Pirates occupy a strange place in popular consciousness; being at once badass and completely silly. For every historical tale of marauding, pillaging and rapine, there’s a counter-balancing pop culture anecdote like the mincing and prancing Captain Jack Sparrow. For every macho Captain Morgan, there’s Jerry Seinfeld’s pirate shirt. The same problem infects the sparsely populated “pirate metal’ genre pool. While the original outlaw crew known as Running Wild rode the pirate motif for decades of relative coolness, newcomers like Alestorm and Swashbuckle came along and unceremoniously pissed in that pool, making the very idea of pirate metal seem untenable and comical. This was the harsh reality faced by Running Wild founder Rock n’ Rolf when he brought the band back from oblivion with 2012s Shadowmaker effort. While he wisely toned down the buccaneer quotient, the overly simple, hard rock flavor of that album was a stark departure from their Germanic speed metal roots and sounded like a mash-up of Saxon and Thin Lizzy. With barely a year passing, Rolf is back with Resilient and while there’s a bit more of the original Running Wild flavor sprinkled about, once again the material sticks closer to Saxon than the speedy glory of classic albums like Pile of Skulls and The Rivalry. It isn’t bad and some of it rocks quite hard, but it feels weak and tired at times and lacks the insta-hooks that made Shadowmaker enjoyable. Nobody ever said the pirate life was easy, eh matey?
Most of the songs are mid-paced or slightly up-tempo classic metal not far removed from the early days of the NWoBHM. That means keeping things riffy, simple and straight-ahead. It works pretty well on tunes like “Resilient,” “Fireheart” and especially “Adventure Highway.” While none of these are essential listening or a “must hear,” they have a rudimentary charm and are easy to like. “Soldier of Fortune” has more of the band’s old style and could have been on any of their 90s albums. It’s lively and punchy, but a bit generic by Running Wild standards.
Best of the bunch is the more hard rock-based “Desert Rose” which is immediate and addicting. It could have played on the 90s hair metal radio stations and fit in though it has plenty of the classic RW sound. Almost as good is the aggressive charge of “The Drift” which features some of the album’s sharpest riffing and a no-nonsense metal swagger.
Less successful are moribund ditties like “Down to the Wire” and “Crystal Gold” which lack energy and plod along without much to say. Also underwhelming is the ten-minute closer “Bloody island” which I suppose is the companion piece to the equally long-winded “Treasure Island” off their Pile of Skulls opus. While the latter had plenty of moxie, atmosphere and a rousing, beer stein swinging chorus, this one is flat and uninspired…and really long. The chorus doesn’t do anything for me and since it’s a ten-minute song, you get flogged by it mercilessly until morale improves (which it never does). Nothing is worse than a dull ten-minute song (except a dull eleven-minute song).
Though once a real band, the modern era of Running Wild features just Rolf and occasional guitar solo assistance from Peter Jordan. That means the drums are canned, which I suppose would be a bigger issue if the music wasn’t so simplistic. As always, the songs are guitar-driven and since Rolf always had an ear for nifty riffs, he keeps them meaty, adequately heavy and uses harmonies borrowed from Maiden and Priest, but mostly Saxon. The solos are nice and sometimes impressive, but I can’t tell which are from Rolf and which are dropped by Jordan. Rolf’s voice is in fine form and remains the constant in the band’s long history. He sounds quite a bit like Saxon‘s Biff Byford and fits the riffy material as well as always.
I’ll always have a soft spot for these rapscallions and even though they’re throwing their pirate identity overboard to fit in with the times, they still create the type of classic metal I grew up on and still appreciate. Resilient is hardly their finest hour and it’s not as memorable as Shadowmaker, but it’s definitely better than albums like Victory and Rogues in Vogue. You don’t choose the pirate life, the pirate life chooses you.