Running Wild- ”The Rivalry” (Gun records)
It’s been 20 years since the release of The Rivalry and it’s been about 10 since I’ve had my first exposure to this beast. A true beast of a Running Wild CD not only because of the undeniably heavy, robust and at times high-octane-driven energy on display – gaining additional impact by the massive, pounding guitar sound (their best ever) – but also because of the hook-laden and highly memorable writing that’s almost unparalleled by Running Wild standards (I’d only put Death or Glory and perhaps Black Hand Inn on the same pedestal in this category).
But when a band is this late in their career, the chance of wear and tear showing up becomes a greater one and the appearance of some creative slump has to be expected. So yeah, the album’s length does hurt The Rivalry a little, since the second half is not nearly as strong as the first. Running Wild always loved to show their roots in classic heavy metal/rock from time to time, doing so with great success (“Bad to the Bone” and “Freewind Rider” are eternal hits of the band) but it’s overdone on the latter half of the album without ever reaching the qualities of earlier output in the same vein.
“Fire and Thunder” at least has a good chorus, but “The Poison” and “Man on the Moon” really fall flat on their faces and urge you to push that skip button hard and fast. Like a foreshadowing of what would happen in later years, the increase of recycled riffs and structures (“War and Peace” – even though an enjoyable ride in itself – is built on the same foundations as “Ballad of William Kidd” and therefore feels like a lesser version of that song) as well as a noticeable lack of finesse and detail in the drumming (many times even the better songs are carried by a dead-simple, almost mechanical sounding AC/DC-styled beat with double bass rumbling below) do taint the overall experience to some degree…such lazy wrongdoings and the tendency to repeat certain guitar patterns a little too often (look at the album length…) would not have been necessary at all – cut these fillers out and you’ve got your personal Painkiller, damnit!
Speaking of the resemblance to Judas Priest’s Painkiller – in terms of a seasoned band releasing strong, heavy output well deep into their career – and putting the aforementioned flaws aside, the comparison is not that far off, actually. After the atmospheric, fist-pumping introduction, the album’s title track rips your head off with one of the catchiest and gripping guitar/lead-combinations ever. A furious palm-muted tremolo guitar riff topped with a simple but effective lead melody grabs you by the neck and won’t let go until the song is over – not until track 8 to be precise, since the first half of The Rivalry is certainly one of the strongest offerings this band has concocted in their prime. Be it the epic stomp of “Return of the Dragon” the blazing speed metal of “Firebreather” or the mighty opus that is “Ballad of William Kidd”, there is a lot to (re-)discover here. Especially grandiose is the soloing on basically every track by mastermind Rolf Kasparek himself (general props to the rare breed of front men possessing the ability to sing main vocals plus handling lead guitar duties excellently!) who’s got the feeling for the perfect mix of shredding and highly memorable melodic licks.
All of this is highlighted by a bottom-heavy, crispy yet clear production with only one minor (recurring) fault, that being Rock ’n’ Rolf’s reverb-drenched voice. I don’t know why he chose to do this again (listen to Pile of Skulls for an even worse example of reverb abuse, doing serious damage to an otherwise nicely recorded CD) but at least you get used to it after a while.
Bottom line is – The Rivalry celebrates its 20th birthday this year and it has aged well. In case you enjoyed Running Wild’s earlier output and have not heard this yet, there is NO reason not to get this, as it is a stronger effort than quite a few of its predecessors and most definitely their very last peak, as the band has become a fading shadow of its former self, with Rolf churning out rehashed collections of his worst ideas since the turn of the millennium.
In general – if you like your heavy metal fast-as-a-shark and with a ton of hooks but don’t want to worry about commercial flirtations, this one is gonna be right up your alley. You have been living under a rock if you haven’t heard this by now anyway!