Thursday, 28 August 2014

Alestorm's 'Sunset on the Golden Age' - Album Review

Alestorm are probably one of the most popular bands in the folk/power metal world at the moment. Since releasing their debut album Captain Morgan's Revenge in 2008, they have released two more studio albums, a live album, and a smattering of stand-alone songs/EPs - all of which have been consistently solid. They never release anything classic, as most of their works have patchy moments, but they are always good fun and write sickeningly catchy tunes that have won over many a serious metalhead. Earlier this month, the band released their fourth studio album Sunset on the Golden Age and it continues on more or less where their last album, 2011's Back Through Time, left off. Anyone expecting any big changes in sound or style (was anybody seriously expecting this anyway?) will be disappointed, as this is more of the same from the pirate-themed metal band. That being said, there are a few slight changes in sound that are noticeable. Firstly, frontman/keyboardist Christopher Bowes seems to have experimented with harsh vocals on a few of the tracks, and these really work a treat. It helps to add a new dimension to the band's sound and gives the album a much heavier feel in places. Secondly, this is the band's first studio album as a five-piece as keyboardist Elliot Vernon has been added to the band's line-up. His addition does not seem to make a huge difference to the band's recorded sound, but he has certainly helped improve and tighten up their live sound. Still, he has co-written a couple of songs for this album so he makes his impact known in that respect. Overall though, the sound is largely the same. Lasse Lammert has once again produced the album, and it sounds as big and lush as all their previous works. I do think however that the overall quality of the songs are not as good here as on previous albums. There are some excellent stand-out songs here, but some of the filler songs just seem to a lack a certain spark when compared to the band's previous albums. I have always preferred Alestorm's more serious songs (and I use the term 'serious' very loosely here..), but this album has too many of their jokey, throwaway drinking songs for my liking. I am aware that there will be lots of fans who love this side of the band, but I have always preferred the epic power metal anthems that do not descend into self-parody.

The album gets off to a ridiculously strong start with Walk the Plank (how did it take the band so long to write a song with that title?). Right from the outset, the big keyboard melodies fill up your speakers before guitarist Dani Evans lays down a huge riff that is the foundation for the verses which Bowes shouts over with his usual over-the-top vocal style. The chorus is a real winner though, with plenty of big keyboard lines and some fist-pumping vocal hooks that is sure to go down well live. Drummer Peter Alcorn deserves special mention. On this second album with the band, he really lays down excellent beats throughout this album, and his performance on this song stands out. Single Drink follows and this is one of the album's sillier songs. It pays tribute to many of their previous songs in its lyrics and has a really nice 'accordian' (keyboard) line that makes up the song's main riff. It is not their best song, but it certainly is not as bad as Rum from their previous album (oh dear!). The chorus is pretty catchy and the verses have a really nice rhythm with some good drum patterns from Alcorn. It is not a bad song, I just wish they decided to make a video for Walk the Plank instead - but I do understand the appeal that this song will have! Magnetic North is better. The song's introduction sounds like something from a Leaves' Eyes album, until Bowes starts singing over it that is. Still, this song has some really nice folky soundscapes underneath the mid-paced chugging metal riffs. The chorus is good. Bowes' harsher vocals mix well with the epic keyboard lines in and give it the feel of a true sea shanty. There is also a passage with some true harsh vocals that give the song a very menacing feel. 1741 (The Battle of Cartagena) follows on nicely from the previous song and keeps the standards high. The opening folky melodies borrow a lot from bands like Eluveite and the song has an epic feel to it like some their best songs released previously. It is a relatively long song, but never feels boring as it goes through many sections that all tie together nicely. Like the previous song, there are sections that contain pure harsh vocals and that creates an excellent contrast with the folky melodies intertwining with the rest of the song. Evans, who is not the world's greatest guitarist, plays a blinding guitar solo midway through the song too, and really elevates my opinion of him as a player.

Mead from Hell is a simpler song that is built around a really cheesy keyboard riff that seems to carry on throughout the song, no matter what else is playing around it! It is a fun little song, that still manages to throw in a couple of excellent musical moments, like the excellent pre-chorus with a nice drum pattern from Alcorn and a short guitar solo provided by producer Lammert. Surf Squid Warfare is fairly similar to the album's previous song, but it is enjoyable none-the-less. Another good keyboard riff drives this song and Bowes' strange story about about zombie squids is strangely interesting. Still, it is the song's melodies that hold interest the most, and the shouty chorus is the highpoint of the song. Evans once again impresses with another good guitar solo, in a song he co-wrote. Quest for Ships is where the album starts to flag though. While I like Vernon's inclusion to the band generally, his lyrics on this song are pretty awful, but are just about saved by some half-decent music. This is the sort of song that stops Alestorm from being a real classic modern metal band in my mind. For every killer song they release like Walk the Plank or oldie Leviathan they also release questionable ones like this and the following number Wooden Leg!. Wooden Leg! is the album's real low-point however. There is some nice bass guitar playing from Gareth Murdock and some cool blast-beat drumming from Alcorn, but the pointless chorus that repeats the words 'wooden leg' no less than twenty times each go around is just so wearing. Hangover a modified cover from British rapper/producer Taio Cruz is surprisingly not awful. It is certainly better than the album's previous couple of songs and has some excellent lead keyboard lines throughout and a guest appearance from Phil 'MC Immobiliser' Philp (Lagerstein)! Luckily however, the album ends on a very high note, with the eleven plus minute title track that is possibly the most epic song the band have ever recorded along with Death Throes of the Terror Squid. Sunset on the Golden Age is like a mix between that song and the doomy The End of our Days from 2009's Black Sails at Midnight, and it works well to bring an epic, yet heavy end to the album. The chorus is rather catchy and the extended musical arrangement has a rather progressive vibe to it that shows a certain maturity in the songwriting department, which is welcome. Overall, Sunset on the Golden Age is a decent album that is let down at the end by a few poor songs. The high points of the album though really are excellent are likely to be present in the band's live set for years to come!

The album was released on 4th August 2014 via Napalm Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Drink.


  1. Phil Philp The Immobilizer is Lagerstein's bassist.

  2. Thankyou, I have updated the blog now!