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Ah, Running Wild, one of the forefathers of german heavy metal. The band was formed as early as 1976 under name of Granite Heart, which then took the name we know today in 1979 and changed into Running Wild. Rolf and the boys however had long run before finally coming out with their rather satanic debut even – Gates to Purgatory – in 1984. Although Rolf always claimed that “Satan” was only used as symbol of freedom, anarchy and such. I don’t remember the exact word for it but you get the idea.
Long are the days gone when Running Wild’s early career released included furious speed and even Venom-like roughness in their sound, or pure speedy german power metal at it’s finest, started by Port Royal album in my opinion. For me Rivalry was last of the great albums, and sort of a crossbreed of the newer style and older style. One could argue that even Victory still had remains of the great 90’s Running Wild power metal sound – though the sound was more “mechanized” with totally programmed drum sound.
I have huge respect for Rolf’s back catalogue with Running Wild albums. Several of the band’s releases belong to my very favorite albums of all times. But I’m going to be brutally honest when reviewing Shadowmaker anyway. Rolf put Running Wild on hold for several years, and the band was ment to be finished, but the man decided to reunite the band just recently. After years of waiting, have Rolf and the boys managed loaded their cannons of destruction, and come up with something fresh after the “creative break”?
Well, not really. Shadowmaker continues pretty much along same lines than previous Rogues En Vogue, with some Rolf’s another band project’s (Toxic Taste) party-like hardrock influences thrown in, and that’s not something I was looking after the grand break really. How does Shadowmaker compare to Rogues En Vogue and say, Brotherhood? I think those albums had share of their hardrocking, uplifting, more groovy tracks in addition with some elements from Running Wild’s 90’s prime german power metal left. In Shadowmaker the 90’s power metal sound is ever more distant than ever. Stylewise there’s no songs like Phantom Of The Black Hand Hill, Privateer – or say something fast paced from the Rogues such as Angel of Mercy or Libertalia. And that’s kinda shame.
It brings me to the point that Shadowmaker generally is too laid-back, too party-hard rock, too Toxic Taste, too slow. I’m not to say that this album plain sucks - it doesn't. There's some nice moments here and there, solos work, vocals are mostly good as ever, and sing-along choruses are there like before. It’s actually not that bad when you take it what it stands for. It’s more Accept/UDO and AC/DC worship than any previous Running Wild album. The difference is not even that big compared to Rogues, but you can hear it definitely, this one is more rocking, less fast paced. Shadowmaker is not bad album, but it’s not particularly good either – it’s just fading into mediocrity. There’s just too many songs similar to Running Wild's average mid-paced chuggers such as Soul Vampires from “Rogues” to make album stand out much.
Lets take a look on some good points. Sound, well it’s noticeably better than on any previous album, perhaps best ever since Rivalry. Drum sound is almost decent this time actually, guitar tone is quite sharp and biting, pretty nice, not digital sounding porridge like in few previous releases. Guitar production is crisp and clear, and surely deserves thumbs up. Despite including several more hard rocking songs than one Running Wild album should carry, some of them fall on the “good” category. Opener Piece Of Action is one of them being very uplifting, tight rocking track with very nice solo melodies and bit varying vocal styles from Rolf. He uses sort of hoarse half-whisper and it works well as a lead-in to the chorus. This song is a GOOD ROCKER.
Anything else falling noticeably on “good” category? Well yes, Locomotive is another highlight. In my opinion it’s very UDO-like mid-fast track, chugging riffs pump on like juggernaut made out of tons of steel. Great heavy ‘n simple bassline really crushes. I Am Who I Am is bit of a rocking side, and another uplifting track. It manages to pack some energy and riffs work - especially very good lead riff melodies and nice sing-along chorus.
Riding On The Tide is regular newer style Running Wild pirate song such as “Pirate Song” (lyric-wise), and it’s quite cheesy, which in Running Wild’s case is usually more compliment than negative thing. Running Wild’s “cheese” has usually been good sort, but Riding On Tide falls somewhat bit short on it’s efforts – not bad, not so impressive. Chorus is quite uplifting and works though. Same goes for Sailing On Fire, another pirate related song. Chorus is nice – and few melodic lead riffs bring that "majestic" sound from 90's releases for your ears, to enjoy for a too short moment.
That’s about it. Sadly the title track falls into total mediocrity. It’s quite fast paced track and tries to be energetic, but riffs don’t do much. It’s bit too repetitive. Into The Black is like Soul Vampires pt. II and falls into mid-fast category with bit dragging riffs and too much groove. AC/DC worship doesn’t really impress here since the energy level isn’t up where it should be and there’s no enough innovation. Black Shadow is quite unmemorable, it has no good hooks and it just kinda chugs and plods onward – afterward you don’t remember much out of it. Mediocre.. so mediocre.
Overly cheesy, overly uplifting, Me & The Boys rocks on with mid-fast pace. This total party-hard rock worship in veins of Toxic Taste album hits to bottom and at least I didn’t feel like listening it again. Dracula is another definitely below-mediocre. It’s one of the most dragging and boring songs Running Wild has released this far. The song is over 7 minutes long horror themed track and aims to be another epic track – but it fails miserably. Dracula’s riffs are just unmemorable, repetitive (in part of riffs AND lyrics), plodding, and vocals sound sort of strange in it in some parts. Not one of Rolf’s best vocal deliveries. Only the guitar solo parts are sort of cool, and do not use the same scale what is Rolf’s trademark – bit freshness – but the rest of the songs, just forget about it.
So what we have here with Shadowmaker is two very good songs, one decently good, several mediocre ones and two actually bad ones. It’s bit of a letdown as a Running Wild album. While sound is better noticeably than in “Rogues In Vogue”, songs are just not as memorable generally speaking. If you take this as UDO, AC/DC, and Saxon worship album and look it that way – it’s still quite mediocre. Shadowmaker is not bad album, but shows signs of slowing down, and ditching the original Running Wild’s sound’s trademarks – while increasing recent hard rocking material from Brotherhood & Rogues En Vogue even more than before (and Toxic Taste influences in that matter if you’re familiar with it). And personally I don’t think it’s a good thing. The main complaint is that even though even rocking tracks could well be good, they are mostly too generic and uninteresting for the album to be memorable. This may well be Running Wild’s worst album up to date. Not by far, not by a disaster, but still.
Obviously Rolf doesn’t give much about public opinions but keeps doing his thing – which just tells about his passion to music, since otherwise I’m sure he would had ditched Running Wild years ago. It’s respectable thing on it’s own, but it’s another thing to put out good albums – which Rolf clearly doesn’t manage to do on part of Shadowmaker. Simply put – to create good-great album next time – Rolf needs to be up for some changes or have miraculous “creative awakening”, and right now I feel like I’m not seeing either one coming. But we can always hope for the best. Shadowmaker is not good, or bad, it’s just plain average. Thinking it just as a heavy metal album without it’s trademark name, it’s enjoyable for a few spins but afterwards you pretty much remember just perhaps rocking Piece Of Action’s cool uplifting and energetic feeling and crushing Locomotive: “hey what was that track that reminds me of UDO’s heavy hitters?”, or uplifting choruses from either pirate song “Sailing Fire” or “Riding on The Tide”.
If you're hardcore fan you're probably going to buy this album anyway (and perhaps be glad for a few good songs but generally bit let down) - but if you're new with Running Wild, then I'd recommend starting up with something else - Black Hand Inn for example.
Rating: 66 / 100
(Average as an album, slight letdown as a Running Wild release, has it's moments)