posted on 5/2012 By:
Running Wild (or more accurately, Captain Rock N’ Rolf Kasparek) announced that the band would be decommissioned in 2009, rechristening himself T.T. Poison for his new band Toxic Taste. Pirate lovers worldwide were pretty bummed. But hell, their farewell live release The Final Jolly Roger barely had time to age on store shelves before he got the bug to set sail once again. Now the colors are at full mast, and he’s ready to terrorize the high seas once again with Shadowmaker.
To which I say, “What the hell, man?!”
The most obvious way to interpret that opening line is as an expression of shocked disbelief -- that it happened so quickly, just as the barnacles were starting to cover the hull. The other is just as plain disbelief -- that this is the album we get. Shadowmaker is a bumpy ride through choppy waters: some smooth sailing, some more tenuous bits, and a few moments that may cause seasickness.
Rolf seems to have brought more than a little of the glam/rock n’ roll vibe of Toxic Taste with him on this voyage. “Piece of the Action” was an odd choice to start the album. For the record, it has nothing to do with either The Sweet or Motley Crue; it also doesn’t have much to do with Running Wild. It’s a lyrical and musical departure from their usual themes, more of a straight-up rocker. It’s also frustratingly hooky. My instinct is to dislike the track, but the strong chorus keeps popping into my head. The following “Riding on the Tide” brings the pirate element back to the lyrical fold and introduces a bit of the more familiar musical form, albeit in a sunshine-y manner. But like its predecessor, it’s got hooks, with the main riff taking residence in your head like an earworm. Just when you think you’ve got this figured out, “I Am Who I Am” flips it around, with classic Running Wild music and vocals, but a personal lyrical statement from Rock N’ Rolf – perhaps now more Captain Blood than Blackbeard – giving no quarter in regards to who he is and what he does.
Back into steadier waters now for the steady, purposeful march of “Black Shadow” and the driving (no pun intended) land-based “Locomotive.” Musically the main difference between these two is the tempo, as my mental jukebox will often play one to the tune of the other. The edge goes to the latter, but they’re both in the classic Running Wild vein.
“UNLEASH THE KRAKEN!”
Ok, so that isn’t part of the record, but it’s musical equivalent is, albeit more in the “What the fuck is that?” sense. I am, of course, referring to “Me + The Boys,” a breezy, laid-back arena jam about them just doing their thing – you know, the sort of sentiment that wouldn’t be out of place on a volume of Freedom Rock. It is grossly out of place, and about as far as I can fathom from the core of Running Wild. Yet, much like “Piece of the Action,” it is annoyingly hooky. I sing the chorus without thinking; I pound my desk to the rhythm. Did they ask Tia Dalma or Roxxi Laveaux to cast a hex on the master tape prior to pressing? Few things cause inner conflict like a band releasing a song that you know is bad, yet is irresistible.
Perhaps appropriately, it’s the title track that taps right into the essence of the band and makes the strongest return statement of the album. As good as some of the preceding tracks are, this is the first one that that makes you say, “THAT’S a Running Wild song.” It’s good enough to make you overlook the shortcomings of the next couple of tracks. It also helps that the album ends with another classic style track, although not in the traditional sense. “Dracula” clocks in at just over 7 minutes and recalls similar tracks like “Black Wings of Death” and “Ballad of William The Kidd,” the latter in particular due to the historical and literary angle.
So now I find myself faced with a conundrum. I’ve praised highs, pointed out lows, commended the good, and slammed the bad. I’ve enjoyed every spin through Shadwomaker in spite of the negatives, but questioned the overall product in spite of the positives. It is entirely possible, though, that I put too much weight on the band’s use of pirate themes and get disappointed when something doesn’t sound like “Under Jolly Roger” or “Treasure Island.” Let’s go with that, then, because Shadowmaker is just too much fun to speak ill of. If Illud Divinum Insanus had been more like this, Morbid Angel might still have some fans left. It is entirely possible for a band to experiment with new sounds without abandoning their core spirit and alienating everybody in the process. But I’m still not forgiving “Me + The Boys.”
Hoist the colors, pass the rum, and convene the Brethren Court - pirates and metalheads everywhere will want to get their hooks into Shadowmaker.
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