quarters with a solid piratical jig.

There are some moments that get bogged down. It's mostly due to the somewhat rough production. The beginning to “Grog Jolly Grog!” shows this, when the bass and guitars begin to wash each other out, while the somewhat choppy drums blast away. It's a little grating, but the band works through it finishes the track in fine, rum-swilling form. I can really tell that the band has some interesting ideas that hopefully a more solid production could flush out. Is Calico Jack gimmicky? Hell yes, they are, but that's not a huge issue if they are good at what they do. “Panic in the Harbour” isn't going to make any new fans of pirate metal, but if you dig the style give them a try. Their style is a little more punk infused than the others that have given Pirate Metal a try, but it's an enjoyable ride, albeit a short one. The production is a little rough here but it's still perfect for sitting in the crow's nest swigging a handle of rum.

Written for The Metal Observer: