Running Wild are one of those perennial European bands that are so easy to dismiss because they've been around longer than dirt and they play every festival and they may be the definition of "reliable" and, yeah, they were pirate metal before the guys in Alestorm knew how to stand up on their own two feet and isn't that genre over yet? But then you throw on another album and listen to them again for the first time in a while and remember just how damn good a band they are.
They were formed back in 1976 as Granite Hearts, changing their name to Running Wild, after the Judas Priest song, three years later. Rolf Kasparek has led the band since the very beginning and has been the sole founding member since 1984. He's still there, singing and playing guitar, though he did disband for a couple of years in 2009. The line-up has been stable since 2015 and this is their seventeenth studio album, their first since 2016's Rapid Foray.
And it's refreshingly good. The lyrics to the opening title track may be cheesy, with their "One for all and all for one" mentality but it's an upbeat and catchy number to get us going and it doesn't stop being upbeat and catchy for a long time. It doesn't matter how far into the album you move—a cynic might call the next four tracks interchangeable—you'll pay attention and tap your feet and wonder at how effortlessly the riffs and hooks are. This isn't a tired forty-five year old outfit in the slightest; this is a vibrant forty-five year old band who knows precisely what they're doing and just continues to do it and do it again and do it once more for the back row and...
I have to admit to being a little out of touch with regards to Running Wild. I listened to them quite a bit back in the eighties and nineties but can't remember the most recent album of theirs that I played. I see that their ratings haven't been great since maybe The Brotherhood in 2002, but this doesn't feel to me like it deserves a 53%, 54% or 60% rating like their previous four. This is easily a solid 70% all the way to Crossing the Blades and then it livens up even more.
Now, I should emphasise that there's nothing here that Running Wild haven't done before many times so you're not going to find anything original here at all. I don't think it counts as ripping off when you're ripping off yourself and bands as great as AC/DC have made careers out of that. The songs here are all decent, even if they were never going to be innovative or revolutionary. It's fair to say that Running Wild haven't been innovative or revolutionary since inventing pirate metal in 1987.
I recently reviewed the new U.D.O., Game Over, also a seventeenth studio album from a German heavy/power metal band with a constant lead singer, and that was great until it wasn't. Whether it was the fourth track or later that crossed the line into filler territory, U.D.O. got there and they struggled in vain to get back out again. Running Wild does far better here. The first six tracks are easily worthy, with Say Your Prayers perhaps the best amongst them.
Maybe the seventh, One Night, One Day, lets the side down a bit with its overly anthemic outlook, but it's not filler and it's going to find an eager audience. The Shellback is able to restore things to business as usual, just as anthemic without trying qite so hard. Wild, Wild Nights is as cheesy as its title makes it seem, but it isn't filler either. These late songs may make you fistpump or cringe or wonder how you got transported back to the late eighties, but they're not filler, and neither is the ten minute epic that closes out the album, the clumsily titled The Iron Times (1618-1648).
So,nothing here is filler and a lot of it surprisingly strong. However, the lack of originality doesn't help it towards higher ratings and I have to wonder about those most recent four albums with the low scores. If I dive into them, will I find four albums just like this one and it's the fact that they're all the same that's letting people down? Or do they truly deserve those ratings and this is a step up in the band's 45th year? I'm actually interested in finding out and I don't think I was coming in. That has to count for something.