Scotland. It’s the home of haggas, kilts and unbelievably red hair. However, it’s also been the home of pirates. It begins with Viking raids on the nation over 1,000 years ago. In latter years, dastardly characters like Captain William Kidd, Red Legs Greaves and Alexander Dalzeel were responsible for all sorts of bloody shenanigans. Though these died off centuries ago, we now have Christopher Bowes (keyboards/vocals) and his folk metal outfit, Alestorm, carrying the spirit on, even if they aren’t aware of it.
Bowes and company have been busy in the pirate metal realm, recently completing work on a live DVD and a recorded cover of the Village People’s “In the Navy” – yes, we’re being serious – before leaving their homeland for an extensive tour.
It’s a necessary move, even outside of the obvious. Scotland has never been known for its bountiful supply of metal supporters.
“It’s a load of shite!” writes Bowes of the current scene. “There’s only two or three bands out of Scotland who are remotely doing anything, which is utterly terrible for a country with a population of five million people. Compare that to what goes on in much smaller countries in Scandinavia and it just looks embarrassing.”
And he’s absolutely right. Even an extensive web search brings up only a handful of groups, including Holocaust, Cerebral Bore and Man Must Die, whose notoriety is comparable to Alestorm. No matter, they are helping put Scotland on the map with their musical combination of essential folk metal stylings (think jumpy, booze-laden guitar lines with the ever-heroic keyboard melodies) and an exaggerated Jack Sparrow-duelling-Blackbeard-over-a-flagon-of-rum vibe. Bowes even does his best to keep his voice within character, peppering his songs with obligatory “yarghs” and “yar-har-hars.”
“When we write songs for Alestorm, we mostly just focus on writing a badass sing-along chorus, and a headbangable riff that’ll get the crowd going,” writes Bowes. “It’s the kind of music that needs to be played live and sounds best when you’ve got your arm around some random guy in the audience, singing along with all the words.”
It’s also the kind of music that has lots of potential to delve into Scotland’s rich pirate history but that was never the M.O. for the Alestorm boys.
“To be honest, neither me nor anybody else in the band knows anything about historical piracy,” writes Bowes, explaining that the band is not a fan of subtlety or substance. They prefer to the take the silly route and write about things like “pirates discovering a time machine and going back to the 11th century to kill Vikings or attacking a monastery to steal all of their booze.”
Which is just as excellent in its own right, given the utter lack of humour many metal bands project. Of course, this inspires the haters to snub their nose at the band even more — there is perhaps no other metal subgenre that will ever catch the kind of flack that folk metal does. Metal is always going have at least a small element of ridiculousness within the music and image, but the folk metal bands are the ones that actually go out and have fun with it — you know, as opposed to burning down a church or something.
Let’s face it; it’s something you’ve got to expect when you go onstage waving a Jolly Roger around every night. Far from being butt-hurt about it, Bowes welcomes this response.
“We love the hate! So many nerds throw shit at us, saying that we’re too goofy or that we’re making music for kids or something. I don’t care at all. I think we’re making badass party music and if you don’t like it, it is your loss.”
Watch Alestorm with Gypsyhawk and Trollfest on Monday, November 19 at the Republik.
By Brandon McNeil