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Forget the current trend of “pirate metal” bands like Alestorm and Swashbuckle that drown all their credibility in swigs of centuries-old rum and cliché peg-leg tomfoolery. Disregard the Pirates of the Caribbean-styled gimmick music and the overindulgent “yo-ho” vocals. The place you’ll find actually credible music somewhat centered around pirates – though not fully, mind you – is Running Wild’s undeniable magnum opus, Death or Glory. Kasparek and his gang of miscreants have crafted a masterpiece that successfully merges nautical knowledge with metal mania – headbanging madness with historical piracy.
Opener “Riding the Storm” stands as the towering pinnacle of all Running Wild’s musical output, an accomplishment made even more remarkable considering the amount of exceptional material the band has released. Thundering, bullet-speed riffing, manic soloing, heavy, seaborne atmosphere, and Kasparek’s immortal refrain:
“Face in the wind, we ride the storm
We’ll stay our course, whatever may come
Wandering souls in the sea of the damned
Death or glory, oh, we are riding the storm!”
Similarly awe-inspiring nautical opuses dominate the album with overpowering atmospheric fluency, frequently amazing solos, and ridiculously incredible musicianship. Running Wild craft various moods throughout the album, including the dark, melodic touch present in “Devilution,” the speedy and ominous “Running Blood,” the frantic, claustrophobic “Marooned,” and the traditionally piratical “Tortuga Bay.” The swashbuckler aesthetic is interspersed throughout – but solidly links with the heavy metal rather than indulging in Alestorm-like maltreatment. Rolf Kasparek contributes his soaring, authoritarian vocals to each and every one of the songs with a voice unlike any other.
Running Wild also branch out into other, Maiden-like lyrical territory, an ability the “pirate metal” bands sorely lack. “The Battle of Waterloo” is an epic musical demonstration of the winter of the Napoleonic Wars. Ambitious (and awesome) bagpipes introduce the song, which soon erupts in full force, grandly and majestically retelling Bonaparte’s downfall while deftly avoiding the common pitfall of such tales: textbook lyrics. Running Wild take a page from Maiden’s book in dealing with “The Battle of Waterloo” – the lyrics read much more like quality poetry than a narcoleptic history lesson.
To anyone searching for a markedly unique work of heavy metal: this is a mandatory investment. In all of Running Wild’s legendary discography, Death or Glory stands alone in its level of quality and its exceptional display of pure musical genius. You’re doing yourself an enormous disservice if you don’t give this one a try.
“Madmen and fools, they left a sea of running blood…”