With March of 2012 behind us, it means that another episode of Thrash Magazine’s March Metal Madness has ended. This year, we decided to pick 250 bands and throw them in a pool, and you, the readers, determined everything from who competed to who progressed. As a staff member here, I was very pleased with the artists that you guys selected, and also the turn out that this competition drew. I decided that if all of these fans were going to come here and vote, they should have something to look forward to beyond the bragging rights for their favorite band – they should at the very least see their band featured in an article in our magazine. When the smoke had finally cleared, it was the pirate thrashers known as Swashbuckle who emerged victorious, and now it is my turn to tell their story. Could it be any more fitting that a story about pirates starts at a fucking Red Lobster?
The three piece thrash machine that hails from Mercer County, New Jersey owes its start to an all-you-can-eat shrimp buffet at the aforementioned establishment (you assholes thought I was making that shit up, right?). Founding members Admiral Nobeard (bass, lead vocals) and Commodore Redrum (lead guitar) met in a chance encounter and bonded over their love of piracy, wenches, and the thrashiest of metals (and likely seafood as well). At this time, they were still known as Patrick Henry and Justin Greczyn, and as such, probably paid for their meals. It was then that they decided it was a pirate’s life to be, so they added drummer Captain Crashride (Mike Soganic) and guitarist Rowin’ Joe Po to their crew and set sail with their 2005 Yo Ho Demo. Swashbuckle was born.
The following year marked the independent release of their debut LP, Crewed By The Damned, which is the first album reviewed here. It features breakneck riffs and rapid double bass over throaty, mid-range violence vocals. Their brand of thrash is more traditional, with its roots extending into punk. This is mixed with instrumental pirate ballads, which are actually very enjoyable, I might add. The album has a great flow to it – the pacing keeps your heart rate elevated, yet it serves to give you a break with one of the minstrel-esque melodies every now and again to keep things fresh. As strange as this may sound to listeners who haven’t experienced it yet, the formula works surprisingly well. It also serves to showcase the incredible range of musical ability that Swashbuckle possesses, as these two elements stand in stark contrast to each other, yet are both masterfully executed and seamlessly combined. Some of the standout songs for me were “Drink Up”, “Dead Men Tell No Lies”, and the title track. They also throw in a little humor at the end by covering the Spongebob Squarepants theme song in their closing track “Nautical Nonsense”. As silly as this may sound, it shows a rather light-hearted side of the band, and I definitely got a kick out of the surprise during my first listen.
This actually leads me to another point I want to make about these guys. If you’re going to have a thematic metal band like this, you had better have a damned good sense of humor if you hope to ensnare listeners outside of that cast, and Swashbuckle clearly possesses this. They obviously perform in full pirate garb. I’ve read that it goes beyond that, as their live show’s stage setup consists of inflatable palm trees, pirate ships, and stuffed parrots, and they supposedly point out two types of people at their shows – those that aren’t having fun, and buxom vixens (chicks with big boobs, for those who don’t read enough). At the same time, I’d hesitate to call them a joke band, because A) it simply isn’t true, and B) they’re fucking pirates – they may kill you. And take your things.
It was after this adventure that the band departed Tortuga without Rowin’ Joe Po, and as far as I can tell, they’ve sailed on as a three piece ever since (there is mention of a Cabinboy Arsewhipe on keyboards in the ship’s log, but his dates of enlistment and Christian name are unclear). After this, the buccaneers pillaged and plundered their way across North America, culminating in the Paganfest tour alongside Korpiklaani, Primordial, Moonsorrow, and Blackguard. Somewhere during this time, they managed to produce their sophomore effort.
The year 2009 marked the release of Swashbuckle’s second LP, a generous 21-song record called Back To The Noose. Fans of the group surely rejoiced, as this album proved to be more of the same fundamentals that the band so successfully flaunted just three years prior, but thanks in part to their new record contract with Nuclear Blast America, it was in a much more refined package. The riff-age evolved into something faster and slightly more melodic, the beats even more pummeling, and the production quality exponentially greater. The Admiral’s vocals are much clearer, and even the writing (both lyrically and musically) is more inspired. The formula for arrangement remains largely unchanged, with whimsical pirate ballads interspersed amongst torrential thrash numbers. The trio managed to follow up an impressive debut with an even more monumental release. These are the elements that any fan looks for when an act they follow releases new material, and this band of marauders did not disappoint.
Naming favorite songs from this release may be a futile effort, considering the majority are simply amazing, but some of the standouts for me were “Scurvy Back”, “We Sunk Your Battleship”, “Rounds Of Rum”, “Cruise Ship Terror”, “No Prey No Pay”, “Splash-n-Thrash”, “Attack!!”, …you know, if I continue to list songs, it’s going to be pretty much every heavy song on the record, and that’s not even fair, because some of the ballads, like “The Tradewinds”, are pretty amazing as well. This is a must-have record for any thrash fan – I should have just gone with my gut and summed it up with a “buy this now, in the event that you haven’t already”.
