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Here we have the middle of the three “breaker” albums. Fans cut off Running Wild’s success around this time, with this album being the center of that debate. Some think Masquerade is where things started to fall apart and others believe Victory showed the first severe signs that the band, or specifically Rolf, was beginning to falter. I personally fall in the latter group, making this (to me) the last full, unadulterated Running Wild experience. Sure, Rolf begins padding some of the song lengths and there aren’t as many master tracks, but what exists is fresh and fearsome, with some truly outstanding pieces here and there.
Production can be considered a step down when regarding the full, rich textures of the past, what, five albums? Even then, it fulfills the job of guaranteeing riff supremacy, a bulky rhythm section, and Rolf roaring endlessly. His vocals have become synonymous with manly, gruff German heavy metal; definitely one of my favorites. I love hearing him wail and sing with no wuss-factor and all while maintaining a commanding presence and a healthy dose of catchiness in those infectious choruses. One main complaint you’ll find with this album is that it can get pretty damn long or exhausting with the number of tracks - the longest Running Wild album in both cases, in fact. It beats Black Hand Inn by a few minutes and Victory by one track (not counting bonuses, of course). Whereas that Black Hand Inn had one long-ass song, this one has a few that actually don’t get drowned out that badly (some not at all). Face it, tracks like the epic “Ballad Of William Kidd” and “Return Of The Dragon” are too good to turn off, and the shorter tracks around them are also barrels of fun.
While a change of pace, Rolf hasn’t forgotten his duty to bring majestic, aggressive leads and some grit to the German heavy metal scene. Much like Chris Boltendahl from Grave Digger, Rolf doesn’t squeal or go falsetto on us. No, he protrudes his dusty vocals with all the power in his gut, wailing and howling loudly without undercutting his catchy performances on all the tracks. Some of his best moments here can be heard on “Ballad Of William Kidd,” “Adventure Galley,” “Return Of The Dragon” (corny intro aside), and “War & Peace”; on these in particular Rolf sounds extremely proud of his job. Next to Kasparek is Hermann once more with sweeps and riffs harmonious and plentiful; where Iron Maiden fell, Running Wild rose. The crunchiness in the guitar tone isn’t as powerful this time around, but it’s still a precise distortion. Bass grumbles on the lower end much like the previous albums – a boat rudder merely following the guitars. Where was Jens Becker at this time? In Grave Digger, eh? Well good for them because at this point we could have used him. No disrespect to Smuszynski, though, as his contributions are the finesse of the depth. Drumming isn’t hellish, but one can expect the same consistent, mid-paced battery of booming snares, rumbling double bass, and other allotted sorts.
Running Wild has always had depth in their music, even in the early demo days where raw quite literally meant death and heavy metal. Almost a couple decades later we have The Rivalry, a special release that used the same Running Wild formula for the past few albums while attempting to switch up the tracks a little bit. This wasn’t the fault, but what was to come surely began the downward spiral into, well, utter shit. Was it the horizon beyond the start of the next technological era that got to Rolf’s head? Who knows, but even then that first mishap was still enjoyable. It’s the ones after it that hurt, as they aren’t Running Wild giving it their all - they aren’t Rolf giving it his all.
Think about it. This album shares many similarities to the Judas Priest's finest hour. Both bands released their best albums (yes, I'm calling this the best RW album) well into their career. While not a huge break from their previous music, this and "Painkiller" represent everything awesome about the band. What we have here are songs that are instantly catchy, kick profound amounts of ass and hold up under repeated listens. The only difference between this and "Painkiller" is that the latter is recognized and hailed by much of the community, while this album is unfortunately overlooked.
Running Wild has always been one thing. No, not pirates. They've always been consistent. You put in a RW album, and you get speedy, memorable metal with a fuckload of nice riffs and catchy, shout-along choruses. How does "The Rivalry" differentiate itself from other releases by the band. Well, as previously mentioned, this is where the band gets their shit in top-form. Everything is better than ever and it really shows. Time for a song by song run-through:
- "March of the Final Battle" - a two-minute long introduction track that should get you sufficiently pumped for what's to come.
- "The Rivlary" - the album really kicks off with the probably my favorite track. Fucking speedy with an awesome riff set and a great chorus. The song is a bit on the long side, but I never find it to drag on.
- "Kiss of Death" - this is a fun little song that continues in the speedy-vein of the title track. This song WILL get stuck in your head. Listen for the grunt in the middle of the song: fucking great!
- "Firebreather" - this song isn't quite as absolutely fucking awesome as the last two, but it definitely speeds things up even more without letting up.
-"Return of the Dragon" - this song is quite good. The guitarwork is excellent, but the chorus is a bit silly-sounding, although catchy as always.
