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It's truly difficult to watch a once grand institution try to soldier on long after attention has been shifted away, and it's even worse when said institution either doesn't seem to notice or just plain doesn't care and figures that if it all worked before many a year ago it still will to this day, or will find a second wind down the line. Such was the case of the mighty pirate metal unit Running Wild, who kicked asses and took names throughout the 80s but found themselves out of touch during a stylistic paradigm shift at the end of the first millennium. Suddenly their method of grandiose speed metal antics weren't in any real demand, and increasingly weaker albums down the pipeline really didn't change things. But Rock 'n Rolf was clearly not one to call it a day, to not suddenly bow out in the face of overwhelming opposition, not after all those years of plundering and absolutely killer albums when he first came under Jolly Roger. Which brings us to this...
With regards to "Rogues en Vogue", Rolf and...well, I won't say "company" as this album was more or less done by Rolf himself...tries his damnedest to keep his musical ship aloft after years of neglect by the general music populace had rendered the hull leaking and sails quite ripped. Such defiance and spitting in the face of convention is certainly to be applauded, or at least nodded at in approval, but I fear that would only come from those who already knew Running Wild's MO versus new fans and 90s kids. But strangely enough, this doesn't strike me as thrown together or forced; it's very clear that Mr. "n Rolf" put his all into this (or as much of his all as that current musical climate would allow), with the writing and performance at the very least being quite top notch where it counts. Guitars are still raging, vocal harmonies still rich and potent and of course, the drums may still be programmed (a sadly necessary evil for many of us out there), though I don't feel that it takes as much of the soul out of the material that many have claimed it to. So long as the rest of the instrumentation makes up for it, that can be overlooked. But regardless of where RW stands in your personal musical realm, it's hard to not deny the rebellious impact felt so readily in the likes of "Angel of Mercy", "Skull and Bones", and the title track, all of which contain enough bite and spirit to makes up for the more limiting elements that are, sadly, still present. It's obvious that Rolf, at the very least, enjoyed himself while making this, even if in the end it still feels like this was made for him and the die-hards alone.
But that said, the level of energy put into it doesn't seem as wild abandon as it used to be, but chalk that up to age or reflection on how much harder it is to market his blend of old world metal to a scene that has jumped onto the next big thing. Maybe that's what tempered "Rogues..." into the half-honed beast it is; you can be as true to yourself and your craft as you'd like, but when "kids today" are unwilling or unable to be on board focus becomes less expansive. This results in a number of tracks feeling underinspired, fillery or just plain in the way (the majority of "Soul Vampires" and "Winged and Feathered" are really just there to be there despite moments that shine nicely). The production approach is also iffy; for an album that came out when it did it sounds awfully dated and flat, as if it were recorded ten years or so prior to its release. This works against things more often than one would think; the vocals, in particular, have the most noticeably lossless vibe of the lot through and through and when things get a little too layered for their own good (the lead/solo section of "Black Gold", for instance) it all ends up sounding squashed and hard to decipher. I'm not exactly sure if that was a conscious decision on Rolf's part given how deep he was in the production process, so I can only assume this was the case. An attempt to revive the spirit of old perhaps? Whatever the case, given how much recording methods had improved at this point it wouldn't have hurt to go with the crowd in that regard.
In the end this was an average album that has moments of fun and bombast undercut by time being unkind and more than a few problematic elements. Fellow Adrian-toting deckhands, this was made for us, so let us still clink our steins of grog to it. All others just plain won't bother. A bitter truth if nothing else.
This is Rolf Kasparek's (the dollar-counting manager Rolf Kasparek, not the roaring, snarling vocalist and frontman of Running Wild's) desperate attempt at keeping the Running Wild name alive. Rogues En Vogue is like performing necromancy on the dead Running Wild of old while tiring endlessly at getting its living-dead corpse to resonate with the same supremacy once more. That means the worst thing Rolf could have ever created under the Running Wild name (even that garbage album Shadowmaker is better than this).
