The pirate’s life is not for everyone. Extensive travel, oft unprofessional coworkers and arcane profit sharing arrangements conspire to limit the talent pool and keep opportunities scarce. None of that ever mattered to Running Wild. They took to the trade like a duck to water and from 1987 onward they’ve kept the marauder’s flag flying almost nonstop through hard times and rough seas. Rapid Foray is the third release since their 2012 “reformation” and as on Shadowmaker and Resilient, they’re not looking to reinvent the parrot. Led by founding scoundrel Rock n’ Rolf, they deliver more of the same old school raider anthems, rich in rapscallion swagger and loaded with riff booty™. Though the “band” now consists of just Rolf, a session guitarist and a rust bucket drum machine, the Running Wild sound is still somewhat intact, and the smaller crew ensures a greater share of the treasure sans all the usual throat cuttery. Rapid Foray offers nothing outside the usual Running Wild experience, and at times feels like a slightly damp version of their salad days, but they’re the founders of pirate metal and can still drop a burly riff or two along with a chorus inspiring semi-derring-do. Did I mention they’re German and never going away? They are and they won’t.
At the risk of raising expectations, opener “Black Skies Red Flag” is exactly the kind of song long-time fans want from Running Wild in 2016 – the classic riffage is there, Rolf’s Long John Silver vocals are still effective and the writing is solid enough to keep you hooked. It could have appeared on classic platters like Pile of Skulls or The Rivalry and it’s a fine yarn capped off by a wild and woolly solo. “Warmongers” keeps things on course with adequate urgency and catchy guitar harmonies, though things do border on the generic, but “Stick to Your Guns” drops the sails with a soggy AC/DC style and lackluster chorus.
The remainder of Rapid Foray is more solid than not. There’s a great Thin Lizzy meets Saxon vibe and sweet bagpipes on standout “By the Blood in Your Heart,” and the one-two punch of old timey, classic style songs “Black Bart” and “Hellestrified” give the album’s midsection a necessary dose of adrenaline. Things finish out with the 11-minute “Last of the Mohicans,” which is surprisingly spry and engaging, feeling like a much shorter song due to catchy riffing and a commitment to rocking the boat.
Downsides? “Blood Moon Rising” is just alright and “Into the West” is only saved from a similar station by a humdinger of a lead riff. At 58 minutes, this is way too long and weaker tracks should have been tossed overboard to create a tighter ship. Length aside, the overall impression one gets from Rapid Foray (and 2013s Resilient for that matter) is of a band with a long history and a trademark style now struggling to keep things afloat and interesting after decades of profiteering. Foray lacks the hooks and punch of Shadowmaker and it’s leagues away from their classic releases, but hey, when it works, it works and nostalgia is always the watchword.
Rolf has always been a limited singer but his rough and rowdy voice works in much the same way as Biff Byford’s does for Saxon. His piratey rasp is still in good order and when he goes for more traditional singing on “By the Blood of Your Heart” he can still get the job done. His long history of crafting catchy, distinctive riffs deserves respect and he once again delivers some quality leads across Rapid Foray. The problem is, they sometimes feel like slightly rejiggered, rehashed versions of riffs we heard on past albums. Peter Jordan is again aboard to provide solos and some of them are quite captivating (“Black Skies” and “The Depth of the Sea- Nautilus”). The drums are programmed and sound it, but you’ve heard worse and they aren’t bad enough to scuttle the material.
After 30 years under Jolly Roger, the AC/DC of freebooters are still prowling the seaways interdicting musical commerce. Though Rapid Foray isn’t going to make anyone forget the classic Running Wild era, they stay true enough to their legacy and avoid embarrassing themselves while delivering some solid songs and a collection of interesting riffs. Long-time fans will enjoy much of it and Alestorm castaways may learn what real pirate music sounds like. Sail on, stout lads, sail on.