Back in 1976 a bunch of school friend started a band called Granite Heart, without having a clue what they were doing, and their first years – in their own words – was mainly messing around. Around 1979 the band around vocalist/guitarist Rolf Kasparek was armed with a new rhythm section and started to work more seriously. The name was changed into Running Wild – after the same-titled song that was featured on Judas Priest’s ‘Hell Bent For Leather’ Album, who were one of the biggest influences on the guys at the time. The band appeared on the legendary ‘Rock From Hell – German Metal Attack’ compilation, issued by Noise in 1983. The compilation did quite well and things started rolling for Running Wild as well. The band also got the opportunity to appear on Noise’s even more legendary ‘Death Metal’ compilation, and was also offered a deal with the label. The rest is – as it is called so beautifully – history.
In 1984 the by now rather experienced band released its first full-length album, Gates To Purgatory’. Rolf and his men delivered pure heavy metal that was indeed heavily influenced by Priest, but also AC/DC and KISS. The gentlemen played, especially for that time, quite heavy music, but also impressed with their solid, and well though-of compositions. Songs such as ‘Victim Of State Power’ and ‘Adrian S.O.S.’ are even two songs that – in my opinion – formed the blueprint of what later became a sub-genre of its own, namely speed metal. Even though the music the men revealed on ‘Gates To Purgatory’ is quite different than what later on in their career became their trademarks, the album contains eight powerful track that decades later are still as powerful. The new mix in which – as said – the original magic has been kept intact, delivers the goods even more powerfully. The reissue contains eight bonus tracks, among which ‘Satan’ and ‘Purgatory’ that at the time didn’t make the album due to lack of finances. For the rest we also get the songs that were featured on the aforementioned compilations, a few B-sides and re-recordings from 1991.
With the successful debut in the pocket and having built a certain name and reputation, the band marched forth for the successor, ’Branded And Exiled’, which was released in 1985. When you read the liner notes, the expectations for this record were quite high, which did put some pressure on the band. Guitarist Gerald “Preacher” Warnecke, whom together with Rolf was responsible for the majority of the material on the first album and was a decisive factor in the sound and songwriting, left the band two weeks before they were supposed to enter the studio. That laid even more pressure on Rolf who was now left alone to provide the songwriting. In the studio things also didn’t go as smoothly as they should have. To be honest I was not aware of these facts, which makes it even more admirable that the album has turned out as well as it did. Musically the band showed a somewhat different approach, which is no surprise there one of the main co-writers had disappeared. Still the album showed a more mature band. Besides that, it was mainly the riffs that were the most striking on this album. Even more than on the first record Rolf and co. made the heads roll even faster, and although the Priest influences were still obvious, the band had definitely created a unique sound. Rolf’s vocals were more stable and his voice, along with the riffing, was quite deciding for Running Wild’s sound. This was the very beginning of the well-known Running Wild sound that became the band we know today. And even more than the debut, ‘Branded And Exiled’ is in my opinion one of the most influential albums in metal history. With its title track the album contains an immortal metal-anthem, that together with one of the fan-favourites, Mordor, is still played live today. As bonus the reissue contains three re-recordings (of album tracks) from 1991, and two from 2003.
On ‘Branded And Exiled’ the band had already let go of the satanic image they showed on the debut. Still the album had something dark about it as well. The band started getting into trouble here and there because of their image, which according to Rolf was nothing more than an image. Also some of the fans started taking the subject seriously, that to the band’s displeasure. So on the third LP the band wanted to get rid of that image even more. Musically the band showed even more progress, and also on the songwriting level, Rolf – who was again responsible for the entire album – had outdone himself. Under Jolly Roger’ (1987) was therefore the most complete and the most versatile Running Wild album thus far. The musical approach the band showed on the title track was also the blueprint for what was to become one of the band’s trademarks. Moreover this was the first record on which the pirate image, quite spontaneously, was introduced. Although, apart from the title track the album had nothing to do with the theme. But anyway, the song, its atmosphere and of course its lyrics, as well as cover artwork, and especially the back cover that showed a painting of the band in pirate outfits, was something quite striking. Although the back cover wasn’t the band’s idea, they liked the idea and decided to hit the stage in those outfits as well. The fans also met this image with open arms, but the press didn’t get it and wasn’t at all satisfied, and the band was criticized heavily. Despite all that the album was a huge success and is still considered a classic. Either way, a new era for Running Wild had begun. The reissue of the album contains a bonus disc, containing re-recordings from 1991 and 2003 of seven out of the eight album tracks, and an alternative version of ‘Beggar’s Night’. The most interesting of the bonus tracks is the song ‘Apocalyptic Horsemen’, which was originally composed for the album, but made its first appearance on the ’20 Years In History’ compilation album.
