October 14, 2019
Released On July 30, 2010
I panicked when I got the e-mail saying it was my turn to pick a release for Off Your Radar. I still feel a bit new to the whole thing and felt like it was a lot of pressure. All of the albums I’ve had the privilege of reviewing for the site thus far have been amazing and I racked my brain for one that I thought would fit in. That’s when it clicked. The whole point of this website and the whole reason I joined this amazing team was because there is no way to pick albums that “fit.” People from all over different scenes contribute to this blog and there had to have been a reason that I was picked as a writer for the project. Still, I had to pick an album that didn’t get the recognition it deserved from a band that I truly want people to know about. That was it– I still wracked my brain for a couple of days before landing on Rocktopus by The Dread Crew Of Oddwood. I mean, who doesn’t love a little pirate metal on a Sunday morning?
Don’t laugh, pirate metal is a serious thing and The Dread Crew Of Oddwood are the best in the business (if you ask me!).
Pirate metal looks and sounds exactly like what you’re picturing in your head right now. It’s a bunch of grown-ass men dressed up as pirates, drinking out of wooden mugs, and singing jigs while swaying back and forth. The crowd is also exactly what you’re thinking, a bunch of grown-ass people dressed up as pirates, drinking far too much, and dancing their butts off. It may sound juvenile and straight up stupid, but when you’re at a pirate metal show or even just listening from the comfort of your living room, you can’t help but get wrapped up in the whole thing.
The thing that sets The Dread Crew Of Oddwood apart from majority of the other pirate metal bands I’ve seen and heard is the fact that they only use traditional instruments instead of modern day electric guitars and basses. Many of the bands in this genre use keyboards to emulate the traditional sound, but these guys are the real deal… accordion and all.
Although Rocktopus is only one of their four full length albums, I feel like it gives a perfect snapshot into not only the pirate metal scene but also The Dread Crew Of Oddwood’s unique sound. Throughout the album you can hear everything from the folk rock tendencies, the heavy metal energy, and the traditional Celtic vibe that makes them, well, them. Whether it makes you feel like you’re at your local renaissance fair (which is actually how these guys got started), at your local bar sloshing back beers with your friends, or even just sitting at home while trying to write a blog post, this album makes you feel something and refuses to be ignored. You can try to just play it in the background but I believe that it won’t last and, in no time, you will get sucked into the brilliance and uniqueness.
I dare you to listen to “Queen’s Decree” from Rocktopus and not smile while listening to it. Trust me on this. I know this all sounds insane and like it shouldn’t be a real thing but I assure you it is a real thing and The Dread Crew Of Oddwood is the best out there.
Combining metal spirit, folk instrumentation, & pirate shenanigans for one hell of a musical ride.
Pirates exist today. Of course, it’s hard to imagine anything less jolly or celebratory than our current incarnation of people who attack commercial boats at gunpoint and hold them at ransom in the open water from their home companies and countries. Seemingly through the influence of Disney musicals, television, and cinema, we’ve managed to romanticize an entirely fictional notion of pirates into something nefarious, and yet still lovable, pitiable, and harmless. When 8 people got together and formed a “pirate band,” there were a lot of assumptions made about how to look like “a pirate” (hint: it’s got nothing to do with the relative poverty of Ethiopia) and, far more importantly, what a bunch of pirates would have sounded like were they to create a touring musical act instead of pillaging seagoing vessels. Certainly we can image any sailing crew would have its share of sea-shanties and when The Dead Crew Of Oddwood released Rocktopus, it’s easy to imagine that they must have spent a very long time at sea to have come up with such an exhaustive collection of imagined legends, lore and maritime-inspired, Celtic-flavoured music. Played on the sort of instruments that one can easily fit in one’s bunk, an accordion, some whistles, and woodwinds, various strings, and simple drums are played with an admirable gusto. The vocals are growled out as if by men who’d not only lived the experiences but seem to have an almost unimaginable glee for a run-in with the Kraken. Wait… The Kraken? Yes — just about every pop culture reference to perils at sea make an appearance on this collection of raucous shanties. One of the great things about the album is that it’s all played with a sort of committed enthusiasm that had to be hard to keep going for 13 songs. But then again, when you remind yourself that the band allegedly came together as the only members of a group of independent enthusiasts for a single, relatively obscure video game called Ecco The Dolphin — it’s easy to imagine that they could parley that interest and that level of commitment to the role of a scurvy-ridden band of fantasy pirates. If acoustic maritime music is your thing, there is no doubt the energy presented here rivals that of even the more genuine music of the sea.
