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Unholy fucker of mothers! - 98%

TrooperEd, January 21st, 2018
Written based on this version: 2017, CD, Noise Records (Digipak, Deluxe Expanded Edition)

I'm sure people often wonder why I don't just ignore metals unknown past and latch onto the Ghost BCs and the Pallbearers. Nothing against those bands, but one of the greatest things about digging through metal's past is stumbling upon a 24 karat diamond the size of Texas. A truly amazing masterwork that for whatever reason slipped through the Decibels and the Vh1s and all the other metal gatekeepers.

Running Wild's Blazon Stone is one of those albums.

After I had finished hearing this album I was beside myself. I was ready to declare this the greatest metal album of the 90s. Yes, as in better than Rust In Peace, better than Painkiller, better than Blessed Are The Sick, the whole nine yards. That's how fucking good this is. Granted, now that I've let the taste simmer for a month or two, I have reasonably eased up, but the fact that something like this could even relish the thought is staggering to me. It might not be the greatest of the 90s, but its damn sure in the top 10 of the decade, top 5 even. There are prime Iron Maiden and Judas Priest albums that aren't this fucking good.

The opening guitar harmony is so regal and majestic, it musically ties in to the coat of arms album cover perfectly. As though an army of trumpets that the new kings have arrived to take their throne, or at least as far as German metal is concerned. Helloween had tragically lost the plot, Kai Hansen was stuck in a weird ass backwards Queen phase, and Blind Guardian, while putting out their finest work yet with Tales of Twilight World, was immediately put on notice. You bards have a lot more growing up to do to sniff the throne. After a glorious minute of guitar heaven, the proper song Blazon Stone kicks off at lethal Phantom of the Opera speed and does not let go. THIS is what refinement is all about kids. The days of Gates of Purgatory may be gone, but standing in its place is a newer, sleeker, more melodically sound Running Wild, complete with a perfect vocal.

Oh yes, did I mention Rolf Kasparek sounds absolutely incredible here? His timbre, his tone, the way he soars? Imagine Blaze Bayley with a shit ton more fire and brimstone. Matter of fact, Blazon Stone is exactly what X Factor and Virtual XI should have sounded like. I suppose one could argue that maybe he should have gotten the job over Blaze in 94, but a) Running Wild was still in the middle of a hot streak, and b), it was Steve Harris's washed up songwriting that ruined those albums more than anything else. Neither Tarja nor Floor nor Bruce nor Kai could have saved those turds musically. But back to Rolf's vocals on this album and how great they are. They are the stitching that holds this bad boy together. While you won't find the vocals particularly technical or outrageously high (or low), what you will find is a series of perfectly delivered verses and choruses. This is why vocals are important to metal, and not to be used as an some sort of atonal growling rhythmic instrument.

Highlights of Blazon Stone include the whole fucking thing! Seriously? I can't do a track by track review? Fuck you and your stupid rules metal-archives and making me choose between tracks. Ok, ok fine. If you want to subscribe to the "your album is only as good as your weakest track" theory, look no further than interlude Over The Rainbow, which is nothing but two minutes of bass and drum interplay. However, it's DAMN FINE interplay. This wasn't even on the tracklisting of the original album (something I'm quite stingy about), but I honestly can't picture the album being complete without it! As atmospheric as Dawn Patrol is, it takes it out back and teaches it a thing or two about virtuosity and fucking metal! Other highlights include 20 years to late Schoolhouse Rock number Little Big Horn, stadium rockers Lone Wolf and Heads or Tails, as well as lethal Thin Lizzy worship Bloody Red Rose followed by a gloriously repurposed Venom tune by the name of Straight To Hell.

I suppose if someone put a gun to my head and made me nitpick negatives, I can come up with two. The first is that the opening of Fire & Ice sounds maybe a bit too similar to Lone Wolf. I don't like looking for similarities to call people out on them but I feel like if I don't someone else will find them and then there will really be a fucking problem. The other oddity is I feel like the guitar tone should be a bit fuller. Particularly for a brilliant riff fest such as this, nothing less than Ride The Lightning's monstrous wall of Marshall stacks is deserved. Don't get me wrong, the guitar tones on this album are great, but I have to be real and say it could have been a smidge fuller.

I don't know Boris, Pile of Skulls has it's work cut out for it if it wants to top this album. Hell the rest of the Running Wild catalog has its work cut out for it (as of this riding I've only heard this album and the debut). I'm sure it will be fine and full of classic, majestic songs about pirates and what not, but going up against this? Pound for pound? That's a tall, tall order. Lots of immature razor edgelords like to throw around the term "Buy or Die" to sound more hardcore than they actually are. I'm still not going to say that here, but if you don't own this album, what are you waiting for? You are depriving yourself of one of the best albums German power metal (nay, HEAVY metal) has to offer.