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If Only For “Treasure Island” - 88%

OzzyApu, January 8th, 2010

Was 1992 the year of metallic drum snares? Dream Theater has the exact same issue with Images And Words, which was released the same year. Hmm, aside from that glaring issue (which isn’t that big of a deal, anyway), this is just Rolf and the gang continuing their merciless onslaught of classy piracy and more. This would be Schwarzmann’s last release with the band; quite a shame losing a man who batters and beats the kit with the bones of dead sailors. The kit sound so loud and raw without having annoying hollow points or illogical patterns; drum wank does not exist in Running Wild at all – tons of double bass charges, but no drum wank.

Drums still can’t compete with the riff speed, which is insane; Morgan and Rolf tear shit up on every track without a lick of remorse. The only licks they’ll be handing out are the lead licks painting the horizon with the blood of fallen foes. However, that’s where this album dips down compared to last time. For some reason, Running Wild have maintained everything from their image to their edge and rebellious attitude, but they’ve lost a bit of energy. They haven’t forgotten where they came from or how to make women undress at the sight of an unsheathed sword, but there’s a gap where the irreplaceable glory and royalty used to be. I guess it makes sense that the guys were pretty classy dudes for the past couple of albums already, so it’d only make sense for them to abandon that and go straight for the ruthlessness. The band basically replaced the stylish harmonies with cunning riffs and melodies – a just decision for now, but I still prefer the preceding approach found on the previous two albums.

The vocals also have an issue – every album since Port Royal has featured Rolf literally wailing and singing with soul. He ditched the grunty, hoarse dirty talking / yelling found on the first three albums (most apparent on Under Jolly Roger). This, combined with matured sound of power metal ethics, made for wonderful, ostentatious epics that captured our hearts vocally and instrumentally. “Chamber Of Lies” really gets you pumped and in the mood with it’s authentic tune, but “Whirlwind” is the real starter that hits you like a typhoon. The riffs and stampede at the beginning all begin nicely, but the very second I heard Rolf’s vocals my gut just dropped. They’re nowhere near as loud and proud as before, and in fact are only a fraction of their full capabilities. This just pisses me off, as they wasted his vocal potential. His voice gets clearer as the album progresses, so I’m pretty sure it’s just a production fuck-up with the first few tracks (still annoying).

Aside from those issues, there’s also a lack of atmosphere compared to the other albums. Port Royal really made you feel like you were in Port Royal, Death Or Glory just screamed history books, and Blazon Stone has me at royal parties with pretentious princes. This one… well, I don’t really feel too much except like I’m stuck in a dungeon or on a ship. Nothing too interesting; the dashing riffs and triumphant solos more than make up for this, but it’s a big deal for Running Wild. The only track that isn’t bound by this flaw is “Treasure Island” – you see 11 minutes and you know that song is going to be packed with a story, victorious riff after riff, and solo after solo. Well, if the insightful spoken intro and the following magnificent melody feel like a cannonball to the chest, then maybe you’ll survive to hear the rest of the tale. It’s easily the highlight of Pile Of Skulls and closes this nasty beast as well as “Calico Jack” did with Port Royal.

Production values aren’t very much different from the previous two albums. We still have the primarily polished equipment with that same dirty guitar tone and a bass tougher than my own rifle. It’s not even Jens Becker and it’s still a brutish bass – Smuszynski would remain with the band for quite a while, so he ought to leave his mark as early as possible. We don’t really get any standout bass lines like Becker did with the last few albums, but his contributions are noteworthy.

While still essentially Running Wild, this one needed to grow on me, and even then it didn’t match up with the hot streak of the last three albums. Losing that one component and having other technical issues brought this one down a level for me, but at the core it’s still Rolf’s lovechild. “Treasure Island” damn well redeemed the whole thing for me – it’s the only track where you feel like a part of the story. For me, I always think of Muppet Treasure Island, the Black Spot, "Cabin Fever," Tim Curry, and all the other goodies entailed in that movie. So yeah, go watch that movie and go listen to that song at the same time.