Though pirate metal has branched out in recent decades, Running Wild‘s bloody cutlass is still the measuring stick for wannabe scalawags. Blazon Stone defer to the captain publicly, but in quiet plan mutiny. Steal the dread captain’s ship and plunder the high seas with it? Nonsense! No one can best the the captain… can they? Blazon Stone certainly try, as Down in the Dark caps a catalog of metal’s best Running Wild worship.

“Into Victory” sails headfirst into the fray, with no intention of taking prisoners. One-man band Ced flies from deck to deck, taking the fighting to Running Wild‘s captain’s quarters. His axework is a joy, heartily winking at classics like Port Royal and Death or Glory while reclaiming much of the potency missing from dreck like Rapid Foray. Its inherent variety provides the soundtrack for every pirate scene you can imagine: the Black Hand Inn-inspired night in the ghastly “Tavern of the Damned,” the Sabaton-tinged final hours of “Hanged, Drawn, and Quartered,” the X-marks-the-spot treasure hunt of “Captain of the Wild.” There’s naught a scenario Ced hasn’t colored in with gorgeous, rum-soaked brush strokes.

However, every good captain needs a dependable first mate. Vocalist Erik Forsberg brings only touches of Rock ‘n’ Rolf to his gruff persona, heightening the sense that Blazon Stone bring something new to the table with his range. When varied fare like “Into Victory” and “Captain of the Wild” demand it, Forsberg ticks up with ease, occasionally folding in power metal elements. His performance heightens the sing-along potential of each song, servicing the hefty “Merciless Pirate King,” the ripping “Bloody Inquisition,” and oddball Accept throwback “Rock Out!” equally. Excising the last would make for a more logical setlist, but the first two songs coasted onto my Song o’ the Year shortlist with sails still furled.

The record’s adherence to form is both a blessing and a hindrance. If “Into Victory” does it for you, you’re in for smooth sailing. Blazon Stone play it safe in the composition and exploration departments, with the lone exception of “Rock Out!” It’s odd to gripe about a lack of ambition in a heavy metal band, I know. I just can’t help feeling that the inclusion of longer fare in the vein of “Treasure Island” or “Genesis (The Making and the Fall of Man)” would deepen a record that otherwise sticks to the shallows.

As a Running Wild fan, I’m shocked it took me this long to discover Blazon Stone. They are the tribute band’s tribute band, boldly plundering another band’s legacy to craft swashbuckling affairs that all at once sounds nostalgic and vibrant, familiar and fresh. But don’t be fooled: Down in the Dark run a jolly roger of its own design up the mast. Blazon Stone author a rollicking raid that any heavy metal fan, pirate aficionado or not, will enjoy.

Tracks to check out:  “Into Victory,” “Merciless Pirate King,” and “Bloody Inquisition”