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I should probably be writing Rolf Kasparek a letter of apology for this, but still, it was Alestorm that really pushed me into being a far bigger fan of Running Wild, and in particular this album. See, what Alestorm have been doing with the pirate theme is a near commendable watering and dumbing down in a way comparable to the efforts of bad teenage vampire fiction. Running Wild is the complete opposite of this half-hearted effort, and with Death or Glory they went all the way into further developing – and indeed, perfecting – this pirate theme. But it doesn’t stop there; as the pirate aspect is only a fragment, however notable, of the lyrical topics covered here. It’s a common misconception that pirates are the only one dealt with in the band’s, ugh, pirate era as the lyrics here can be more widely deemed as historical. Still, whereas, Under Jolly Roger merely dealt with pirates in a rather superficial manner, Death or Glory (and to a lesser extent its predecessor) is fully researched and astute, you won’t find the blithering tavern-dwelling idiocy of a certain Scotch band here. Running Wild understand that a pirate chose to be free, despite the hardships but they stuck with it because it felt like the right thing to do, just like how picking up a guitar and playing heavy metal is the right thing to do. There you go, pirates and heavy metal: tedious link.
Initially, I thought Running Wild to be very linear and I had some qualms about this, quite perplexing, really, especially when I consider AC/DC and Motörhead to be easily amongst my favourite bands. I supposed it links to that minor pirate prejudice, but again, you wouldn’t be far wrong in saying that Rolf only knows one chord and really likes heavy metal. Just look at a song like ‘Marooned’ it’s undoubtedly emotionally different to a lot here, in that this is an album is one which is very much connected to its lyrical sentiments. A man dying alone is going to be far removed from tales of swashbuckling on the high seas. Death or Glory is a far bleaker record than any other Running Wild album I’ve heard. It’s like a journey through history documenting all sorts of grievances and misfortune; even if the pirates were free they still had it rough… you know, you’re up against the fucking ocean! It is the aforementioned ‘Marooned’ that is the bleakest song here; it captures the mood of being stranded and left to die perfectly, still need proof that pirate lyrics in heavy metal doesn’t equate background music for kids’ parties? Well, I'm not giving you it, it seems you really want your children regaled with tales of terror and madness. Sometimes, if you’re amongst those who happen to make a regular habit of this sort of thing, you’ll find yourself musing “I’m listening to another heavy metal band, Christ!” but Running Wild is one of those rare bands who don’t seem to be doing anything out of the ordinary or unique (musically, at least) but have this irrepressible magic about them. Hell, you’ll probably find yourself shouting “I’m listening to another heavy metal band, fucking brilliant!” at some point during Death or Glory, if not you’re probably listening to the wrong genre.
‘Running Blood’ is another bleak, powerful song, and quite typical of its time as it’s all about religious persecution (you could see King Diamond’s The Eye or Manilla Road’s The Deluge for other examples of this). Lots of metal bands did and indeed, continue to do this, it’s simple really what with all the accusatory finger pointing that Tipper Gore and other bored, dirty-minded Washington house wives got up to it’s easy to take a step back and say “look at yourselves”. Of course, this is countered with the cold, hard fact that our sordid little incubus of rock ’n’ roll is in fact simply the devil’s work, end of story, really. Guess I’ll have to write far more “Sorry, I can’t listen to your music because my mum says you’re a Satanist” letters. So there are some great lyrics, which don’t obscure lack of actual meaning in big words. But this would somewhat incomplete without the rest, much like a girl who has banging chebs doesn’t necessarily have great beauty, it would be lacking something without more. Yes, I am making an analogy about the music, and Running Wild gets it very much right with this one. From the ghostly, soft shanty-like melodies in the quiet intro to a more wind-in-your-hair feel; it’s a deviant and bold heavy metal song, and one of the many times in which the band’s guitarists utilise the idea of two separate rhythm guitar parts. It’s similar to what Saxon did in the early 80s (although they certainly didn’t start this, but this a metal site so that’s the comparison!); one guitarist will take the more dominant rhythm part (I’ll refrain from calling it a lead as that entails upper-register pyrotechnics or at least it does in this context, as so to avoid confusion) and the other takes a back seat. Listen to Saxon’s ‘Taking Your Chances’ and you’ll see – hopefully – where I’m coming from, either that or I just like mentioning Saxon… it feels right!
In my earlier days with Running Wild I always enjoyed the non-pirate themed songs most (I’m thinking ‘Pile of Skulls’ in particular here), which was probably a reflection of then-current tastes, rather than lyrical quality. As such ‘Bad to the Bone’ was always a clear favourite with vociferous riffs and a chorus that just screams anthemic, and all other sorts of adjectives that get thrown at piss-poor bands like Hammerfall. You can’t help feeling some righteous indignation with a chorus that strong, all world leaders are lying, cheating bastards and Rolf knows it. The soloing is pretty nifty as well, a lot more energetic that the more traditionally melodic work on the rest of the album which is a little a odds from what one normally expects from late 80s heavy metal in that it’s not all that flash. Sing along and reaffirm your faith that heavy metal is good.
Further good heavy metal can be found in ‘The Battle of Waterloo’ which takes the listener back to a simple time in which military tactics mainly involved standing in a straight line and shooting at people whilst they reloaded as so to shoot back. But if the tactics were clumsy and somewhat amusing then the song has nothing to do with it. Rolf and co. are very bloody good at playing it simple and having this massive stoic feel to everything, it’s not hard to imagine yourself marching off to battle with that soundtrack. And that’s the success of a historically themed song; do you think of the actual events or are you too busy focusing on how it sounds like a dusty textbook underscored by electric guitars? It’s plain to see. I’ve always found Rolf’s gruff yet melodic voice lends itself very well to this sort of thing; it’s not flash or showy but earnest and honest, imagine Blaze Bayley if he had a lot more talent and you’re nearly there.
The title track is a curious one, very much comparable to ‘The Battle of Waterloo’ but less cohesive in that some sections are a tad clunky and I’m not sure that I can hear anyone shout, “Tally ho!” without sniggering. But it certainly has a lot going for it – with the pounding, galloping energy and that beast of a chorus. I’m sorry to dig into the Big Book of Heavy Metal Clichéd Adjectives but anthemic and epic really do spring to mind. In an album of great choruses this in particular stands out, fucking memorable stuff!
You know who put me off checking out Running Wild? Tom G. Warrior, a man who shouldn’t be allowed to make his own decisions let alone those of young men he’s never met… “Are you morbid?” how’s about are you balding rather ungracefully you pompous twat? Ahem, anyway, Death or Glory is the best Running Wild album I’ve heard yet, it’s certainly an interesting release even if the general consensus seems to be with Black Hand Inn, which in itself is a fine album especially if you like the idea of Jörg Michael sounding like post-accident Rick Allen (if he gained extra limbs and played abnormally fast, that is).