The main complaint is how poorly produced this album is. From the toy guitar distortion to the clinical rhythm section and to Rolf - he fucked up! The man sounds like he recorded his vocals in a nuclear waste drum. They're so compacted and manipulated to a cold effect that they virtually destroy every bit of their catchiness. The same can be said about that frail, puffy guitar tone. It's the same rapturous leads from time to time, but there's no bite at all. Everything here, particularly with the guitars, feels tremendously restricted and mechanically tampered to achieve a detached, robotic, inert sound.
There are licks, riffs, and leads I do enjoy, but they're so butchered and processed by everything around it that it's impossible to enjoy the whole package. The soulless delivery and abysmal production nails this album as the worst, but throw in some half-assed writing and now it's an album governed by effortless padding. This crutch in depending on filler has and always has hit the hard rock songs Rolf wrote, something which practically cut The Brotherhood in half.
Here it's harder to give a shit considering the botched production job turning what could even be good into rubbish. Songs like the bonus track "Libertalia" and title track for instance have that same regal leadwork and fervent, upbeat power of old to sustain it (and a pleasing chorus in the latter's case). The problem is that the formula gets shot to shit because of the sum of the parts. They're not engaging songs, as is the same case with every song on here. They all are inexpressive to a great degree and fail at capturing the essence of what made Running Wild my favorite band: unsurpassed memorability, captivating choruses, inspired writing, crisp production, precisely sharp riffs, stampeding drumming, burly bass lines, classiness, and majestic leads.
Instead, you'll hear a desiccated vocal delivery, a drum machine's monotonous patterns, an eradicated production job, insipid writing, soulless delivery, unemotional riffs, amateurish presentation, and dry-as-fuck leads. Even that +10 minute ending, "The War," is mostly plodding hard rock with a very jovial approach that should have been edited down to its outro. Something this boring didn't need to be such a long track, but then again something like this album didn't need to exist in the first place. Albums like Death Or Glory and Black Hand Inn were prevailing masterpieces, but Rogues En Vogue is like a fart in comparison. It's such a shit album that any kind of follow-up would have been leagues ahead of it (or so I once thought).
Running Wild have lost the ship in the last few years. Rather than balls out power metal infused with pirate themes and fun, they have moved towards a more groove oriented sound that is still just as catchy but a lot less focused on speed. The Brotherhood had people talking about such with their change of sound but with the release of Rogues En Vogue the critics have been quieted. Not because it's a return to an older sound but because its so average that no one is willing to argue about it. It's simply there. I find myself forgetting that the album was even released at times.
The guitars are heavy but really distorted in their sound. Sounds like one is listening to them through a wall. Even the solos and leads are a little thick sounding. The guitars overall sound as though each one has been taken from a Running Wild album prior - nothing too new or even that amazing. The guitar writing has a "been there done that" feel to it. Even though the playing is great and the performance is good, the writing and the production sound of the guitars are a major drawback. Its definitely sub par to what we all know Rolf can write and play.
The bass is nice and heavy and probably the only part of the album that is properly produced. The bass is nothing too special - but a really good rhythm instrument on the album. Not a whole lot of flare on the bass's part except for the fact that it is the only instrument with proper sound.
The drums are once again programmed despite what the booklet says. The timing of the double bass and the rolls are a little too perfect to actually be human and at times it sounds a little ridiculous. Part of the problem with programmed drums is that variation with sound poor and that the sound overall is always a little hollow. The drums also have no feeling to them.
The vocals are also poorly produced. It sounds like Rolf is singing in a giant steel vat. It seems metal...but it just means shoddy production. He has a slight echo effect on his voice (probably there to cover up his declining vocals - it happens with time) but the echo gets used a little too much and ends up being annoying. When the echo does take a break the vocals sound much better and less toned down. Too bad that's maybe 5% of the album.
Overall, even if you love Running Wild (I know I'm a Running Wild fanboy) that Rogues En Vogue is still mediocre at best. Running Wild has always had trouble creating a really good solid album but this one has trouble even giving us those few really good tracks here. It has its moments but they are few and far between.
Songs to check out: Draw the Line, Skulls and Bones, Rogues En Vogue.