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Things We Learned At Piratefest

Last Friday, we sailed the endless oceans (and sailed the raging seas), ending up shipwrecked in Camden – just in time for Alestorm's sold out Piratefest, then. Here's some metaphorical booty we uncovered while we were there...

People are really into pirates

Although we can’t seem to coax audience members into explaining why they love Alestorm so much – the most coherent response takes the form of: “Cause they’re fuckin’ pirates!” – it seems that their love and appreciation is expressed in a more visual manner. Yes, droves of metalheads have raided the local fancy dress shop and descended upon the Electric Ballroom suited, booted and prepared for mutiny. Here’s just a few – exceedingly shoddy quality – snaps we took of the Alestorm faithful.

‘Pirate metal’ appears to be a rather broad term

Labelling a genre based purely on lyrical content is kinda silly; if we applied this premise to other areas, Devin Townsend’s Ziltoid The Omniscient would be ‘coffee-core’ and Cannibal Corpse would be locked up. The bands on show tonight are something of a mixed haul in terms of style – esteemed Swashbuckle drummer Eric Brown casts aside his sticks to front Rainbowdragoneyes, an 8-bit (pieces of eight-bit? Clutching at straws here…) nightmare that mixes slick, electronic beats with horrifyingly moist black metal vocals. Elsewhere, Red Rum’s folk-metal racket incites the first true sing-alongs of the evening while Lagerstein wear more celtic rock, almost Dropkick Murphys/Flogging Molly influences on their ruffled sleeves. Pirate metal is more than a genre.

Pirate metal is a state of mind

Taken at face-value, the idea of Piratefest is ridiculous – come to think of it, it’s pretty ridiculous no matter which way you look at it. But beneath twenty thousand leagues of immaturity lies something quite poignant; this show has garnered an audience wider than the Caribbean Sea, uniting all under the mark of the Jolly Roger. Father and son rock out with matching eye patches; man and wife sway to Alestorm’s Nancy The Tavern Wench and the young barrel-boys ebb and flow within the waves of a heaving pit. Put simply: you don’t have to be a certain ‘type’ of person to appreciate pirate metal. You just have to be awesome.

You don’t have to sing to be a pirate, either

Aside from the alcohol-fuelled nonsense exuding from the crowd, some of the professional pirates are having a tough time holding a tune, too. Cptn. Gregaaarrr of Lagerstein is subject to the plunder of his own voice – breaking at times and unable to hit some high notes, a lesser captain would have succumbed to such an extreme case of looted larynx. But Cptn. Gregaaarrr packs enough fire and showmanship to retain the audience’s interest. After all, he is no son of a biscuit eater – he’s a fucken’ pirate.

Pirates seem to like covering songs

Lagerstein make a heroic job of The Lonely Island’s I’m On A Boat and Alestorm crack out their cover of Hangover, but it’s Red Rum’s rendition of internet hit They’re Taking The Hobbits To Isengard that gives everyone their doubloons’ worth. Frontman Dave Everitt coaxes the crowd in with the immortal line: ‘In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit’, signalling the start of a mandolin-laced, synth-heavy mind-fuck of the highest order. 1,150 metalheads vertically bouncing in unison, screaming “A BALROG OF MORGOTH! What did you say?” really is something you must see to believe. Really.

Pirates are massive piss-heads

Aside from the crowd, those performing do a sterling job of getting absolutely shit-faced by the end of the night. Lagerstein’s man-mountain of a guitarist, dubbed ‘The Immobilizer’, cracks open two tinnies and drains them before you can say “Arrrrrr”. Preceding, during and following the gig, Alestorm main-man Christopher Bowes talks to fans, poses for selfies and accepts any alcohol-related beverage sent his way. Needless to say, the beer-guzzling lyrics that pepper his band’s albums are no tall-tales. Did we mention that he’s a fucken’ pirate?

There’s a reason why Alestorm are the biggest pirate metal band on the planet

Subject to constant abuse at the hands of internet-dwelling Swashbuckle fans and cries of “Running Wild did it first!”, Alestorm remain at the top of the pirate metal hierarchy. They never claimed to be creators of such a genre, but having sold this gig out a month in advance (and several others along the way), these Scottish sea-dogs are enjoying an increase in popularity without the help of radio – this is an institution thriving from the old-fashioned medium that is word of mouth.

Airing over half of the more metal-lenient tunes from latest opus Sunset On The Golden Age, Alestorm deliver an hour and a half of beer-chugging, jigg-inducing brilliance. Tighter and more professional a unit than they’ve ever been, Bowes and his gang of bilge-sucking buccaneers deliver the goods – whether it be the thrash-heavy groove of Back Through Time, the epic slog of 1741 (The Battle Of Cartagena) or fan-favourite Keelhauled, this band have become masters of their craft, sailing their way through a smorgasbord of styles without coming off as disingenuous.

Bowes’ between-song banter is almost as crucial a component as the songs themselves: introducing Wenches And Mead as “a song about sluts and blue WKD” and announcing Wooden Leg! as an ode to “Paul McCartney and ex-wife Heather Mills” are only two highlights of the man’s irreverent verbal genius. There is also a monkey hand-puppet involved, but we’re not too sure where he’s going with that one.

By the time Alestorm are finishing up with alcoholic anthem Rum – Bowes is crowdsurfing and keyboard player Elliot Vernon mentions something about sexual intercourse with animals – we wonder: how has this happened? With no mainstream support and little leg-up from bands of higher standing, the pirates from Perth have sold out a venue that, last year, Joey Jordison of Slipknot, one of the biggest metal acts of the millennium couldn’t fill with his new band. To call pirate metal a ‘scene’, as such, would be a tad hyperbolic but to dismiss it entirely would be a disgrace. Tonight is a beacon of hope for sea wolves across the globe – presumably Alestorm will return to our shores to fill bigger venues, and their piratical brethren will weigh anchor, hoist the mizzen and pack out headline shows of their own.