- "Ressurection" - this is probably my least favorite song on the album, but in no way is it bad. It's just the lyrics are fucking silly and the stupid bit about heaven and hell sounds like a fucking Bon Jovi lyric. Also the chorus, albeit memorable, is dumb.
- "Ballad of Willliam Kidd" - maybe I was so tough on the last song because of what follows: this gem. The band slows things down and delivers the first epic of the album, with well-written lyrics and guitars that place melody above speed and precision.
- "Agents of Black" - just as the last song, a slower number, finishes, you're instantly kicked in the nuts by pure speed metal. Lethal and relentless, this song shreds through in four minutes, complimented by a speedy chorus a la "Firebreather", but only better this time around.
- "Fire & Thunder" - this song rules. Unlike the last song and most of the album, this one is just mid-paced, but doesn't sacrifice any ownage as a result. I'm almost tired of saying "great chorus" in every description, but this needs to be emphasized. This song is all hooks and for that reason, it ranks high on this album. In other words, one of the best RW songs.
- "The Poison" - back to speed metal. Nice lyrics. Not quite as speedy as "Agents of Black", but the chorus is just catchy. Nice riffs on this song.
- "Adventure Galley" - the speed continues. The thing most standout about this track is the nature of the chorus, which differentiates by being a bit more subdued than anything else on this album, but the change works, and this song is great as a result.
- "Man on the Moon" - another favorite for me, probably my second favorite song. This song just kills and representative of why this band is just so awesome; on paper, the band may not sound like anything special, but RW manages to execute everything with such precision and excellence that you can't just help but love songs like this. The chorus and the "hold on..." part, accompanied by some nice guitar, make this a standout track among other excellent songs.
- "War & Peace" - this song closes the album and does an absolutely competent job. At times, it feels like part 2 of "Ballad of William Kidd", but the strength of the chorus and catchy melody keep this song great after many listens.
In retrospect, maybe a track by track review wasn't the best course of action. By reading it, you may think this album is repetitive. It's not. Sure, the band is consistent, but when you're Running Wild, consistenty pays off when you kick ass. And that's exactly what this album does, even moreso than the rest of the band's quite accomplished discography. Reccomended to all fans of heavy, speedy metal.
Yes sir, thats what this album does to you. You want originality? You want a metal band to expand their horizons? You want experimentation? Well, fuck that when you get a band like RW who consistently delivers great speed/power metal.
Intros are usually nothing special on most albums but this one starts with one the best intros ever "March of the Final Battle". Its an intro with balls! Then you get the title track and with RW, you know the title track is gonna kick major ass and this is no exception.
Tough start to follow you ask? No way, RW then delivers a couple of speedy classics with "Kiss of Death" and "Firebreather" which rip with precision and speed as only Rock n Rolf could deliver.
One thing to note here - this the last album with the amazing drummer, Jorg Michael (ex Rage, ex Stratovarius). This man can pound with the best of them and this is the main distinction of why this album rules and the 2 follow ups (Victory and Brotherhood) do not rule as much.
The next track is a power metal gem "Return of the Dragon". No, this is not Dream Evil or other generic power metal band, this is RW and its catchy but still remains heavy and has a great sing along chorus.
The other standout numbers are "Fire and Thunder", "Adventure Galley", and one of RW's best songs, IMO, "Ballad of William Kidd". Just excellent stuff.
The remaining tracks are not as great but there are no stinkers here. This album can be played in its entirety without needing the skip button.
Stop being gay and buy this album now! Hail the Pirates of Metal!!
Actually (to make a small correction to the review before mine) "The Rivalry" is released BEFORE "Victory" - so this one can be classified as the last good Running Wild album - after that the band sadly slides down into mediocracy very quickly...
Basically what you get on here is, musically, a watered down version of "Black Hand Inn". Every single Running Wild trademark is here (the instrumentl intro for example - the instantly recognisable riffs and voice) but somehow it doesn't quite impress as much as during the "early 90's" phase of the band. Also, the production is a bit thin and dry at time - not bad - but certainly not able to withstand comparission with "Pile Of Skulls", "Black Hand Inn" or the thunderous "Masquerade" (which Imo had one of the most powerfull productions so far on a Rw release).
Most of the songs are quite decent, with a handfull of highlights such as the titeltrack, the speedy "Adventure Galley" and the two "epic" tracks "Fire & Thunder" & "War & Peace". The rest isn't quite as strong, but still good enough to make the album an enjoyable trip for every Running Wild fan...
If you're new to the band - you're probably better off checking out either "Pile Of Skulls" or "Black Hand Inn" out first...