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It’s a bit odd how “Branded and Exiled” is one of the more overlooked albums in Running Wild’s discography, particularly since it presents a rather marked polishing of the coarse, yet catchy heavy/speed metal of their debut, “Gates to Purgatory”. Indeed, “Branded and Exiled” marks the spot where lead bandit Rolf Kasparek firmly laid his hands on the elements that would come to define later albums, which is especially reflected in the more developed melodic character to the blazing speed metal riffage. It’s not the best Running Wild release, but “Branded and Exiled” is certainly mandatory listening from these German legends, and arguably even surpasses the following album, “Under Jolly Roger”, in terms of outright quality and significance to the development of the band’s sound.
While “Gates to Purgatory” finely captures the spirit of raw, unabashedly proud and aggressive heavy metal, “Branded and Exiled” demonstrates a notable shift towards more serious, musically adept compositions. Of course, the prominent speed metal character of some songs here can be traced back to the debut, and catchiness and basic song formats still prevail, but one can clearly discern that the riffs have been given a more vibrant edge, with more direction and distinctiveness to them. The opening title-track displays this subtle stylistic progression very well, with riff work that is melodic, punchy and more refined than that found on the rugged debut. Likewise, tracks “Gods of Iron” and “Realm of Shades” follow with some more of Running Wild’s trademark melodic speed metal mastery, which illustrate beyond any doubt that the foundations were laid here for subsequent works of grandeur, like “Port Royal” and “Blazon Stone”. This is certainly confirmed by “Mordor”, my favourite song on the album, as it’s the most definitive moment in terms of paving the way for the more prominent epic themes of later releases.
Like all their classic works, “Branded and Exiled” is a smooth-flowing album that varies relatively little from track to track. There’s nothing remotely soft or resembling a ballad here, and Rolf’s main emphasis is definitely on the catchy riffs. Although the first half of the record is generally faster-paced and unrelenting, we do get more mid-paced material on the second half, as the rocking “Evil Spirit” contrasts quite sharply with the absolute speed metal ferociousness of “Fight the Oppression”. Both are great songs, and the latter really illustrates Rolf’s success at pumping up the Accept/Priest influence to a fresh level of heaviness, as does "Marching to Die". The only track I’m not entirely fond of is “Chains and Leather”, which is a slow, stompy anthem finishing off the album. While I don’t mind the idea of it, it’s just kind of boring and lacking the energy of the rest of the tracks. Another speed metal number would have been more fitting to close the record, as there’s just too much momentum built up throughout to end on such a restrained note. Not crap by any means, but not my idea of a killer album closer, either.
To be honest, I’d probably say that I enjoy “Branded and Exiled” more than the next record, “Under Jolly Roger”. While they’re practically indistinguishable on a purely stylistic basis, I feel that “Branded and Exiled” has more interesting songwriting. At any rate, it’s entirely a matter of subjectivity in determining which is the better album, but I’d be surprised if the majority of listeners were adamantly convinced of “Under Jolly Roger” being of superior quality. Sure, “Chains and Leather” is pretty flat, but track for track, “Branded and Exiled” generally hits harder than its successor. I think it’s at least equal to “Under Jolly Roger”, and songs like the title track, “Mordor” and “Fight the Oppression” are some of the best Running Wild songs I’ve heard, period. Furthermore, the musicianship on “Branded and Exiled” is easily up to par with that of later albums, featuring plenty of great solos, memorable riffs, and solid, classic metal drum work, with a vocal performance from Rolf that is evidently a step up from the debut (and basically indistinguishable from his vocals on albums from this point onwards). The production is also a lot cleaner than on “Gates to Purgatory”, allowing the instruments to come through much more definitively (particularly the rhythm section).
To conclude, “Branded and Exiled” is NECESSARY listening for any Running Wild fan – new or old. I’m not inclined to suggest this is quite up there with more fully developed later works, like the masterpiece “Death or Glory”, but of the first three albums from Rolf and crew, this is probably the best. Indeed, the primary significance of “Branded and Exiled” is that this is where the early foundations of the classic Running Wild sound were laid, seeing the band’s first true immersion into intricately melodic heavy/speed metal. It offers a fine cleanup of the gritty speed metal from “Gates to Purgatory”, producing a more comfortable, confident character from which subsequent albums are closely derived. Indeed, if you’ve only heard works like “Port Royal” and those later, a good listen to “Branded and Exiled” will quickly prove that Running Wild have been excelling at their craft since their earliest days. For that reason, I suggest this as a good place for new fans of Running Wild to start; it only gets better from here, and what’s here is already pretty damn fine.
Branded and Exiled was my introduction to Running Wild, having purchased it in an old hole-in-the-wall record store in my hometown long ago. This was on vinyl; I had the full sleeve notes and everything to read as I listened, a young teen marveling at this new phenomenon called heavy metal -- delighting in the shocked and horrified expressions on my parents' faces and living for the power onslaught coming from my speakers. I wanted it all, every last bit. Here was some unheard-of group from Germany -- the reference to Judas Priest in their title did not escape me -- and I wanted to hear what they could do. A few bucks later, I was checking out what was, in the final analysis, to be an album that launched a legendary band in its own right.
