ALESTORM

In 2008, a pi­rate metal band from Scot­land broke into the metal scene with one of the most ridicu­lous de­buts in his­tory. A decade later, they’re still here. How did this hap­pen?!

Metal Hammer (UK) - - Contents - WORDS: RICH HOB­SON

Yar­rrrr, me hearties! Ten years af­ter alestorm made a splash, we find out how they’ve kept them­selves afloat.

It’s the quin­tes­sen­tial fes­ti­val scene: a field in Europe, thou­sands of faces stretch­ing into the dis­tance, all cap­ti­vated by the spec­ta­cle on­stage. A band, in­stru­ments in hand, feed­ing on the din as ev­ery­body roars along to ev­ery word. Heads bang. Horns are raised. Bod­ies… row? This isn’t Me­tal­lica, Iron Maiden or Guns N’ Roses play­ing a head­line set – it’s Alestorm at Graspop 2017.

“There was a sea of hu­mans – hu­mans as far as the eye could see,” says

Alestorm vo­cal­ist (and only re­main­ing found­ing mem­ber)

Christo­pher Bowes, re­mem­ber­ing the band’s in­sanely over­sub­scribed set. “The set-up is two stages side-by-side, and we could see peo­ple watch­ing us from the far end of the wrong stage – it was ridicu­lous!”

Com­mon sense dic­tates that any metal band who can shift over 500,000 records world­wide, fill fields and clubs alike through­out Europe and be­yond, and po­ten­tially lay claim to kick­start­ing a whole sub­genre would be a Big Deal. But with Alestorm, com­mon sense sel­dom comes into play. Largely dis­missed by crit­ics as a joke band, the band are nonethe­less go­ing strong on the 10th an­niver­sary of their de­but, Cap­tain

Mor­gan’s Re­venge. Fifth al­bum No Grave But The Sea, re­leased last May, reached their high­est chart po­si­tions yet and led to a sum­mer of fes­ti­val mad­ness.

It’s fair to say that this is more than just a flash-in-the-pan gim­mick thing, then.

“We just have fun,” Chris ex­plains. “I think it helps that we’re not cool; by the very essence of be­ing cool, you have to be not cool at some point.

We’ve al­ways been sad and em­bar­rass­ing, so peo­ple can just stick with us for­ever.”

Christo­pher is both self-dep­re­cat­ing and good-hu­moured, fre­quently jok­ing about how lu­di­crous it is that he has been able to build a whole ca­reer out of singing metal songs about pi­rates – all stem­ming from a sin­gle song that he wrote at high school in Perth, Scot­land. “I was, like, 16 or 17. At lunchtime, when ev­ery­body would go out and smoke, drink and party, I was just sit­ting in a mu­sic room play­ing pi­ano like a good lit­tle nerd. I came up with a song that was es­sen­tially a drunken sailor song, but metal,” he re­mem­bers. “It’s funny, be­cause it’s prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant thing I’ve ever done – this stupid lit­tle song be­came the ba­sis for the last 10 years of my life!”

The song – Heavy Metal Pi­rates – ac­tu­ally pre-dates Alestorm, and was orig­i­nally writ­ten and re­leased for Christo­pher’s first band, Bat­tle­heart. De­cid­edly more power met­alo­ri­ented than Alestorm, Bat­tle­heart nonethe­less laid the foun­da­tion for the more bom­bas­tic sound that would bring Chris and co so much suc­cess – and be­fore you ask, no, they weren’t in­flu­enced by long-run­ning, his­tory-ob­sessed met­allers Run­ning Wild.

“In our early days we were com­pared to Run­ning Wild a lot,” Christo­pher says, clearly ex­as­per­ated with the com­par­i­son. “It’s kind of ridicu­lous when you con­sider that they’re a Ger­man speed metal band and most of their songs aren’t even about pi­rates. Sure, they sang about pi­rates, but Led Zep­pelin sang about Vik­ings and you don’t hear peo­ple say, ‘Oh, Amon Amarth! You’re just rip­ping off Led Zep­pelin!’”

In­stead, they chan­nelled the wave of Fin­nish folk metal that was gain­ing mo­men­tum, tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from Kor­pik­laani, En­siferum and Turisas, and adding in the over-the-top sound of coun­try­men such as Chil­dren Of Bodom.

“We brought a lot to­gether for our sound,” says Chris. “At the time in Scot­land, a lot of the lo­cal bands were play­ing hard­core, met­al­core and sludge – lots of down­tuned riffs. We had big, stupid melodies and so­los, so we de­cided, ‘Right, that’s it – let’s be dif­fer­ent, and make some­thing that sounds like it should made in a for­est in Scan­di­navia.’ It even­tu­ally mor­phed into some­thing about pi­rates and got a bit out of hand...”

