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This Be a Nice Bunch of Pirate Shanties, Says I - 80%

lonerider, September 8th, 2018

In 1995, only a year and a half removed from his latest – some might even say greatest – privateering expedition, Rock ‘n’ Rolf set sail again for distant shores and new adventures. Where would his pirate sloop be headed this time around? As it turned out, he steered his ship toward some of the exact same shores he had terrorized only months before, plundering some of the same ports he had already sacked numerous times over the course of his illustrious career.

Aye, mateys, Masquerade is when Captain Rolf’s pirate diaries began to grow somewhat stale and repetitive, being content with retelling past glories rather than setting out for new exploits and riches. Certainly his days of capturing the large Spanish galleons laden with treasure or raiding the wealthiest cities on the Spanish Main were all but over. That, however, does not mean that this wily old sea dog and his crew could not still raise hell by boarding the occasional merchant vessel or ransacking some prosperous trading towns along the coast.

Speaking of Rolf’s crew, Masquerade marks one of the few occasions that Running Wild made it through two consecutive albums without any line-up changes. He already had the same group of guys on board for 1994’s Black Hand Inn and they would later return for yet another go-round with 1998’s The Rivalry, making this arguably Rolf’s most stable line-up ever and probably the last time Running Wild felt more like an actual band rather than just Rolf and his motley crew of hired guns.

The musicianship on Masquerade is top-notch. The bass does not show up as much as on some of the band’s earlier recordings, but Rolf, certainly one the most underrated rhythm-guitar players of that era on top of being a very confident singer, and Thilo Hermann constituted a rather formidable guitar duo. Jörg Michael, despite being sometimes criticized for his somewhat mechanical style of play, may have been the perfect drummer for the kind of sound Running Wild went for in those days. Granted, he is no Angelo Sasso *cough*, but his pounding double bass and smashing snare hits were a good fit for Running Wild’s musical direction back in the mid 1990s, when they put out some of their heaviest and fastest material. The heaviness, by the way, is helped by a clear if somewhat sterile production accentuating the drums and guitars, the latter benefiting from a crunchy, almost lethal tone.

For the most part, the songs on Masquerade aren’t quite as speedy as the material on Black Hand Inn (“Powder and Iron”, anyone?), but many of them still fall squarely in the speed metal category, with the usual power metal and hard rock ingredients thrown into the mix as well. “Metal Head” and “Rebel at Heart”, for instance, are two of those infectious feel-good, hard-rocking tunes that can be found on virtually every Running Wild album, with lyrics celebrating freedom and nonconformity. Tracks like “Black Soul”, “Wheel of Doom” and “Masquerade”, on the other hand, represent the band’s speed metal leanings. The title track in particular is blisteringly fast and vicious and very much akin to “Pile of Skulls” from the eponymous album, another one of those “Painkiller” clones the band did so well in those days. “Underworld”, “Demonized” or “Men in Black” are your typical power metal tunes with stomping, marchlike rhythms and some insanely catchy guitar hooks, whereas “Soleil Royal” and “Lions of the Sea” are prime examples of Rock ‘n’ Rolf’s unique brand of seafaring-themed, pirate-flavored metal, the latter featuring a more epic flair and an especially tasteful guitar solo. Unlike some of the band’s previous albums, however, Masquerade does not feature any particularly long tracks or “true” epics, so don’t expect another “Calico Jack” or “Treasure Island”, mateys.

All things considered, Masquerade is a rock-solid metal album with some outstanding songs, some good but not great ones, and some that are merely okay but starting to feel a little redundant at this point in the band’s career. The fact that this shows a band already on the downside of their career yet still ends up pretty darn good speaks volumes about how potent Running Wild once were. The album passes as a perfect example that while you can’t teach an old pirate captain any new tricks, the tricks he already knows, he still executes better than most anyone else. Or, in other words: Running Wild’s golden age of piracy was inevitably nearing its end and Rolf and his crew of swashbuckling scoundrels were no longer firing devastating broadsides left and right, but they still had the force and fearsome reputation to raise some serious terror on the seven seas. Arrr!