I frequently go back and forth on gimmick-centric bands. I’m sure plenty of people feel the same way, but it’s the realization that if every album were about heartbreak, music would be thoroughly depressing. In an era where the vast majority of critically acclaimed albums in the Western World have a tragic backstory like For Emma, Forever Ago, or Rumours (I haven’t done the research to back up that claim but come on… it’s probably true), sometimes you just need to listen to a band that doesn’t take itself so seriously. Enter: The Dread Crew Of Oddwood, a pirate themed band that… well, that’s pretty much all there is to them on Rocktopus. But hey! They really commit to the bit. There are a lot of themed bands I’ve encountered that will start off with a strong EP, but slowly begin to phone it in or eventually give up the theme by the first album. As the band’s second full length, Rocktopus is not a half-hearted attempt. The Dread Crew Of Oddwood keep the pirate theme going strong throughout its runtime. More impressively (to me, at least) is the band’s ability to distinguish themselves from other, more prominent, pirate themed bands (you know who) by largely keeping their music rooted in instruments that could have conceivably been found on a pirate ship. The music is good too! In addition to competently writing songs about leviathans and pillaging other vessels, The Dread Crew Of Oddwood is certainly no group of amateurs — as far as I know, “Leviathan” could pass for a Tom Waits song if I hadn’t been paying attention, and the vocal harmonizing on “Land Iio” is some top notch stuff (despite that its lyrics don’t hold up at all, even by 2010 standards). I won’t lie and say that Rocktopus is ever going to have the same replay value to me as any break-up album, but it is a good one to have in the back of my mind for when I find myself listening to The Cure on repeat for weeks and I need a break.
Because of course there’s a backstory to this band…
OK, so I knew nothing about ‘pirate rock’ or ‘pirate metal’ before coming into Rocktopus. That second one is especially surprising to me. Really, I never stepped into the whole pirate subculture (?) until Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl came out. And even then, the only thing that would fit into the middle section of a Venn diagram between me and pirates would be that film series. Basically, I was going in damn near totally blind. What I found during my trek were primarily two things. First, these guys have a fantastic sense of humor, and it goes all the way to the band’s origin and a fan meeting for Ecco The Dolphin. But more specific to this record, it’s my kind of absurdist tongue-in-cheek humor. I actually considered discussing “Land Iio” for the entirety of my entry just for that reason, and also how it could be seen as a satirical take on America’s view of the rest of the world. Perhaps it’s best I didn’t do that. Anyhow, let’s move to the second item: the idea that, similar to a band like Stolen Babies, TDCoO takes a genre and adds under-used or odd instrumentation and songwriting in order to amend or augment it in order to form a relatively new thing. To wit: “Kraken Skulls” is basically what would happen if Mastodon appeared on MTV Unplugged. I’m thinking specifically of Mastodon’s “Blood And Thunder,” but several of their songs would work in its place. Rocktopus, then, (re-)teaches an important lesson: It’s nice to learn something new now and again.
I was not looking forward to this listen. I took one look at the cover art, and then a quick scan of the track list, and then thought “this is going to be another one of those death metal nightmares.” Not that we typically have death metal nightmares here on OYR; It’s just that every hip hop head’s version of Hell features death metal on infinite loop. Hence, death metal nightmare. With titles like “Leviathan,” “Kraken Skulls,” and “Skeletons,” can you really blame me for jumping to that conclusion? But then a funny thing happened: I pressed play, and got infected. Infected with the contagious joy that Rocktopus bring while telling tales of the high seas, transporting us back hundreds of years (read: transporting us back to our favorite childhood visit to Busch Gardens). In hip hop and R&B, there’s a certain philosophy in putting an album together where every last track is a single. Think Michael Jackson’s Thriller or Usher’s Confessions. I feel like Rocktopus take a similar approach, it’s just that they substitute “single” for “drinking song.” Every track on this record is tailor made for a room for of drunk assholes to holler at the top of their lungs while spilling double shots of Jameson on their girlfriend’s brand new suede shoes. Without a doubt, “Land Iio” lights up every frat house south of Maryland. Surely it will unnecessarily offend most of the folks listening, who so easily forget it’s a song being sung by fictional pirates. And maybe that’s the point of this project? No, that’s definitely the point of this project: it’s a fun-filled escape from reality, from inhibition, from rules, from decorum. Every man needs to let out his inner pirate from time to time — better for everyone if it’s in good fun.
