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One should not underestimate the love I harbor for most of Running Wild's extensive catalog. The traditional metal powerhouse's absolute golden period stretching from Port Royal to Black Hand Inn competes with metal's best works in any arena, demolishing all revivalist wannabe bands with little effort and besting even competent modern attempts at creating their swashbuckling sound. It is with a certain degree of sadness, then, that my first write-up for this legendary group of pirates must come in the form of reviewing a release as shoddy and halfhearted as Shadowmaker. After a seven year absence, little has changed since previous contemporary Running Wild albums; the flame that inspired masterworks like Death or Glory is once again nowhere to be found, and the listener is left wondering what Rock'n'Rolf came back for at all.
To be honest, Shadowmaker isn't quite the irredeemable disaster it could have been, but if it weren't for occasionally entertaining and catchy tracks like "Riding on the Tide," this record might have fallen into the same chasm that Morbid Angel and Queensryche's latest 'efforts' now fester in. Where are the awesome riffs? Where is the gritty tone and atmosphere? Most importantly, where did the inspiration go? One thing remains certain: it's not here. The numbingly clean production and upbeat songwriting only serve to make the overbearing sense of "jolliness" here more prevalent. The painfully awkward brotherhood anthem "Me and the Boys" is the most overt display of this. This song is easily the nadir of the album, and frankly, it's simply embarrassing to listen to. Seriously, who thought this whole comeback thing was a good idea again?
The mediocrity doesn't stop there, though. Another tepid trend in Shadowmaker's musical direction is the constant lack of speed. Sure, I don't need every track to be booking 240 beats a minute, but this album is almost depressingly slow. Songs like "Black Shadow" crawl so free from haste that I nearly fall asleep before they reach their midway points. Speed up. I'm pretty sure Running Wild was in a contest with itself to see how boring they could get when they wrote this drivel. They won. "Dracula" would like to trick you with its 7-minute length that it follows the bloodline of the band's brilliant epics, but let's just say this isn't another "Battle of Waterloo." The song does nothing to justify its length or existence, plodding along linearly, and the most I can say for it is that it finally delivers the end of a misguided, diluted album.
I know I've been hard on Running Wild here, but they deserve it. This squad has shown the capability to deliver material of quality far superior to that found on this disc. About as much thought was put into this music as the amount of effort given to create its sub-par cover art. For every decent track like "Piece of the Action," there are three more bargain bin "Locomotive"s waiting right around the corner. Shadowmaker gets worse as it goes on, and each listen becomes increasingly tedious and difficult to bear. It only raises one all too appropriate question: what was the point of coming back if this is the final product? Having heard the album more times than I would have liked, Shadowmaker has convinced me that it is little more than the work of an aging Rolf seeking another check. After all, there is little inspiration to be found here to my ears aside from the quest for more green. Perhaps it's time to hang it up and go home.