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This is how to do re-recordings - 93%

Ancient Sunlight, November 30th, 2014
Written based on this version: 1991, CD, Noise Records

The First Years of Piracy is a re-recording of many classic songs from the first three Running Wild albums. Many innately flinch when people speak about re-recording, as if it must automatically be a cash-grab. This is overreacting, especially in this case, as the songs are performed in a vastly different way. Like the members of Saxon in their Heavy Metal Thunder, the band here re-recorded a few classic songs from several albums, an approach which is superior to re-recording one full album. It's one of the few re-recordings which actually works, even 100 percent, because it offers a very viable alternative.

I was never very enamored of Under Jolly Roger, blasphemy though it may be; I don't care for the song in its original form and don't care for it here. All the others, however are true classics. Some songs were even updated from mediocrity into classics, such as Raw Ride, the band's only biker anthem. This version was played on tour for years; I heard it first on their Death or Glory tour. It is a first-rate anthem: a classic for bikers, along with Hell Bent for Leather and the likes.

Rolf's singing is better, in that it is clearer and more powerful than in the past. He overhauled his vocal approach starting with Blazon Stone, and for the better. There is none of the black/thrash metal sound that characterized his early, sinister tone. It is straightforward, masculine singing of the best kind, and Rolf has been singing like this for years, always delivering. In the older versions, he often sang in a more grim, growling manner, befitting the more satanic atmosphere of the earlier albums. Here that atmosphere has been replaced entirely by an adventurous, early German power metal one. But I am not speaking of modern, wimpy German power metal (the adherents of the cult of Helloween), but a classic version, inspired by Accept and the great Wolf Hoffman. These guys rock their bright riffs without including wimpy choruses. Unlike Alestorm and other tiresome pirate metal bands, Running Wild's focus is both the adventure and desolation of the pirate life – not silly nonsense about gin and women.

That is the essential reason Running Wild such an easy band to appreciate. The band's two defining virtues are honesty and elevation. They play fun, traditional metal/power metal, sure; but there is a form of sincerity, aided by an elevation of tone, that makes it far superior to mere gimmick bands doing superficially similar things. You feel as if the band has truly heard the enslaving call of the sea, and had their pirate-soul, dwelling within their inmost heart, awakened. The same goes for the political themes. When, On Death or Glory, Rolf says to the world leaders, "I can see through your eyes / You're bad to the bone", it feels like a sincere cry against injustice and corruption. When Rolf shouts "Bastards, throwing life away!" he means it. There is nothing of the tongue-in-cheek or the insincere. It's no put-on.

Raise Your Fist, for example, is energetic; it's not merely a mild, mediocre song – it sounds actually rebellious. It's about school tedium, and accurately reflects how my friends and I sometimes felt in our youth. It's as if it isn't a shameless attempt to tap into the teenage music market, but a sincere reflection of the band members' life. They are speaking to and about their young selves too.

The album sounds great: the mixing is incredible. The vocals, guitar, and drums all come out wonderfully clean in a very balanced mix. It's unfortunate that the first-rate bass playing is drowned out a little; but that doesn't need to be on the forefront anyhow. In some later records, the vocals would be a little underwhelming; but here they proudly stand amidst the instruments. Ex-roadie AC is a solid drummer, who clearly is tuned in with the other band members. The drums have a very odd, tin sound; but I've heard worse.

The riffs are all brief, but they are of such high quality that their simplicity isn't detrimental. Raw Ride, in particular, has a rocking riff that never gets old. Who cares that the structure is as simple as it can be? It is straightforward because it works. When they play Fight the Oppression, you feel as if they are speaking of a true revolution, and not just for the sake of writing a catchy song. Something of true depth lurks beneath the superficial surface.

Furthermore, the songs are played at greater speed, and the sinister tone of the early albums has been entirely abandoned in favor of a revolutionary tone. Running Wild was on a winning-streak, conquering the metal world, and you can hear it. This is the music of a band with faith in their own abilities, standing tall and proud. These interpretations therefore sport a little more vitality. They sing for victory, not for survival.

If you need to introduce someone to Running Wild, this is a great way. It has all the hits from their first three album, with an updated style, better playing, and a tone that befits such giants of metal.