For those who hooked on to Rolf during Under Jolly Roger, I urge you to dig this one up. It's a formative album, but Running Wild cut their teeth in bombastic fashion. In fact, I like Branded and Exiled slightly more than Under Jolly Roger because Rolf & crew did early Priest-inspired metal exceptionaly well, and Under Jolly Roger really only hints at the future greatness they would attain in the sub-sub-genre of Pirate Metal.
Branded and Exiled is actually two different concepts. The first is total Priest worship. You'll hear plenty of derivative Tipton and Downing-inspired riffs, done to perfection, and sounding exactly like the period from which they come. The second is reaching for more -- Rolf and the group basically exploring what they would eventually become on successive albums. Mordor is probably the best example of the latter -- mid-paced mechanical single-note comping, really in the same exact key as later efforts such as Black Wings of Death and Evilution. In the former category, Chains and Leather sounds very much like Judas Priest anthems of the day, and Gods of Iron seems to draw on the Exciter-trademarked sound of Priest from such titanic efforts as Stained Class and Hell Bent for Leather. Rolf knew where he came from, but definitely had something new to say. And this ultimately became the calling card for Running Wild. On Branded and Exiled, we see Rolf latching on to his roots, but reaching out to new horizons. It's fascinating to look back on this work because you can clearly see what is to come, in retrospect.
The production on Branded and Exiled is certainly dated. Particularly weak is the echo effect put on Rolf's vocals -- which is no doubt an attempt to bolster his sound. Rolf's vocals are ultimately a strength because nobody sounds like him. But back in the middle 1980's, it might have been seen as an issue that he couldn't scream like Geoff Tate or his fellow countryman, Klaus Meine. Pesonally I love Rolf's vocals, all the more because I can pick him out anytime, instantly.
Still, everything is placed very well in the mix. The guitar tone is appropriately heavy and slammed in your face. Double-bass drumming on songs like Mordor is effective. The lows are right there, moving your gut. The highs clash with each cymbal crash. It's a comptent, although basic, production. I'll take it.
My two favorite tracks actually reside on the latter part of the album. Mordor is fantastic. I learned every note of this tune on guitar. It's a great example of keeping time to a mid-paced beat -- staccato picking, but not as fast as you can go. If you play, you may want to check it out. You can learn a bit of control by playing along with it. And Evil Spirit, with it's simplistic but unforgettable chorus, and interesting story, is a favorite. Chains and Leather is always a good listen, and Marching to Die gets my pulse up every time I hear it.
Overall this is very good for an early effort from a band. It may have been forgotten because what was to come from Running Wild was much different. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly recommend Branded and Exiled. It's certainly dated at this point, but I love to take trips down memory lane. There's a great and varied history to be had in heavy metal. This style of music came from a lot of young, dedicated, great musicians who really loved what they were doing. More than anything else, that's what is on display here.
I expected more from Under Jolly Roger when I first heard it, but Branded And Exiled I lauded as it flew beyond my expectations. I expected a neat little album with some defining moments like the debut, but what I received instead was a kick in the ass from each instrument and Rolf yelling at me. God damnit, this sophomore really tops the first one, and I must say that I prefer it to Under Jolly Roger. They still didn’t abandon the raw, blasphemous, blackish-metallish tone of the first album, but they’ve sure matured. You can hear it in the riffs and the lyrics alone, and production wise they’ve balanced everything out a little more, which is something I wished they did with the previous album. Now the tone is a little more like dirty, edgy heavy / speed metal with even more momentous sections, riffs, solos, and Rolf topping it all with his wicked snarls.
Rolf himself is at his very best thus far; not expecting much with only two albums under their belt (at the time), but it’s still a step-up from the debut anyway you look at it. He doesn’t sound as distant as before, but it’s a trademark move he’d keep until at least Death Or Glory. His vocal style itself is still generally the same grainy, angry singing that doesn’t go operatic on us, but you can tell he’s giving it his full-attention. Some moments again he’ll scream at the top of his lungs – Halford-style, as I’ve compared before. Bass is also a much bigger step up; balanced production in the ‘80s means that the bass is playing right alongside the riffs in escorting the tempo. Very bludgeoning and seeping in the one layer of music we’d love to have properly heard on the last album.
The drums are extremely consistent next to the charging riffs, and once again I’d like to remind you that they aren’t overtly loud and obnoxious like on the last album. They had a charm there, but that charm makes its way on here without any of the annoyances plaguing that album. You still get that fantastic ‘80s echo with mortar like cymbals crashing and galloping double bass. They’re more constrained this time, too, compared to the last album where they were at the forefront trying to steal the show.
