If ‘Riding The Storm’ from Death or Glory, the album that closed the first chapter of Running Wild’s career as well as being the chronological end of the first batch of Noise Records/BMG’s reissues, saw the band absolutely perfect their main songwriting style, sixth album Blazon Stone saw them kick off a run of unprecedented consistency and quality. By now armed with a recognisable, cohesive and distinct sound, for the next four albums, Rock n’ Rolf dragged Running Wild to a level of Heavy Metal excellence that, though predictable stylistically, was welcomed with open arms, raised horns and strained voices. During this period, Running Wild became masters at their craft, even if they had not yet perfected the art of the photo shoot (seriously… the Labyrinth style costumes and volumized bouffants have not aged well…)
More lineup changes, a failed attempt to broaden the songwriting pool with Jens Becker and new drummer AC keen to contribute songs – which were subsequently discarded – and several cancelled studio sessions led to Rolf Kasparek once again writing the majority of the songs… but it was, once again, to prove to the benefit of the output, with Blazon Stone hosting several hurtling tracks par excellence that have really benefit from the push of their remastering; tracks such as the spiky ‘Lonewolf’, the hard rocking ‘Fire And Ice’, the Motorhead drive of ‘Straight To Hell’, and crowning glory, the superb headbanging single of ‘Little Big Horn’, a joyous speed metal anthem. [8.0]
Not only is Pile of Skulls superbly titled, it also continues the joyous legacy most appropriately. While not often referred to with the same reverence as some of its companions, nonetheless this should not detract from a respectable addition to the canon. A dip was likely, following the bands form over the previous six years (during which five top albums had been produced), and a continuing roulette of band members (this time Becker and AC left, citing a desire for the band to “grow up” and contemporize musically), all of which meant that, surely, Rock n’ Rolf couldn’t maintain the high standards since Under Jolly Roger?
Surely you’ve learned not to underestimate the man by now, as he re-recruited Stefan Schwarzmann and replaced Becker with “Bodo” Smuszynski, who Kasparek warmly states in the liner notes “I wouldn’t say he was technically as good as Jens, but what he had was real balls in the way he played”.
A reliable and persistently headbanging outing, Skulls peaks with the closing combo of ‘Jennings Revenge’ and the eleven minute ‘Treasure Island’, seeing the band re-embrace the pirate theme they were renowned for and had abandoned on their previous cycle. [7.5]
Backed by another entirely new lineup, and with perhaps, to these ears, the definitive Running Wild drummer Jörg Michael now on the stool, 1994’s Black Hand Inn is an odd one… odd, because it flopped commercially, despite being fucking brilliant. Make no mistake, though, Black Hand Inn is great Heavy Metal, from its cheesy concept-setting narrative start to it’s ambitious, and successful fifteen-minute closer, ‘Genesis’. In between we get genre classics at every turn, with at least seven of the tracks with a legitimate claim to owning a place on a hypothetical Running Wild best of, the picks of which include ‘Mr Deadhead’, a bone fide banger, and the protest anthem ‘Fight The Fire Of Hate’. [8.5]
And in terms of music AND quality, ninth album, and the best Running Wild album, period, Masquerade took on the challenge of living up to its predecessor. Considering the musical climate, and the perceived failure of the previous album, Rolf eschewed the easy option and stuck to his guns, getting them firing once more.
Making the most of maintaining a stable lineup (!), Running Wild turned it on, on their final album for Noise, which made a mockery of the idea that “old school” Heavy Metal couldn’t sell in the mid-Nineties, restoring the band to the sizable touring force they’d been prior to Black Hand Inn. Every track on Masquerade swaggers with jagged intent, razor-sharp riffing culminating in meathook, hard, choruses, Thilo Hermann growing into his lead guitar role dances and enhances, and Jörg Michael turns in a powerhouse performance. But the real stars of the show are the songs. A typical scything Running Wild rager, the title track kicks things off, ‘Rebel At Heart’ is a pounding singalong, ‘Metalhead’ is still a live favourite, and ‘Men In Black’ is the ultimate “Running Wild” track, providing everything you want from this band. [9.0]
Over the course of a nine-album run on Noise Records, Running Wild grew from a coarse, raw bundle of unrefined potential to, simply, an excellent and distinctive Heavy Metal band that I have retained a whole swash of affection for. Blame it on the love of Rock n’ Rolf…
Part Two of Noise Records Running Wild reissues will be released on 25 August 2017