It seems the band picked no better time to release their second record, as shortly after it hit store shelves, the group set sail for the old world in search of riches, which they surely found during their stint on the European Paganfest and a performance at the highly-coveted Wacken Open Air Festival. They also did a couple tours across North America in 2010, supporting both Soilwork and the mighty Hypocrisy, separately. I imagine the new material made them a popular act on these tours, and if for some strange reason it did not, it would be one more excuse for them to lose faith in humanity. And then take their things. Because they’re fucking pirates.
Towards the end of 2010, Swashbuckle said “fair winds!” to their long-time drummer Captain Crashride. He was replaced with Bootsmann Collins (Paul Christiansen), and they began working on their third and most recent release.
September of 2010 saw the release of Crime Always Pays…, Swashbuckle’s third, and arguably best release. It’s not often that I get into a band at a time where you can chronologically go through their discography and see forward progression at each stage, but in my opinion, these guys have managed just that. Another point to note is that, in the same manner that Bolt Thrower successfully releases death metal album after death metal album about nothing but war with very little change to their creative formula, Swashbuckle releases album upon album of pulse-pounding pirate thrash without making any drastic departures from what they’re comfortable with and already do well. I cannot stress enough how refreshing this is – if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fucking fix it. There are not many examples of this methodology left. About the only negative thing I can say about this record is that, in comparison to Back To The Noose, I didn’t find the production quality to be quite as smooth. It’s not a big step backwards, but there’s a certain flatness to it that cannot be overlooked. This is more of a personal preference, as the overall tone is more classic sounding (reminiscent of 80s thrash), and there are probably a good number of purists out there who eat that shit up and hold their noses in disdain to things that sound “modern”. At any rate, this is less of a complaint and more of an observation, and it’s pretty easy to see which camp I’m in when it comes to sound quality. Moving forward.
As I started to say before I went off on my production values tangent, the writing on this record is by far my favorite out of Swashbuckle’s entire catalog. Even the instrumental ballads are A+ material, and songs like “Of Hooks And Hornswogglers”, “Legacy’s Allure”, and “Rope’s End” are truly beautiful. Unlike the previous record, there are some standouts amongst the heavy tracks, even though all of them are pretty awesome. My favorites are “We Are The Storm”, “Where Victory Is Penned”, the title track, and “To Steal A Life” (which, by the way, is possibly their heaviest song ever). At the same time, I want to stress that the other thrash pieces are still worthy of note, and the record as a whole is another must-own masterpiece for the discerning thrash fan.
After the release of this album, Swashbuckle (fittingly) participated in the first 70,000 Tons Of Metal tour/cruise, which was surely awesome. Sometime last year, the band parted ways with Bootsmann Collins, and he was replaced with The Legendary Pirate King Eric “The” Brown (Eric W. Brown, of Vale Of Pnath and Roniit). They are allegedly in the process of recording a new album, which they have themselves described as “Thrashy as fuck, punky as hell, more grinds than a box of Folgers, and the utmost weirdly epic songs under a minute and a half that songs under a minute and a half can possibly be”. That sounds like exciting stuff, and I wait in anticipation to give their latest effort a spin.
In closing, I’d like to add that I had only heard of this band by name before the March Metal Madness competition. To be blatantly honest, I stayed away because I generally dislike thematic metal, and on top of that, I don’t particularly care for pirates – I’ve always considered them much cooler than elves and orcs, and pretty much as cool as ninjas, which are themselves less cool than regular people. I didn’t say that to spark the obvious flame war that I surely just inadvertently declared, or as any sort of a dig on the band or their fans for their freebooting inclinations – I said it to give you an idea of my perspective in case it relates to you. I’m here to tell you that if you’re a boring motherfucker like myself who thought that pirate metal was likely not your thing, you have been doing yourself a major disservice. To say that Swashbuckle is killer is an understatement. They are exactly the kind of band that oozes with ability and commands respect, and at the very least, you need to give them an honest chance. In fact, I can safely say that they’re one of my new favorite bands, and I have you, the fans, to thank for that – if you hadn’t voted them to be the winners of this competition, I likely would have remained closed-minded and continued overlooking this amazing group. If you’ve been on the fence, my recommendation to you is to climb on board, prime your flintlock, unsheathe your cutlass, and plunder like fuck. You won’t be sorry, and if for some reason you are, you deserve to be marooned. And have your shit taken. Because they’re fucking pirates.