Running Wild to me since I first heard them were always supposed to carry over the more historically epic side of heavy metal. Maiden for sure got their shit together, but I wanted something with less opera appeal and Blind Guardian are more on the power side. Running Wild are smack dab in the middle, with particular evil motives given to the guitars, a move which makes this one a hellish force tackling the albums around it. Not only do the riffs justify the songs behind them in a pissed-off, thrashy / catchy way, but they’re much more larger-than-life and show a band heading toward even higher heights. Only a couple songs don’t prove this point to a full extent (“Realm Of Shades” and “Fight The Oppression”), but with the solos tacked on I’d say every song is magical.
The latter half of the album is more epic and catchy than the first half, but the one that peaks above all else is “Mordor” (what a coincidence). Tolkien’s works are always good influences to base a song off of when it comes to metal, but with Running Wild behind the instruments it’s a whole different level of greatness. While each song has a distinctive riff slaying their respective foes with a clean, crispier tone, “Mordor” is the one that starts and ends differently (not counting “Chains And Leather”’s intro, in case you want to be nit-picky). The drum intro followed by a dashing riff under Rolf’s war chants is one thing, but when it goes into the running cadence of a chorus, it turns into something I’d love to have heard in the Peter Jackson film-adaptations (yes, with the riff included). If anything, they should have included the outro to the song, which is the defining moment of Branded And Exiled - a glorious +1 minute long heralding solo combination backed by a stampeding, catchy-as-hell riff met near the end by magnificent lead shrills.
No other song meets those requirements, although the respective solo sections of some like “Gods Of Iron” and “Marching To Die” back what they have to offer. The crunchy guitar tone properly balanced by hammering bass and flamingly fun drumming goes a long way, and Rolf on top of it makes Branded And Exiled quite the treat. Don’t forget this one when you fall love with the later classics soon to follow, though I guess it’s easy to do so since those ones kick this one’s ass (unfair, but true).
In 1985, Running Wild released their sophomore LP and the follow-up to the speed metal-classic Gates to Purgatory, Branded and Exiled. Only one member change had taken place between the releases, namely lead guitarist Preacher (what the fuck was he thinking when he came up with that nickname anyway?) leaving the band and getting replaced by Majk Moti. Majk is probably the most appreciated of all of RW’s lead guitarists over the years, and he really is very good at what he does (although I prefer mid-to late 90’s shredder Thilo Hermann). In fact, the whole band’s instrumentation has been notably improved. The solos, riffing and drumming aren’t so messy anymore. Also, the lyrics are moving away from Satan to less silly themes, like war (Marching to Die, Fight the Oppression), unation (Branded and Exiled) and RW’s only Tolkien-inspired song (Mordor). Some lyrics still deal with the occult, though, like Realm of Shades and Gods of Iron.
Musically, not much had changed since the debut. This album, like its predecessor, is a mix of speedy and slow tracks, with really simplistic riffing and structures. The speedier tracks include Gods of Iron, Fight the Oppression, Marching to Die (and maybe Realm of Shades). They’re all similiar in feel, with similiar riffs and fun shout-along choruses. Realm of Shades’ riff is an unspectacular one, reminding me of Black Demon from the previous LP. In fact, the whole song is like Black Demon’85. The lyrics aren’t as silly however, Rolf sounds extremely cool on it and there is something cool over the whole song. Yeah, cool, I can’t describe it with another word. Rolf, now that I mentioned him, sounds like on Gates, perhaps a little less forced and more sophisticated. He puts on a good performance throughout the whole album, except for the closer Chains & Leather (more about that one later).
I also have one thing to point out, to explain why I’ve given this album a slightly lower score than GtP. This album sounds a lot duller, and although the guitars are heavier and all that, I’m missing the razor-sharp sound of GtP. But I believe the production is to blame for this. Also, all the songs on here don’t peak as high as the ones on the debut. Just wanted to point this out, and I didn’t know how to just put it in nicely with the rest of the review. Back to the material.
If there are any songs that can count as classics on this album, then they are the title track and Mordor. The title track is a very simple song with a chorus that is very catchy and easily memorable, and a nice solo too. Mordor stands on its own as the only true KILLER on this album. The drum intro may be as lame as drum intros ever get, but the rest of the song is totally wicked, from the entirely palm-muted riff (a taster of what was to come later in RW’s career) to the awesome bridge and the chorus. And the outro is just epic.
Evil Spirit, the only song bassist Stephan Boriss ever got to write with RW (I think) is generally seen as the album’s worst song, but I like it. I mean, listen to the riff, it’s fucking groovay! You can tell a bassist wrote the song. But yeah, the chorus really isn’t very good. But at least it’s forgettable.
Chains & Leather was probably intended as a crowd-pleaser, but it’s really quite painful to listen to on this album. I mean, what the fuck Rolf, did you really have to sing it like that? Really, it’s just quite badly performed, which makes it the worst song on here. But, on the remastered edition of Death or Glory, there is a re-recorded version which I recommend you to check out. It may be even more cheesy, but it’s still quite great. The lyrics are still dreadfully bad, though.
Well, that’s it. Get this album if you are a fan of RW or old German metal in general, ‘cause then you will find it enjoyable, but don’t get it if you are new to RW. It’s far from their best.