Their trans­for­ma­tion into pi­rate metal pi­o­neers al­most com­plete, Bat­tle­heart changed their name to the pun­nier Alestorm, quickly se­cured a record deal (“They said, ‘This sounds great – we can mar­ket the crap out of pi­rates!’” Christo­pher laughs) and set out on their first-ever tour in March 2008. But it wasn’t all smooth sail­ing. At their first gig, sup­port­ing Turisas and Norther in Northamp­ton, Chris’s key­tar strap broke as soon as he walked on­stage. “I was ner­vous – as you can fuck­ing imag­ine – and my key­board falls off. Go­ing from there to here, it’s fuck­ing non­sense.”

The tour might have been a baptism by fire, but Alestorm man­aged to so­lid­ify their buc­ca­neer­ing rep­u­ta­tion. And with those first shows came their first fans. “Fifty peo­ple chased our lit­tle cam­per van down the street say­ing how awe­some we were,” Christo­pher re­mem­bers. “We’d never been on tour, so we thought that

"PI­RATE METAL IS OUR FAULT"

WE ARE FULLY BLAM­ING YOU FOR THIS SHIT, CHRISTO­PHER BOWES

was just how it was. It took us a while to re­alise that there was some­thing spe­cial go­ing on.”

By the time the band played their first Graspop in June 2008, thou­sands of fans were turn­ing up to sing along to songs that had only been around since Jan­uary of that year. Alestorm were ready to hit the high seas. “It blows my mind, get­ting to go to daft coun­tries,”

Christo­pher mar­vels. “I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would get to tour the world and not have to mort­gage my­self to do so.”

What was once a sin­gle fun song on an EP had be­come an en­tire sub­genre, with sim­i­lar bands ap­pear­ing around the world. Pi­rate metal was born. “I do won­der about that some­times,” Christo­pher ad­mits. “But there are bands like Swash­buckle who have been do­ing it a lit­tle bit longer

– they started at the same time as us, to­tally co­in­ci­den­tally. I think it’d be silly for us to take all the credit, but I do feel like the wider scene is our fault, in a way.”

Love it or loathe it, pi­rate metal has cer­tainly shown its stay­ing power over the past decade, con­found­ing crit­ics as to how a sim­ple gim­mick could en­joy such longevity. In the 10 years since re­leas­ing their de­but record, Cap­tain Mor­gan’s Re­venge, Alestorm have built one of the most vo­cal – and vis­i­ble – fan­bases in metal. Their last three

"WE'VE AL­WAYS BEEN SAD AND EMBARRASIN­G!"

AND YET, ALESTORM ARE STILL HERE, 10 YEARS ON

al­bums have en­tered the charts, with No Grave... land­ing Top 50 po­si­tions in the UK, the US and Ger­many. Their Spo­tify Top 10 tracks boast well over a mil­lion plays each, with the top song, Drink, hit­ting the 10mil­lion mark.

While Christo­pher is up­front about how ridicu­lous his band are, there’s no deny­ing he speaks with pride, and is quick to de­fend the wider genre from de­trac­tors. “We do the metal thing first, pi­rate sec­ond,” he says, res­o­lutely. “What’s wrong with want­ing to be in a band and have fun? I know what we do is a lit­tle bit stupid, but at the end of the day I like to think it’s well-crafted; it’s se­ri­ous mu­sic but with a very whim­si­cal ap­proach.”

Metal is full of bands who are able to em­brace the genre’s most lu­di­crous el­e­ments and cap­ture the imag­i­na­tion nonethe­less. Iron

Maiden have forged a near - 40 - year ca­reer do­ing it, Amon Amarth head­line fes­ti­vals be­cause of it and Ghost em­body its en­dur­ing ap­peal. The suc­cess of Alestorm isn’t anoma­lous – it’s coded into metal’s very DNA to love some­thing un­abashedly joy­ous and heavy. And they’re still ris­ing.

“I’m glad that we didn’t hit our peak three al­bums ago,” Christo­pher says. “It’s on the up and up, and shows are still get­ting big­ger. I like to think we put on a good show, too – we do have an in­flat­able duck, af­ter all.” It might not be Ed­die just yet, but the band do have big plans for the fu­ture. “If we ever head­line a UK fes­ti­val, we’ll get a gi­ant duck. But un­til then, our seven-foot one is fine.”

You heard it here first, folks. Alestorm in the run­ning for Blood­stock 2020 – af­ter all, there’s plenty worse that could hap­pen that year…

We don’t know how this is still a thing ei­ther. Sorry, ev­ery­body Alestorm are (Seven-foot still go­ing st duck just out of

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