Choicest cuts: Masquerade, Demonized, Lions of the Sea, Wheel of Doom, Underworld

Rating: 8.0 out of 10 points

Master ride! Hiding in Bangkok! - 91%

BastardHead, September 23rd, 2011

For OG fans of mine and long time review readers here at the good ol' Encyclopaedia Metallum, y'all may remember that I used to have about six or seven reviews for Running Wild up here, and then them all mysteriously disappearing around the time Rolf decided to hang up his robe. What had happened was that I decided to review each and every album in a tribute to my favorite band, and in reading my own reviews, I decided they all sucked and just deleted them instead. Well two years later here, I'm finally getting around to making good on my promise. And instead of some long winded series like I had planned, spanning their career chronologically, I once again decided against my initial wishes and instead figured it'd be best to just do them in whichever order comes to me.

Now that my self referential, expository masturbation is out of the way, we're gonna start our journey with one of the more controversial albums in Running Wild's catalogue, 1995's, Masquerade. If any average listener were to explore the vast, wonderful backlog of the German speed metallers' exploits, they might be hard pressed to explain why this album is such a big deal to so may fans of the band. Well for some reason, a few folks (idiots) seem to feel like this is the album where they fell off the wagon and began to stagnate. There aren't enough words in the English language to accurately express how much I disagree with that sentiment. One reason I've been given is that this album marked the precise point they ran out of ideas and just started ripping themselves off senselessly. The truth of the matter behind that is that this is simply a continuation of the style they were playing on Black Hand Inn, which was a continuation of Pile of Skulls, which was a continuation of Blazon Stone, et cetera and so forth. Running Wild had this amazing ability to write albums that didn't sound too different from one album to the next, but worlds apart if you look back a mere three or four albums. They were always changing, ever evolving, and this is one of the traits that made them such a special band. Why this particular album catches shit for doing what literally each and every album before it had done, I'll never understand.

Master ride! Evil is dumb!

So to counteract my claim of logical continuation, this is also the album where Rolf starts reaching back and combining past efforts with his new ambitions. For example, tracks like "Soleil Royal", "Black Soul", and "Wheel of Doom" could have easily fit on Black Hand Inn with their similar riffing ideas and slight power metal tint at times, whereas "Men in Black", "Demonized", and "Rebel at Heart" carry a more hard rocking and traditional heavy metal bent than the others, sounding akin so something that wouldn't be out of place on Blazon Stone, and still we have tracks like "Underworld", "Lions of the Sea", and "Masquerade" that are straight up speed metal through and through and really would have sounded right at home on Pile of Skulls. So yes, I can concede that Masquerade explores less new territory than previous efforts, but I counter that it's a beautiful amalgam of what made the last three albums, (and really, their entire 90s era) so great, while still pushing forwards into new territories.

Really, every trademark of Rolf and crew are still just as mighty as ever, no matter what people may try to tell you. They lyrical concept is a bit different than what fans may suspect, as this album kicks off a trilogy of "concept" albums, so there's less piracy and history here in favor of some obscenely loose concept of rich people being evil and controlled by Satan or something. Really, nobody knows what the hell the idea is, but there's supposed to be one here, and if my little between-paragraph gimmick hasn't been clue enough, Rolf's hilarious accent doesn't make things a whole lot easier. I've listened to each and every Running Wild album more times than I care to recount, and there are still several, several verses and passages I don't know the lyrics to simply because his voice, despite a great gruff delivery with a powerful sense of melody, carries such a mangled understanding of how to pronounce damn near anything in English that it's fairly close to impossible to decipher what the hell he's saying most of the time. This is just one of those bits of character that really makes the band so legendary, if you ask me. Nobody can imitate Rolf's voice nor his unique enunciation, it belongs to THIS band and no other.

Master ride! Trees in the night!

