Running Wild – Blood on Blood Review

I’ve said it before. Pirating is a tough racket. No sooner do you find a bountiful treasure than you find yourself forcibly separated from said booty by rival marauders. There’s no dispute that Running Wild invented the whole “pirate metal” schtick way back in 1987 with their Under Jolly Roger opus, and they’ve tenaciously clung to the gimmick riggings ever since, releasing some 13 albums of vaguely buccaneer-themed heavy metal. Their last voyage was 2016s Rapid Foray, which wasn’t their most sea-worthy endeavor, but now they return to the swashing and buckling only to face stiff competition from younger, hungrier acts like Blazon Stone, who’ve pilfered all but the moniker from the original sea dogs. Blazon‘s Damnation release from earlier this year ran much more wild than the past few Running Wild albums, and that puts Blood on Blood in a precarious pirate predicament. Do these aged, salty brigands still have enough powder left to deliver a proper broadside on their younger rivals, or is it high time they hung up the eye patches and settled down in some quiet port town? Let the battle for control of the seas commence.

I’ll start by saying I had fairly low expectations coming into Blood on Blood. Though a long-time fan of the band, the past few outings weren’t very strong, and aside from a few choice moments, the only thing keeping them afloat was nostalgia. The promo puffery featured founder Rock n’ Rolf claiming this is the best Running Wild release yet, which I felt was highly unlikely. After some time onboard Blood on Blood, I still feel that way, but color me impressed nonetheless. This is the best, most consistent output the band’s managed in a long time, and they’ve churned out some vintage material that any fan is sure to salute. Classic rockers like the title track and “Wings of Fire” have that instantly recognizable Running Wild riff style that makes you envision a sailing ship slicing through the waves on the way to high adventure. Rolf’s trademark Captain Hook vocals are as good as ever and the man knows how to craft a catchy chorus. The diamond in the ruff this time is “Diamonds and Pearls,” which is just a gloriously catchy example of why I’ve stuck with these pirate beshirted goons for 30-plus years of mischief. A simple as fook riff chops along and Rolf decorates it with pirate yarns, and you’re captured just like that, only to be keelhauled by the glorious chorus. Other cuts like “Say Your Prayers” and Crossing the Blades” keep the rum and gunpowder flowing with big hooks and they make it look so easy.

Until they don’t anyway. The band (or more accurately, Rolf) thought it wise to include the painfully cheese-tastic “One Night, One Day,” which I’m sure he envisioned as an epic stadium anthem sure to get the lighters flying high. And that may indeed come to pass, but damn if the song isn’t a 5-minute-long cringe. It also brings the album’s rocking momentum to a screeching halt as you receive a complimentary windshield taste test. There’s also a misguided side quest into 80s cock rock courtesy of “Wild, Wild Nights,” which is equally unappetizing and out of place. I personally don’t want cock rock in my pirate metal, but opinions may differ. Things conclude well with the ten-plus minutes of “The Iron Times (1618-1648),” and once again the band show themselves capable of writing long-form songs that actually work and hold interest due to the smart inclusion of a series of rollicking and romping riffs. At 55:39, Blood on Blood is way too long a trip, and if they cast the worst cuts overboard, we’d be looking at a righteous Running Wild platter. With the ballast on board, it’s merely a good day on the water with old friends.

Rolf has always been the heart and soul of Running Wild and much can be said about his legendary riff-writing ability. There’s plenty of that on display here, and even the worst moments get support from a cool lead or two. While some of his riffs would fit on early 80s records by the likes of Helix or Keel, he does dabble in vaguely power metal-esque leads to spice up the grog, and along with Peter Jordan, Rolf throws out some classic guitar harmonies that are hard to resist. His vocals have always been minimalist but they work and he sounds the same as always here.

Blood on Blood is Running Wild‘s 17th freaking album. Not many bands manage such a feat, so respect is due the elder outlaws. This is much more entertaining than I expected and there are enough classic moments to satisfy fans. It looks like there’s still some fight in these mangy curs, so let legacy and gimmick thieves be on notice. The Lords of Pirate Metal are still out there prowling the seaways, looking for pretenders to their mantle. The Jolly Roger still flutters even with the occasional songwriting sputters.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Steamhammer/SPV
Websites: running-wild.net | facebook.com/runningwildmusic
Releases Worldwide: October 29th, 2021

« »