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The greatest injustice in the world of metal, to me, is the still-underground level of the band Running Wild. Sure, keeping bands within a tight, cult niche keeps things from going where they shouldn’t, but this band is too good to be true. If Maiden went to the dark side without making such abominations like The X Factor and Virtual XI, then they’d be Running Wild (not logically impossible). While I’m not all gung-ho when it comes to pirate themes, this sickly satanic image lends a lot to the early sound. Rolf turned the band into an epic powerhouse later on, but this debut focuses on the deliciously sadistic side of heavy metal – Satan, Hell, war, death, ignorance, religion, and everything that’d turn most people off. The music, needless to say, backs most of it up.
Shit-talking is one thing, shit-flinging is another, but when that shit is made out of a blood-curdling guitar tone, war-like drumming, barbaric bass, and possessed roars by a demon like Kasparek, then it’s shit-talking and shit-flinging that slays. The first album I heard was Under Jolly Roger (specifically the title track), and already I could hear the characteristics of black metal ala Bathory (not necessarily the debut). It wasn’t as fleshed out on that album, but going back one to Branded And Exiled I heard a more apparent form; this one does nothing to hide it. The guitar tone is grinding and merciless – far beyond the sanctity of life and all the bullshit that comes with it. The heavy metal attitude is all there in unopposed energy and rhythm, but the black metal traits give it a conceited purpose.
While mid-paced in formula, the riffs themselves are spry and fast, letting loose all sorts of aggression and anger but not delving much into thrash. The glory of heavy metal remains firm and powerful, most apparent and famously heard in “Soldiers Of Hell.” Every time I see an album cover of an album I hear nothing about, I always think that there might just be that one song that becomes one of my all-time favorites by a band. Gates Of Purgatory is chalked with a couple more, but “Soldiers Of Hell” is the shining gem of Running Wild’s debut – the main reason being the solo bridge. The Maiden-esque, harmonized ascent to paradise is something I wish I heard in more bands – a moment of pure bliss that I find myself repeating countless times (not even the whole song, just that minute long section!). The way Kasparek twists and turns his progressions and the catchiness reverberating off of the twin-harmonies extended twice makes for the most atmospheric and brilliant moment on the album.
While the rest of the album never matches up to this moment, the solos still mark the high point of their respective tracks (the latter half of the album in particular). The way the guitars charge with each song gives a feeling of competing against all odds or going against the grain. Much of it takes a little long to develop, even though many songs don’t even exceed five minutes. The groggy tone is fine for the songs themselves, but every song does tend to get a little boring since the riffs are a bit on the dull side. There isn’t too much between Rolf’s vocals and the solos to keep me very interested in these tracks – they’re great for rocking out, but as such they’re also a little primitive like W.A.S.P.’s debut (some standouts, mostly filler).
Vocally, Rolf has a very live-like wail and howl with grainy angst. His voice is clear and proud, with only certain points reaching Halford-high-notes. What I love is how demanding they are (that “proud” factor); you can tell he’s damn well serious and ready to put up a fight. They’re not operatic, so no real sing-a-long moments; the vocals eclipse the album with another layer of blasphemous hatred. The drums I’m still a bit mixed over; for the tone it isn’t anything to really berate, but they’re so bombastic and rough, especially the snares. They’re typical for the decade (with that echo and all), and for that I love them, but they’re too loud compared to the guitars and vocals. The patterns employed are fantastic and work well with keeping a consistent pace, so nothing overdone or technical; the toning down the drum mix is all I wish.
Even with the bass it’s just a grumbly old man underneath it all. More respect than most bands these days would give it, but still just a rhythm bobber that you can barely grasp. Doesn’t do much to bring on out the attitude or wretched nature of the music – leave that to Rolf and his eclectic leads next to Preacher’s profane riffs (how ironic). Compared to the best Running Wild albums, this is but a fly on the wall. Nothing amazing to be found other than that one section in “Soldier’s Of Hell,” but nothing I’d analytically pass up, either. You’re bound to treasure something on this debut, but be aware that the real treasure is on the other albums.