And speaking of which, this is indeed a band, and not just Rolf + cronies. I've alluded to the contrary in the past, but the supporting cast always does bring their own little bit of flavor to each new record. The long, melodious bass passages vanished with Jens Becker, and the drumming has gotten considerably more intense since the mighty Jorg Michael took his place behind the kit. This is the first album where the lineup did not change in anyway from the previous album, so perhaps that's another reason certain fools seem to feel the band started stagnating around this time. Just because there was no new member to inject his personality into doesn't necessarily mean that they all just got content with where they were and decided to churn out an album just like the previous because that's what they're used to. Black Hand Inn was and remains the closest to power metal Running Wild ever got, in my eyes. On Masquerade, there's a much stronger traditional heavy metal presence. There's much less double bass insanity, and much more fist pumping, anthemic choruses with huge, punchy riffs. The trademark tremolo melodies are here in spades and every bit as upbeat and catchy as they have been ever since Port Royal shoved them to the forefront. On the whole, the entire atmosphere of this album is much darker than pretty much anything they'd done apart from their debut up to this point, with a much more aggressive pace than before. Many of these songs focus on the idea of evil and its many forms, and while this isn't dripping with the malice and occult of their first two records, it contains some of the most overtly vicious venom they've ever come to spit.

I will admit that the album slows down a bit too much when the band takes their foot off the gas on tracks like "Demonized" and "Rebel at Heart", which are still good songs, but don't much fit with the high energy tempo of the rest of the album. I've always found this to be Running Wild's Achilles heel, to be honest. The tracks that are less speed metal and more traditional/hard rock never seem to be as captivating, regardless of how awesome Rolf makes the chorus (like "Rebel at Heart"). It's really only a small bump in the grand scheme of things, fortunately. I can't help but feel like the popular opinion of this being the band's turning point is completely and utterly wrong. Every element that made the band special is still abundantly clear and the biggest difference between Masquerade and the fan favorite of Black Hand Inn is that the former is more direct and less epic. Whatever story is being told here takes a back seat to a collection of hard hitting and exceptionally catchy heavy/speed metal, and that's exactly what Running Wild is best at. I wouldn't change a thing.

Master ride! Punish the Hebrew rite!

Booty Calls - 88%

OzzyApu, November 18th, 2010

Take note of the cover art, because like the last album, there’s a concept behind this one. Also like the last one, you’ll hardly give a shit, because the music will honestly blow your head off. Like most Running Wild intros, this one will get you in the groove of things, but the real kicker doesn’t come until the title track. While playing a bit too close to Black Hand Inn and Pile Of Skulls organization-wise, the title track here does all the proper things right away: a riff onslaught, booming production, gruff singing, and merciless drumming. Speed metal intensity right off the bat, with one of the most pissed off solos written by Rolf.

At first the production seemed a little off since the vocals sounded a bit buried, but alas I settled in soon enough and was able to enjoy Masquerade at its fullest. Rolf continues the loud, crunchy heavy metal he’s been doing more or less since 1989; if it isn’t broken, then just keep using the same formula again and again. For some this works (i.e. Bolt Thrower), and for Rolf this really works. Not only that, but Rolf writes some of the heaviest tracks in his career here; stuff like “Demonized,” the title track, the anthemic “Rebel At Heart,” and the interestingly titled “Metalhead.” All of these contain crunchy, ripping riffs with an authoritative attitude and some hefty backing from the rhythm section. The rest of the album doesn’t let up on the energy, but these tracks in particular hit the hardest.

Top the above info off with the fact that Rolf doesn’t give up on delivering catchy leads with Herrmann and hollering vast, sing-a-long choruses with those accented roars of his. Going back to “Rebel At Heart,” we already get a beastly main riff, but the giant chorus echoes in your head, and that solo section is an explosion on its own. This is the first album that doesn’t end with some monolith of a finale (if you don’t count bonus tracks) since Blazon Stone, giving listeners the more power to lend significance to other tracks. This kind of downplays the fulfillment of the full-length (Rolf would write tons of long tracks for future albums), but what’s given does not disappoint. Everything is played modestly and aggressively, with a production job thick and clear. Credence is given to the guitars, but the bass still grumbles like a rudder and the drums bash, crash, kick, and roll less “mechanically” than before.

So don’t fret! Let Rolf and co. present another keeper of a full-length to satisfy your speed / heavy metal craving. The eclectic vigor, harmonious leads, and masculine attitude speak for themselves. Giving Rolf the benefit of doubt actually has benefits that you can hear, as opposed to everyone else asking for one. It’s soon after Black Hand Inn, but also soon before things start to get sour on the ship.

