Billed as Piratefest this was the 34th show of the tour, and all the acts are honed like the sharpened Damascus Steel blade of a scimitar.
Opening up the proceedings is Rainbowdragoneyes. Now, we all appreciate a little bit of an unusual take on metal, and hopes were high when the synth opened with a Star Wars flavour....
Rainbowdragoneyes is Eric W Brown, a one-man act who sings death metal vocals and headbangs to beats and beeps composed on an 8-bit Gameboy; and then with a sly grin moves on to tracks composed on an XBox360.
There is no doubt that a lot of thought has gone into the compositions and arrangements, so much so that a goodly proportion of the rapidly filling venue were enjoying Brown's antics - especially when members of Lagerstein joined him on stage (the less about the Majestic Beast's tiger onesie the better). Was it a fun way to open the proceedings? Yes. Does Mr Brown's act have longevity? We doubt it.
No such thing could be said for Red Rum. Their take on pirate metal is full-on, no messing about. Shanties, folk, death metal, all welded together in a set of ferocious intensity. Ferocious pirates...well they also are said to have been pretty humorous too.s
Frontman Dave Everitt is an enormous presence, both in stature and voice. It was a set that utilised all the band members various talent, from lead guitarist, Sam Wood's bouzouki, bassist Steve Ryall's mandolin through to the relatively hidden guitarist Bekkie Brimby's occasional turn on the flute.
Lagerstein once more invade the stage, and with song titles like 'Make Port, Drink Port' (pirate reference, which we're sure you figured) it is clear that these Nottinghamshire bunch of reprobates won over almost each and every member of the crowd. A return to Belfast would be most welcome! [Editor's Note: Is Nottinghamshire not landlocked?]
The seven-piece ensemble that is Lagerstein, described by Alestorm's Dani described as a "bar on stage", was in Belfast basically to drink and put on a show while they were at it.
Hailing from Brisbane, this was like all the criminals who we shipped to Australia had come back and were determined to imbibe all the alcohol in the British Isles. Amidst the silliness, drinking competitions and beer bongs they have some terrific tunes of the piratical type.
Having encountered the recumbent form of bassist The Immobilizer previously bemoaning the strange couches in the dressing room it was clear that these weren't your common garden Aussie drinkers. We're pretty sure that as well as being the probable descendants of criminals they have been politely asked to leave the Land Down Under after drinking it dry.
At times hilarious, and at times musically stunning, Cap'n Gregaaarr led his band of (very) merry men in a set that showcased The Majestic Beast's lead guitar, Neil Rummy Jackers rhythm runs, while Jacob (The Fiercest Pirate in all the Carribean) keyboards melded seamlessly with Mother Junkst's keytar and violin segments.
That The Immobilizer and Ol' Mate Dazzel's drums were able to stay in time was something of a miracle.
'Beer Bong Party' (with Rainbowdragoneyes aiding the bong quaffing along the way), and 'Drink Til We Die' were all great tunes, topped only by their cover of absurdist comedy/music troupe, Lonely Island's 'I'm On A Boat' with Alestorm's Gaz taking on the bass to allow The Immobilizer to, errrr, serenade us with the expletive packed lyrics.
Should Lagerstein once again depart from Brisbane for Belfast brewers across the land shall be in ecstasy at seeing profits soar.
It is something of a cliché that familiarity can breed contempt. Given that members of Alestorm hail from Norn Iron, and that they regularly dock their vessel in these parts for a show, it could be that these bunch of reprobates could be a little too familiar to the audience...nah, not a fucking chance!
Their ease in this city is evident as Christopher Bowes and bandmates happily stroll through the crowd beforehand, hang out at the merch stand and pose for photos - no over-priced meet and greets from Alestorm.
That Alestorm are still going, and still going strong is a tribute to two things: their strong instinct for great tunes, and the suspension of disbelief required by those in attendance.
Pirate outfits were much in evidence in the crowd, as well as t-shirts from previous tours. The belief was suspended, beers and rum had been downed and as the optics were attached to the drum kit it is fair to say that the audience was pumped and primed by the time opener 'Walk The Plank' rocked the Mandela Hall to its core.
Bowes plays the crowd like a conductor of the maddest symphony orchestra in history, while Dani provides the musical core alongside the flourishes of Bowes and Elliot on keys.
Old songs sit comfortably along with tracks from 'Sunset Of A Golden Age', in a set that is balanced and well plotted, despite the madness on stage and a crowd raised to fever (rum?) pitch.
'Drink' is a rallying call for all the bar flys who by now had deserted the bar to toast the pirates atop the stage. Although 'Magnetic North' was not originally planned to be in the set (see interview with Dani later) fans demand for its inclusion proved to be inspired as it sits perfectly before the stealing of Viking booty in 'Back Through Time' merges into the downbeat, melancholy tribute to bars in ports across the world that is 'Nancy The Tavern Wench'; a track that produced much arm-in -arm swaying and hugs from those assembled.
'Keelhauled' had every lyric shouted back at the band, as did 'Wooden Leg' with its dedication to Heather Mills....enough said.
However, it is wrong just to pigeon hole Alestorm. Their sound has developed, no less than on the opening encore track '1741 (The Battle of Cartagena). This is a mature track on the album, and live its epic feel and lyrical subject matter make it rise above what many chose to say about Alestorm. Simply awesome.
But, drinking is the order of the day. The cover of 'Hangover' produces The Immobilzer and Red Rum's Sam Woods on stage, as if the crowd were not sure of the lyrics...we needed no help!
With 'Captain Morgan's Revenge' including a wall of death that saw bouncers fleeing and Cap'n Gregaaarr diving into the proceedings, the evening concluded with what else but 'Rum'.
At the time of writing the Piratefest still has a few dates to run, but in Belfast it was something of an epiphany. Hometown heroes Gaz and Peter are clearly held in great affection by the crowd, and Gaz excels himself with an energy that was exhausting to watch.
Alestorm's pirate schtick may on the surface seem whimsical and have too much tomfoolery for po-faced metal snobs and sneering mainstream media types, but they miss the point.
On record they are a great sing-along act, live they are swashbuckling bundle of musicianship and madness.
Clearly all the bands on the Piratefest get on well - even if relationships are well lubricated.
Clearly Alestorm are on top of their game.
Clearly Piratefest wrapped the audience up in the mythos of piracy.
Clearly this was what everyone wanted.
Familiarity breeding contempt. Not a fucking chance in Belfast.
Review by Jonny
Pix by MetalPlanet Belfast
Reproduction of words or pix by prior written permission, or ye be walkin' the plank!