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Mighty of Spirit - 94%

Ancient Sunlight, January 25th, 2015

Running Wild rarely gets the credit it should, as it has degenerated into a two-man performance piece with little soul left. Many producers of masterpieces lost their lustre throughout history, and that Running Wild is one of them should call forth only grief, not hatred. Let me be clear about this: no band I know of, in metal or otherwise, released, time after time, stupendously successful albums for nearly an entire decade. The chain of releases starting at Under Jolly Roger and ending, regretfully, with The Rivalry, has never been equaled in my mind. Time after time they hit the mark triumphantly and with dignity, hoisting the black flag prepared to slit the throats of the philistines. Blazon Stone may be the highlight in that line-up.

The Band is chiefly associated with pirates, but not pirates as they actually existed. Pirates were brutes and savagas, knaves, fools and thugs. They are romanticized for one reason only: they represent a suppressed cry for freedom that throbs in the bosom of every worker who stoically struggles forward in his 9 to 5. Running Wild found there its source of inspiration. The band's entire existence is a stand against banal middle-class philistinism: the unambitious, merely content and lightly pleasurable contrasts starkly with Running Wild's powerful call of "Death or Glory!" When the band wants to achieve an effect, it tries to do it monumentally. They are not concerned with the unanimated, the small or the 'exciting'; they care only for the grotesque and theatrical, the truly rousing passions of the soul.

The union of pirates with Running Wild was only natural. Power Metal captivates the minds of blue-collar workers who long for and fantasize about the adventure their dull lives lack, while Running Wild's chief influences was Accept, a gritty, down 'n' dirty band whose members reveled in their youthful rebellion. Running Wild stood for something - naive, undeveloped, and rudimentary though it may have been - and stuck with it for years, defending it passionately. This something was a vague concept of "liberty" and "freedom", which they found exemplified in the romanticized myth of the modern pirate, and which they embraced wholeheartedly without a single stammer of irony or second thoughts.

At the same time, songs like Slavery demonstrate they do not romanticize or justify the violence. In Slavery they condemn those "brutes" for enacting their "deadly raid", only to cleverly end by emphasizing that the "machinery" that caused those awful deeds is still "in motion / as long as money is the law". Lyrically, this is Running Wild's most ambitious album, as Bloody Red Rose and Little Big Horn demonstrate. The latter is a particular favorite, chronicling the failure of cavalry commander Custer in a battle against the local Indian population. Nearly three hundred American soldiers died in a crushing defeat, including Custer and family. Wisely, the Running Wild members do not comment on the right or wrong of either side; they only emphasize Custer's foolish daring of "the hand of fate", leading to a "painful bloody day".

Little Big Horn's riff uses the theme of the popular folk tune The Girl I Left Behind Me, infusing it with a patriotistic air that is at once cheerful and proud, in contrast to the embarrassing defeat Custer suffered. The guitar leads are universally effective on this album, in fact. No band as consistently turned out catchy but gritty power metal leads like Running Wild. They had a perfect ear for them, and no album is without a few first-rate riffs. They are brief but filled with power. The great power metal bassist Jens Becker, who is currently in Grave Digger and a few additional projects, proves he is a master at his instrument too, with amazing bass guitar support. Drummer AC, an ex-groupie, remains in tune with the bad excellently. He fell in love with the band before he started playing with it, and his passion feels almost tangible. The drumming thumps along powerfully, while the guitars have that irreplacably clean power metal sound, aided by amplified bass guitar support.

Rolf supports the moral upheaval and passion by shouting with power and touches of anger. Still, it is a contained passion, with beautifully rounded and even melodic singing. The vocal lines, though not exactly elegant, are implemented gracefully to make them clean and resounding. I'd have preferred them mixed more at the front, but Running Wild is known to have problems with vocal mixing. It is luckily never drowned out too much, with Rolf still soaring above the instruments with his gruff singing.

As always Running Wild's sincerity and elevation steals the show, however. A song like Blazon Stone calls to mind elaborate scenes of piracy and buccaneering, and the great freedom one feels in conquering the wild sea. Anyone who has heard the enslaving call of the sea will feel its power. Neither the romantic passages of Berlioz's Corsaire overture, nor even Wagner's Fliegende Holländer Overture so greatly capture that side of piracy. The strain of moral indignation so sincerely accompanying many of the band's singles ("Raise your Fist", "Bad to the Bone") is also discovered once more in Lonewolf, an indictment of tedious middle-class philistinism, and Straight to Hell, which should speak for itself. The latter is an indictment of the highest quality because it is not made up merely of verbal fireworks and worked up anger: it sounds so sincere. Later songs like Kiss of Death represent this too in part, but are not as powerful. They seem partly put-on – merely another attempt to write a similar song. Here it feels as if was written in a burst of rage.

Neither the production or playing, nor even the writing, is flawless, but as usual Running Wild makes up for it ample with spirit. Do not make that all-too common mistake of underrating Running Wild, and give their best albums a listen. This is one of them.