On second thought, this isn't that bad at all - 85%

Xeogred, March 11th, 2007

Albeit, this album does seem to be a shadow of almost everything that made Black Hand Inn what it is, but compared to a lot of other stuff out there this is not that bad at all. Possibly an acquired taste however. I remember getting this album about two years ago, and the first few times I tried listening to it I it didn't do much for me at all. Recently I thought I'd go back and go through it again, and my thoughts on it have definitely changed, but its still nothing I'll be worshipping like some of their previous releases.

There's probably only two ways to look at this album. If you loved Black Hand Inn, you might love this album, or you might even hate it. The issue here is that it sounds almost too much like Black Hand Inn from time to time. To many people that may be a good thing, and to others looking for diversity and originality it might be a disappointment. Personally I can go both ways in such an event, for a band like Running Wild though who have put out tons of albums, I'm not too bothered by the mimicking on this release. Maybe if this were a double album along with the former it would've gotten more appreciation, but who knows.

Getting more to the music, this is pretty much on par with a lot of the elements that made up Black Hand Inn, just a little more uninspired. The production is pretty much exactly the same as the former, making it another one of their better produced releases. The energy coming from the members never really comes close to their previous power. Kasparek vocals seem a bit lifeless and bored from time to time, and isn't nearly as convincing and enthralling as usual. He still puts in his best though. J�rg Michael's drumwork, which I absolutely praised on the former album doesn't do as much here as he did before. His drumming is a little more predictable, and isn't as off the wall or over the top like it was. Then again, its a lot more diverse than a lot of generic power metal out there, and comes close to stealing the show again from time to time. Just don't expect any overwhelming virtuosity that he displayed on Black Hand Inn here. And well, its obviously a thousand times more interesting than the drum machines to come. The bass doesn't really stand out, as its a bit hard to hear from time to time. Riffs, leads, solo's, hooks and whatnot that they were always good at punching out are still here, just not as fresh.

All in all, I just have to warn everyone to give this album a real fair shot. This is much more straight foward than their other stuff, a bit like Pile of Skulls, but lower on the emotion and energy. Looking through some of the former reviews, others seem to really dig this album. For me, it seems too much like a rehash of their former glory, but compared to many other things out there it still manages to hold its ground well. This is simply still a good album. But when someone brings up Running Wild, this album is probably one of their last ones that comes to mind. The majority of this disc is pretty solid, some songs are not as good as others, but for the most part this is worth your money if you've already got their other stuff. Very recommended for the worshipping fans, and for those looking for some catchy and simple heavy / power metal.

Blistering Metal! - 95%

icedray, January 3rd, 2004

This was the first album that I bought of RW and lemme tell ya - I was floored upon my first listening and still am to this day. Sometimes, the first album you hear of a band has a special place in your metal heart and this album sure does.

It starts off with an intro "The Contract/The Crypts of Hades" and then the ripping title track comes in and you begin to headbang with a fury that lasts for the entire album. The title track is amazing speed metal with the typical catchy chorus but its the guitars that stand out here. They are fast, crisp, and precise like a buzz saw gone nuts. The title track then immediately goes into the next song "Demonized" and while a notch slower, this song still rips and is a worthy successor to the title track.

"Black Soul" starts off with the drums and guitars dueling then into one catchy as hell number. Everything about this song flows well. Understand this boys and girls, there are not too many who can write a metal tune like Rock n Rolf and this song is a perfect example.

Ok, we are only 3 songs in and all 3 are masterpieces, so we must have a letdown, right? No fucking way because the next 2 songs are some of the best RW songs of all time! First, you have "Lions of The Sea" which starts with a very Maiden beginning. I swear I expected Bruce to start singing but instead a blazing dual guitar attach comes in and rips your face off! This song is heavy, fast, epic, and quite moving. You just wanna sail the seas after you listen to this classic. Next up is the very traditional metal sounding but still very excellent "Rebel at Heart". This is a straight up heavy metal that could have come right from the 80's. I swear if you close your eyes, you think you'd be wearing a bandanna and spandex and rocking out in the 80's. Great stuff.

The next 2 songs are a notch lower (hey, sooner or later you knew it was going to happen) but are still very good - "Wheel of Doom" and "Metalhead".

