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The old saying rings true no matter what year it is; you just can’t teach an old pirate new tricks. It’s not quite clear if that is the expectation amongst the growing crowd of old school fans turned detractors who haven’t gone for much of Running Wild’s output since “The Rivalry”, but it would make the most sense given that stylistically there isn’t a whole lot of distance between Rolf’s latest output and the roots of the band going all the way back to “Gates Of Purgatory”. The same old format of crunchy rock riffs, droning bass lines that are only slightly more complex than those put forth by Accept, and straight forward beats at mid to up-tempo rates stand behind a husky, deep set of pipes that is just a bit more old school and limited in range than most of his German contemporaries.
Perhaps the biggest liability standing between “Shadowmaker” and the approval of the average German metal fanatic is the somewhat overbearing yet overly simplistic drum sound. Accusations of using a drum machine have been dogging the band since they stopped naming their real drummer on their albums, though to be fair, Starship had a live drummer when recording their infamous “Knee Deep In The Hoopla” album and a similarly loud snare and arena-like reverb mix was employed with similarly processed sounding results. There is also a somewhat more rocking, 80s character to this album that is not as intense and epic as the majestic “Pile Of Skulls” and the 3 subsequent albums that would feature Jorg Michael of Stratovarius and Axel Rudi Pell fame on the kit.
Nevertheless, while this isn’t quite the masterwork of the band’s 80s and 90s output, it’s a pretty rock solid collection of songs that leans a bit more closely to what one would expect from Saxon. Catchy anthems in the mold of “Piece Of The Action” and “Locomotive” are a bit more bare bones than the riveting work heard on “Black Hand Inn”, but they are reasonably appealing. Some of the elaborate elements of “Dracula” and “Shadowmaker” hint at past glory while still featuring that mechanical sounding drum tracking in the background. Rolf’s vocals are perhaps the safest they’ve ever been, but they still have that characteristic blend of attitude and smoothness that fits well within the band’s niche, and his riff work, though a bit less strong on here, pulls out a few stellar moments.
It’s a foregone conclusion that not many will break out their tri-fold hats and wooden legs for an album like this, but anyone who thought “Rogues En Vogue” was a decent listen will find a similar story on here. Despite all of the indications that Rolf was going to hang it all up and retire to some backwater port in northern Germany, it looks like the only retirement fit for a diehard metal craftsman like him will be the one he is forced into at the moment of his death. Opinions may vary, but this old buccaneer may yet have another classic opus up his sleeve somewhere down the road, though he’s mostly playing in the realm of adequacy at present.