I’ve never been a follower of Alestorm’s recorded output, as for me they are one of those acts that I will always seek out at a festival for the simple reason that they are pure unadulterated fun and a reminder that we Metal fans should not take our shit too seriously. My young daughter however is quite incredulous that I am reviewing an album from a Pirate Metal band and saves me from having to answer any awkward motivational questions by asking the obvious “Why are they a Pirate Metal band, Dad?” … ”Because they Arrrrrh” I reply, punching the air that I got both a dad joke and a Pirate joke in one fell swoop and grateful that I don’t have to try and explain that real Pirates probably don’t like Metal, they have an historical preference for Rum and Bass or aRR n’ B. (Apologies - Ed) Yes, these are obvious jokes, but the question is Curse Of The Crystal Coconut an obvious album for Alestorm, and after six records has the joke now not worn a little thin? Well, every time I found a cracking track, I’ve put in a pirate joke, just to make sure you read this.
The label are taking no chances here, so this review is based on a stream only copy of the album (presumably to help prevent Piracy), but you will all be able to listen to it on your Ayye-Phones from Friday. Opener Treasure Chest Party Quest whose verse lyric “We’re only here to have fun, get drunk and make loads of money”, may sound like the Conservative Party Mission Statement, but kicks things off to a promising start, and is clearly intended as a good lively festival pleaser (P.S. Boys, love the cowbell solo). Fannybaws is the second track and single, but doesn’t quite keep the momentum going and although there’s some suitably wry lyricism going on here, Chomp Chomp is a much better track – and belts on at a furious pace, but counterpoints the speed with some well-crafted twists and turns of the accordion, with a guest vocal turn from Finntroll's Mathias "Vreth" Lillmåns.
Tortuga appears to take the pace down a bit before going a more poppy almost Nu-Metal and toned back direction, with just a snort of Rob Zombie-esque refrains to take away the taste of the rum, but actually surprises by being one of the best tracks on the album, proving that Christopher Bowes is able to do something other than the same old Pirate Metal tropes, although by the time you get to the familiar grooves of Zombies Ate My Pirate Ship, all is forgiven and the piratical thematicals are more than welcome back and proves that Bowes still has the hang of his arrrt.
The sound and production are as crisp as you would expect from this level of experience, and the presence of a violin throughout adds a deeper, folkier feel than the usual accordion effect. There are a couple of obvious fillers on here – midpoint Call Of The Waves is also the low point, but this is a generally consistent and entertaining effort. The variation of tone is what makes this tick, and I particularly loved the short and effective clap-along Shit Boat (No Fans), and Pirate Metal Drinking Crew keeps the humour and tap along pace going, but really is fairly standard Alestorm but with a strategically placed “Fuck You” in the chorus guarantees that this one is going to make it into the live set. The finale of the album is the notably heavier follow up to 2014’s Wooden Leg, called surprisingly, Wooden Leg Part 2 (The Woodening) is surprisingly more technical than the normal shanty-along and hauls in at eight minutes of running time, but still dripping in humour and uses the instrumental breaks to poke fun at some of their more proggy peers. The track closes with the witty acoustic led Henry Martin, and then ‘twas gone.
Have they lost their thunder? No, there’s still wind in them there sails, and Bowes’ ability to hook you in with the classic Alestorm sound, then mix up both the pace and sound is what stops this from sitting in the doldrums. Nautical, but nice. 8/10
Rannoch: Reflections Upon Darkness (Self Released) [Rich Oliver]
The worlds of extreme and progressive music were meant to cross paths. Both genres rely on breaking the rulebook and large degrees of experimentation and non-conformity so it always made sense that the genres would combine. Though there are many bands combining the extreme reaches of metal with progressive sounds there are still bands who come out and surprise you. Rannoch are one of those bands. They don’t do anything especially new or surprising but just play their own brand of extreme progressive metal extremely well with high levels of songwriting and technical ability.