The high quality comes back with "Soleil Royal". This is RW doing what no other bands can do. Just pure speed metal about a commander of a ship which makes you realize that this niche that RW has carved out just does not get old. The album finishes out with a couple of more good numbers in "Men in Black" and "Underworld".

So, about 53 minutes of nothing but excellent metal. No fillers, here folks. Any metalhead should look into this album. If you don't enjoy this one, you don't have a pulse.

The ownage ended. - 56%

Nightcrawler, December 22nd, 2003

Just when you thought they were infallible, after releasing masterpiece after masterpiece, they give you this. A watered-out copy of their former greatness.
Masquerade really is pretty much the same thing as they did on Black Hand Inn- they stopped the tradition of taking it one step further, and just made the same album again. And they just don't have enough ideas for two albums with the same thing, no matter how good that thing might be. The riffs are just as fast, the choruses are anthemic and big, the drumming is fast and intense, but the feeling just isn't there. More than half the album seems to be completely without heart and soul put into the songwriting. The speed and intensity and all the classic Running Wild elements are there, but that little extra something that made all the other albums what they are, seems to have mysteriously vanished.

Right from the intro you can see that they're running out of ideas. The Contract/The Crypts of Hades begins with a completely ridiculous spoken section. "Are you willing to tell man lies about the world's past, how he was made, and suppress the truth for all times?" "Yes master." And so on. Throughout the entire album, the lyrics deal with exaggerated lyrics about how the governments care only about money and they are all corrupt and conspiring. Oh, and some of the lyrics deal with prejudice, too. This was a fun niche that they used, but till now was overshadowed by the pirate themes. Now it's become the main focus of pretty much every song, and instead of being a fun niche just becomes ridiculous and repetitive.

Songs like Black Soul, Demonized, Black Soul, Metalhead, Men In Black and Underworld all feature these elements: Soulless songwriting and moronic lyrics, and all this crap just bores me to death.
Actually, Black Soul has a very nice main riff and verses, but the bridge and chorus completely ruins it, mostly cause of those stupid lyrics: "Black soul you're breathing the poison of evil. Delusions of grandeur, the soul-eating plague." Yeah, yeah, there are mean people, but there are enough lyrics about them already, and much better too. Sing about pirates, for fucks sake!

However, it's not all crap on here. Some of the songs on here are actually good. The best song on here is by far the title track, which is a pretty mediocre track by Running Wild standards but on here seems like a speed metal masterpiece. Lions of the Sea features some nice atmosphere and riffs, but really schizophrenic lyrics, unable to decide whether to sing about pirates or oppression of mean people. Rebel At Heart is a nice midpaced tune with a pretty catchy chorus. And finally, the last of the good songs on here, Wheel of Doom, which is more average speed metal with yet another catchy chorus but more stupid lyrics.

Nope, this just doesn't cut it. They have to try much harder to impress me- like they did on the last couple of albums. Not recommended at all.

More straightforward, quite effective - 75%

UltraBoris, August 27th, 2002

Yet another great Running Wild album. This one really is more comparable to Pile of Skulls than to Black Hand Inn - not really that much experimentation, just eleven songs to smash your face in. Great speed metal with power-metal sensibilities - lots of nice riffs and nice soloing, and just in general, the album starts at the beginning, finishes at the end, and never ever lets up in between.

We start with "The Contract" - a little intro bit, that leads us into "Masquerade". One of the best songs on here - very fast, and with a memorable chorus. "Demonised" and "Black Soul" are pretty much more of the same, and then "Lions of the Sea" is just a bit slower, a bit more sing-alongish, quite nice. Going further in that direction is "Rebel at Heart" - both of these tracks are pretty much concert staples.

"Wheel of Doom" is back to the speed metal, which continues with "Metalhead" and "Soleil Royal". "Men in Black" is a bit more power-metalish, and then "Underworld" closes the album in fine form with some extra cool soloing thrown in.

So really, if you want something avant-garde and experimentation, this is NOT the album for you. If you want some general Painkiller worship with some Accept thrown in, and you want to hear what Primal Fear COULD sound like if they gave up sucking........