Throw gimmick prejudice aside — at the core of this record is a delightfully melodic folk record bolstered by thrash tendencies.
I could see why this album might elude the mainstream’s grasp. I would even go so far as to say that there’s a pretty good chance that “pirate rock” will never be a household genre name. Hell, I’ll go even further and question whether it really should be? But regardless, I’m glad that I listened to this album, and I’m glad that this album exists. Without diversity in music — sonically, culturally, and aesthetically — we get the homogenization of the most universal art form, and the idea of that, I can’t stand. I wouldn’t really be comfortable talking about this album though if I didn’t admit that I failed to find the humor in the song, “Land Iio,” which just came across as racist to me. I understand that this album came out almost ten years ago, and maybe it’s unfair to judge art from then with a contemporary cultural criticism, but regardless, the song didn’t age well. With that being said, I also want to emphasize that, just as these musicians exercised their right to create the art that they believed in and that moved them, I’m going to exercise my right and say my piece about what I thought, and then probably not listen to that song ever again. I don’t believe in eliminating voices or perspectives, because change that comes as a result of silencing the opposing position is not true change. I disagreed with the humor in that song, and overall, didn’t completely connect to this piece of art, but I’m glad that it exists and was able to challenge me and really force me to sit down and think about how I feel and why I feel it on this Sunday morning.
Back in 2010, popular electronic musician Oneohtrix Point Never adopted the name Chuck Person for a one-off release, Chuck Person’s Eccojams Vol. 1, that borrowed stylistic elements of a classic 1992 SEGA game: Ecco The Dolphin. Bizzarely, this one release would become the catalyst or template, depending on who you ask, for the vaporwave subgenre, a musical scene that would help expand the reach of electronica musically and aesthetically throughout the decade. The same year that Oneohtrix put out that record, eight musicians released their second record as a group, two years after they first met at San Diego Comic Con in a meeting for fans of… Ecco The Dolphin. The eight musicians were the only ones to show up to that meeting that day and their band would sprawl out of that chance encounter. But while Oneohtrix took the story of Ecco’s plight in an electronic and hypnagogic direction, this group, this crew, took their musical inspiration in a different direction: pirate metal. One videogame spawning two completely separate musical styles. That’s pretty impressive, especially considering I’ve played Ecco The Dolphin and all that happened to me was I lost several hours one afternoon trying to figure out how to leave the first area. Clearly, I lack the connection those people at SDCC had, but I also very clearly lack their creativity and passion. That group, who would christen themselves The Dread Crew Of Oddwood, has gone on to carve out their own section of the musical spectrum, however irregular and isolated it may be. And this isn’t a one-off like Oneohtrix’s Chuck Person project — the band has put out four records now and found a considerable and respectable following, especially on the Renaissance faires circuit, of all places. (Ted Mosby would totally be a fan of this band, by the way.) And listening to Rocktopus, that record that came out in 2010 around the same time as Eccojams, is easy to see why the band has done so well for themselves. Laugh all you want at pirate metal (heavy mahogany, if you will), but there is some serious musical chops on here on full display from the jaunty opening track “Queen’s Decree” down to the impish closing amalgamation, “Ketch Medley.” In between those two songs, the band fully commits to the persona of pirate music with heavy metal spirit. At some points, it falters (“Land Iio” feels at home stylistically, but imprudent like any sectarian joke ultimately is) and at other times, it absolutely soars (“Hear Our Cry” rides off to battle with dynamic cinematic energy). Still, I’m sure most people reading this won’t get over the fact that this is shanty music, even though they probably revel at Talk Like A Pirate Day or changed their Facebook language to Pirate back in the day. To that I say, get over yourself. Sometimes it’s nice to just indulge yourselves in a scenario for a while, and when it’s with music this good soundtracking it, have it. Just don’t go repeating “Land Iio” anywhere because I’m quite sure someone will punch you in the face. And if you really want a treat, boot up an emulator on your computer and try your hand at Ecco The Dolphin with this playing in the background. I’m trying it now and while I’m still as lost as ever in the first area, at least I’m having some marauding fun with it.
Sugar Bomb! by Manic Pixi
Chosen By Dustin Gates