Reflections Upon Darkness is the second album by the UK band and is a daunting listen with a duration of around 70 minutes including a 39 minute composition based around the poem Darkness by Lord Byron which is split into seven parts. Music wise Rannoch sound like the lovechild between Opeth and Meshuggah with its mix of luscious melodies, progressive meandering, a dark epic atmosphere and crushing riffs. The vocals by Ian Gillings are a mix of growling harsh vocals, melodic clean vocals and spoken word parts with all styles given prominence throughout the album. After a short but epic intro the first proper song is De Heptarchia Mystica which throws everything in the bands arsenal at you with heavy riffs and atmospheric layers of synths. My favourite song on the album is definitely The Hanged Man with its natural shifts between the melodic and the heavy and the sublime lead guitar playing throughout. The Darkness suite which takes up the last half of the album is definitely the most ambitious part of the album and whilst split into seven tracks is meant to be heard as one long piece.
Rannoch have impressed me with this album. It is a hefty listen and definitely requires multiple listens to digest it all but it is a very rewarding listen with plenty of alternating sounds, moods and shades. A very solid album which will appeal to extreme metal and prog fans alike. 8/10
Geezer: Groovy (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Matt Bladen]
Never has there been more of a temptation to just write the album title as a review and be done with it. But in the tradition of integrity I'll give a bit more information about this fourth album from Geezer. Hold your horses before you explode, they are in no way related to Black Sabbath's legendary king of the groove. No this Geezer comes from New York but they are certainly influenced by Messrs Butler, Iommi, Ward and Osbourne along one of the founders The Guess Who, along with a big heaving doses of the sexy psych rocking of Dave Wyndorf and the more earthy blues base of COC (Pepper version). Because that's what Geezer are in essence (much like the band where their namesake made his bones) they're a blues band but with the fuzz ramped up to its top level and bottom end so fat you could make crackling out of it. As with so many psych groovers Geezer are three piece the trio locking in tight for some heavy rocking jams such as the woozy Atlas Electra, the slinky Dead Soul Scroll, the rollicking title track and the trippy Slide Mountain. If you need some more blissed out blues stoner then turn on and tune out with Geezer. Groovy baby! 7/10
Forged In Black - Ten Years At The Forge (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]
This is a novel idea. To celebrate their tenth anniversary as a band, Southend metal crew Forged In Black have released this 6 track compilation that has been compiled as a follow up to their tenth anniversary show in late 2019. Ten Years At The Forge is a special digital only EP that is made up of the title tracks from Forged In Black's releases including a bonus of The Exodus which was their exclusive 2014 single. All the songs have been remastered by guitarists Chris Bone and Andy Songhurst and serve as glowing retrospective for a band who have worked with both Cardiff's own Romesh Dodangoda and Chris Tsangarides. You can download the EP at a name-your-price tariff on the bands bandcamp but this review is here to show you what to expect.
There's a very strong mixture of music here, the first track is obviously Forged In Black (the final track on their debut of the same name) kicking off this EP with some breakdowns even some screams, the that a darker kind of American style of heavy metal, with similarities to Iced Earth and Jag Panzer. The Tide is a slower and more anthemic stomp, while The Exodus builds into some latter day Maidenisms. Over the course of these six tracks, Forged In Steel show why they have been very well received by the metal press and also why they have survived for ten years with their evolution audible here. An ideal starter into the world of Forged In Black come feel the steel! 7/10
Mountain Witch: Extinct Cults (This Charming Man Records) [Matt Bladen]
We often reference the phrase "Sabbath Worship" in this blog, but the opening riff of Capping Day is ridiculously close to the opening chords of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath that it takes the phrase to new heights. Luckily for them the remainder of the song sounds nothing like it, though it does retain that Sabbath stoner sound that so many bands aim for. Mountain Witch are shamelessly retro influenced unit that play with the occult throughout, referencing those same B-Movie sound tracks that Uncle Acid and Electric Wizard delve into so deeply. The band state that Extinct Cults comes "after four years of conspirative plotting" and with tracks such as Worship You bringing the ringing 70's doom of BOC, as Man Is Wolf To Man keeps things pacy with some choppy riffing. It's produced with the retro effect in mind but never goes into blatant copying, though Capping Day comes close. Witchy, doomy, rocking from Germany. 6/10