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Running Wild

Shadowmaker

Review by Mike Korn

In the history of heavy metal from Germany, Running Wild is a major player, with a history stretching back to the early 80s. They first emerged in that great period when Accept and The Scorpions achieved mass popularity and which gave birth to bands such as Helloween, Kreator and Sodom. The first couple of Running Wild albums were well received, but it wasn't until the classic Under Jolly Roger that the band really started to make a mark. That was the album when the band dumped their leather-and-studs Satanic look and instead took to the high seas as the very first "pirate metal" band!

Under the leadership of their "captain,” Rock N' Rolf Kasparek, the good ship Running Wild released a ton of pirate-themed metal albums in the 90s and early 00s before taking a brief hiatus in 2009. Luckily, Rock N' Rolf has returned to the metal wars with Shadowmaker, an album that functions as a tour through the entire history of Running Wild, ranging from speed metal to singalong pirate metal anthems to commercial rock n' roll. I can't say it is the best album by the band, as it seems a little too clean and neat, but it does stay true to the history and concepts of Running Wild.  It's also a great introduction to the band.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Piece of the Action

Surprisingly, this starts with more of a whisper than a bang...a syncopated guitar rhythm and whispered vocals from Kasparek. The guitars get louder and the vocals more brash and we have ourselves a perversely catchy metal anthem not too far from some of Accept's material. Kasparek hasn't lost his touch on guitar, either and cuts loose with some cool lead work.

Riding on the Tide
With a title like that, we know we're in for one of Running Wild's patented pirate metal excursions. This has a happy, upbeat feel to the riffing that makes you think of sailing on the open sea, with a warm breeze in the rigging. There is a "corny" feeling to the song, but that's true of most Running Wild and power metal in general. This is archetypal RW.
I Am Who I Am
A declaration of independence, this song has a raw and energetic feeling to it and is one of the album highlights. It's fast and heavy and takes you back to the earliest days of the band, when they were cranking out stuff like "Victim of State's Power" and "Prisoner of Our Times.”
Black Shadow
This is the first of three related songs on the album.  This is a dark and plodding tune that again is reminiscent of Running Wild's early days and songs like "Mordor.”. It's heavy and driving enough, but here is where I mention one of the album's failings and that's the unimaginative and lifeless drumming. The drums play easy beats during the whole album, never adding more than the absolute minimum required to keep the song going. They also sound rather artificial. I know Running Wild is pretty much Kasparek 's band, but a strong drummer would boost these songs to another level.
Locomotive
Here's more simple and catchy pounding power metal. The riffing is very familiar and the song could hardly be accused of being technically interesting, but the heaviness and energy is infectious, just like it was for Running Wild classics like "Under Jolly Roger" and "Diamonds of the Black Chest.” This will be a real hit live.
Me And The Boys
Kasparek is obviously going for a hair metal "big rock" sound here and it may be the poppiest, most commercial song Running Wild has ever done. That will make it a polarizing tune right there. If the whole album was this way, I'd toss it in the rubbish bin, but since there's just one like this, it's a tolerable change of pace. The lyrics are sappy any way you look at it. "Me and the boys / We love that noise / Me and the boys / We're going crazy / Me and the boys / We make that noise / Because rock n' roll is our choice."
Shadowmaker
This is the second in the "Shadowmaker" trilogy and gets things back on track with a fast, fist-pumping metal attack. It's another familiar sounding tune that gets the job done with brisk efficiency.
Sailing Fire
It's back to the Seven Seas with another pirate metal outing. Much like "Riding On the Tide,” there's a really peppy and positive feeling to this song and the riffing again really suggests the freedom of a pirate's life. This could have easily been on the Death Or Glory or Port Royal albums...it's Running Wild piracy at its best.
Into The Black
The concluding song of the "Shadowmaker" trilogy, this is raw and driving heavy metal with a dark feel. Again, it’s nothing really different or technically outstanding, but delivered with typical RW power and panache.
Dracula
Let's face it, this subject is really tired as far as lyrics go and starting the song with the cliched sounds of rain, thunder and tolling bells just reinforces how old hat it is. Nevertheless, the song is still enjoyable musically because it is the heaviest and most epic on the album. In fact, Kasparek and his boys are really cranking out some crushing riffs here. There's also a very cool break in the middle. The song winds up being a fitting capper to the release despite its well-worn theme.
 
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