After ‘Under Jolly Roger’ Rolf decided to continue with the pirate image and followed a more serious approach to the subject. On the live-album following the record (‘Ready For Boarding’ from 1988) the image was already continued, but with fourth long player, ’Port Royal’ from that same year, came the real smash. Although not all tracks on the album dealt with the matter, the band was clearly occupied with it. On that record the band also introduced a new rhythm section that was audibly stronger than ever before, and one that showed a highly mature band. A striking point was that the material was even heavier. Along with the image, also the musical approach the band had introduced with the song ‘Under Jolly Roger’ was continued, which made clear that Running Wild had finally found its sound and approach, and with that their trademark. Another striking point was the fact that Rolf had obviously grown as a singer, and paid a lot more attention to actual singing than before. And with that it also became more audible what a beautiful voice the man actually possessed. All in all ‘Port Royal’ was a solid record that decades later still has the same impact. From all the reissues and the remastered versions, I am most happy with this one. Not that the original record had a poor production, but in my opinion the album lacked the necessary volume in order to have the impact is should and could have had. Fortunately that issue is now fixed and we can fully enjoy the unadulterated heavy/speed metal even more. As a bonus we get two re-recordings from 1991 and an alternative version of ‘Uaschitschun’
The upward trend and the style – meaning: “Pirate Metal” – the band showed on ‘Port Royal’ was continued on ’Death Or Glory’ (1989). Thanks to a deal that Noise at the time had with EMI, Running Wild could benefit from an extra push and publicity, what lead them to having the best sold record until then, and the album even landed on positions #45 in the German charts. And that without giving in to the commerce even one bit. The fact however was that this album was a lot more versatile than its predecessor, and also had the best production so far. There was also a video made for the song ‘Bad To The Bone’, which gave the band exposure on MTV as well. The reissue of the album contains the complete ‘Wild Animal’ EP that followed the album, as well as re-recorded versions of ‘Riding The Storm’ en ‘Bad To The Bone’.
Running Wild was definitely on the roll, but behind the scenes the band was dealing with some issues amongst each other, which lead to yet another line-up change. The most important change this time was the departure with guitarist Majk Moti, who had been in the band since 1985 and in his own way had contributed to the band’s success. But still Rolf managed to match the predecessor’s success, and even topped it with Blazon Stone (1991). Meanwhile the well-known Running Wild sound and style had been perfected even further. Funny enough the album didn’t contain any pirate-related songs, but did breathe that atmosphere. All in all ‘Blazon Stone’ is one of the strongest records in the band’s history and a number of undisputed pieces of music that in my opinion will always remain unmatched. On the reissue the songs ‘Billy The Kid’ and the (great) cover version of Thin Lizzy’s ‘Genocide’ are listed as regular album tracks, but in fact these were featured on the ‘Little Big Horn’ single. Furthermore we get the re-worked versions of the title track and ‘Little Big Horn’ from 2003.
After the tour for ‘Blazon Stone’ the band again battled with line-up changes. However, Rolf had already proven that he was Running Wild’s beating heart, and that the constant switch of musicians didn’t affect the band’s sound and style. And he again proved it with the magnificent ’Pile Of Skulls’ (1992). The pirate theme had also returned and the album contained what for me is the ultimate pirate song; the breathtaking ‘Treasure Island’. The re-issue contains a bonus disc featuring the complete ‘Lead Or Gold’ single that preceded the album, as well as re-recordings of ‘Whirlwind’ and ‘Treasure Island’ from 2013.
Just as anything in life, music is also always a case of “you win some, you lose some”. Running Wild had been on a winning streak for over a decade, and every album was a great success, also commercially. Both Noise and the band had expected and hope that the streak would remain intact with Black Hand Inn (1994), but that was not the case. Unlike its predecessors the album didn’t come across and sold a lot less. In their own saying it was even the band’s worst-selling record ever! And to be honest that is something I have never understood. Okay, sound-technically the album did show a – especially for that time – modern production, but I doubt that this was the reason for the album’s demise at the time. Musically the material is very strong, and more than that utterly Running Wild. Twenty years later the album is fortunately doing better. The reissue contains the songs ‘Dancing On A Minefield’ and ‘Poisoned Blood’ from the ‘The Privateer’ single as bonus.
Unlike ‘Black Hand Inn’ its successor ’Masquerade’ (1995) was again the success it was supposed to be. The album was another typical Running Wild effort, and a logical continuation of its predecessor. But the album was indeed a lot more versatile than ‘Black Hand Inn’ and felt as an anthology of the band’s career, with sturdy rockers and Priest-influenced riffs, but also the typical speed metal the band trademarked later on. Another point was that on ‘Black Hand Inn’ the band had clearly spent a lot of time on the recordings in order to have everything as perfectly as possible, due to which the album may have sounded too smooth eventually. On that matter ‘Masquerade’ sounded a lot more spontaneous, which may have contributed to the fact that it did better than its predecessor. The reissue contains the re-worked versions of ‘Lions Of The Sea’ and ‘Black Soul’ as bonus. This was the last album the band released for Noise, after which both parties agreed to part ways due to a few unpleasant disagreements.