Reviewed: December 2021
Released: 2021, Steamhammer/SPV
Reviewer: Kieron Hayes
Like any good bunch of experienced buccaneers, Running Wild have been on quite a journey, with ups and downs. After a short start playing Venom-esque gritty proto-black speed metal, they found their niche pretty quickly as premier pirate-themed traditional metal. The sheer quality of the albums that followed established them as the Iron Maiden of the seas: Death or Glory, Pile of Skulls, Black Hand Inn, they were hurling out banger after banger. Things took a bit of a dip with their early 2000s albums before the band called it quits in 2009…
…Only to return just a couple of years later. And from there it’s been stormy seas: their output since their reformation hasn’t been so well received, though the last couple of offerings did see a return to a more promising quality, even if still not on the level of the classics. And now we have Blood on Blood, their 17th full-length piece.
It’s pretty clear right from the opening title track that this is going to be Running Wild sticking to what they know. “Blood on Blood” rips into things with a vintage high seas-sailing gallop any existing fan will recognise immediately. Though admittedly, the “One for all, and all for one!” chants of the chorus can stray a little too far into cheese territory.
From here, it’s a familiar voyage. Tracks like “Crossing the Blades” and “The Shellback” are classic Running Wild through and through, exactly the kind of glorious, infectious shanties that suck you in like a whirlpool. “Wild and Free” is a fun ride too, with a classic metal crunch that calls Saxon to mind.
But while fun, there’s also a lingering feeling that these songs could be pushed further still, especially in terms of tempo. This isn’t to say Running Wild need to start belting out straight-up thrash or the like, but a little more push on the pedal could really help elevate these promising tracks further. It’s a point that is felt more and more as the album goes on, and it doesn’t ruin the experience, but it can leave the listener hungering for a bit more spice.
There are also a couple of outright missteps, without question. “Say Your Prayers” just plods at too dull a pace to be interesting. “One Night One Day” tries for a lighters-in-the-air kind of power ballad, but falls flat on the “power” part, and Rolf’s voice isn’t well-suited to it; better to leave this sort of piece to country-mates Accept. I appreciate the ambition with the near 11 minutes of “The Iron Times 1618-1648”, but it simply doesn’t have the material to sustain that length. “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” it is not.
There are definitely some highlights here, and it would feel snobby to dismiss Blood on Blood for its predictability while ignoring the good times to be had in those moments. You’ll chant along with the rest of us. But the album also doesn’t reach the heights we know Running Wild are capable of, despite the tantalising feeling that it could do.