April’s been delivering metal in loads with new Rage, Unisonic, and Dragonforce (more on that soon!), and continues its deluge with two new trad metal albums from German legends Accept and Running Wild. I’ve been listening to them periodically for a few weeks here and am ready to dish out some verdicts! Alle von euch metalheads, Achtung!
Accept – Stalingrad:
I was a late believer to Accept Mach II. No Udo? Ok whatever. What a fool I was, and my dismissive brushing off was abruptly and forcefully corrected upon my first listen to 2010’s relentless Blood of the Nations – an album that not only took Accept to new crushing sonic territory thanks to the production work of Andy Sneap, but was actually able to out heavy most extreme metal records released that year. I love that album from start to finish, and when I saw them live in the summer of 2011 in the dark, sweaty confines of Houston’s Scout Bar, I loved it even more. Accept with Mark Tornillo doing old and new Accept music live simply busted me to the floor and I wondered how they’d possibly manage to do something to top all of this. Well, in terms of their next studio recording, the answer is I guess, that they can’t. Its even understandable in someway, inevitable perhaps, and we can look back on the Blood of the Nations album/tour cycle as a truly special moment for the band – a once in a career watershed.
Its not all bad, Stalingrad is actually a pretty decent record, some filler notwithstanding, but that in itself is what makes it a slight disappointment. Its predecessor was front to back excellent, no filler, even the well placed middle of the album ballad was artfully done. It was a reinvigorated, re-energized Accept serving up the best of Wolf Hoffmann’s stockpiled riffs and going … erm, balls to the walls if you know what I mean. Here, I find myself struggling to maintain interest through a couple songs, and I keep playing them in hopes that they’ll grow on me, but at this point I think that they could have left off “The Galley”, and “Flash to Bang Time” and made the overall album stronger as a result. Whats positive on offer here is quite excellent, particularly the stately paced, soulful “Twist of Fate”, the hammering opener (and charmingly titled) “Hung Drawn and Quartered”, and my personal favorite, the epic march of “Shadow Soldiers”, which seems to look to the Scorpions and their 2010 North American tourmates Sabaton as musical and lyrical touchstones respectively. The Sabaton comparison is particularly apt when you consider the head scratching title of the new album —- it seems like something that those war obsessed Swedes would tackle.
This is neither a conceptual nor thematic album, and apart from two songs including the title track, the centrality of Stalingrad as an album title is left as a bit of a mystery. Some special kudos need to be given to Mark Tornillo, he completely owns the vocal role in this band now, and frankly, sounds a hell of a lot better than even Udo at his prime. His ability to shift from raw, throat scraping metal screams to bluesy, soulful, impassioned Coverdale-esque vocals while not losing an ounce of richness and texture is flat out astounding for someone who’s been on stage for as long as he has. Precious few others share that same ability. In conclusion, a solid, above average effort from a band on its second lease in career life, but nothing as earthshaking as its mighty predecessor. Check that one out if you haven’t already, then grab this to supplement.
Running Wild – Shadowmaker:
Here’s a surprise. It was pretty much taken as a given that Rock’n’Rolf’s decision to weigh anchor on Running Wild’s career in 2009 was long overdue. The decade prior was characterized by a continuous streak of mediocre albums, capped by the truly uninspired, awful, and unfortunately titled “Rogues in Vogue” in 2005. The band’s finale concert at Wacken Open Air was recorded and released as a DVD, and it seemed a fairly respectable way to go out – on home soil at the greatest metal festival in the world and giving the fans the favorites they wanted. So regardless of the reason why he decided to resurrect the band (with merely two members this time), the time off seems to have done him a world of good, allowing him to perhaps gain from his separation from life as a touring/recording musician.
With Shadowmaker, Running Wild sounds revitalized and refreshed both sonically and musically. Gone are the muddy, compressed, and dated sounds of the past few albums, and in its place is an approach that is startlingly stripped down – more geared for old school Thin Lizzy-esque hard rock than anything remotely German metal related. I’m not only referring to sonics and production, but in the fundamental songwriting as well. The songs are simple, relaxed, and built on sturdy yet catchy rock riffs, solid melodies, mid-tempo rhythms, and far more clearer vocals than ever heard before on any Running Wild album. This is actually really fun stuff, no brainer, memorable hard rock with only a sprinkling of the band’s traditional pirate themed lyrics, and it invokes the best aspects of classic AC/DC, Accept and the aforementioned Thin Lizzy. Album starter “Piece of the Action” boasts a rockin’ series of riffs that lead into an almost Saxon-esque chorus, while “Into the Black” features an excellent laid back riffing juxtaposed with ominous melodic overtones. “Dracula” is the only track that approaches metal like speed and intensity, with double kick and intense riffage enjoyable enough to make you forget about the ham-fisted lyrics.
The criticisms that I’ve seen of this album from some Running Wild purists who are screaming foul about the change in musical direction are most often geared towards a track called “Me and the Boys”, a cheeky self-serving rally cry that is at least in my minority opinion the best track on the album. I’ve read descriptions of this track being cock-rock-esque, and sure, that may be an apt description, but its only one track, and a welcome change of pace during the middle of the album. Corny lyrics yes I agree, but I can’t help but grin when listening to it, even singing along to its rollicking refrain, the last line of which goes “Cause rock n’ roll is our choice”. Ouch. Well lets not start comparing Rolf Kasparek to Bob Dylan, lyrics on Running Wild albums are best taken lightly or literally, sometimes both. Running Wild has not sounded this vital in a long time, and this may be the biggest surprise of the year – perhaps not the equivalent of Accept’s post-reunion impact but definitely noteworthy of its own accord. And as Rolf sings “Just another night / We are Running Wild”, its great to have them back.