Sunday, November 3, 2013

Running Wild - Resilient

Just... ugh

Honestly, I can't think of a more blundered finale to an epic saga in the history of storytelling.  I know that's an altered quote from Spoony's review for Ultima IX, but the fact that he isn't a Running Wild fan shows that he doesn't understand true disappointment as far as I'm concerned.  I mean yeah, Ultima IX is a hackneyed rush job that cornholed what roughly ten or eleven previous games had spent building up and was shit out to meet a hard deadline and failed to live up to all the promise the series had built and whatnot, but that's different than what Rolf has done here.  Rolf had a legendary band, with a legacy nearly unmatched in the annals of metal history.  Running Wild's first eight albums are all considered essential listening by most fans of the band and genre, with some people like me even thinking they were damn near untouchable even further than that (I personally think they were great through Victory), and they were starting to stumble with age.  The Brotherhood flipflops between good fun to snore inducing vomit, and the less said about Rogues en Vogue, the better.  But after a few years of silence, Rolf had decided to hang up his ceremonial robes and bow out gracefully.  He gathered his band and performed one last time, with a set list in part chosen by fans, in front of thousands of boozed up and screaming fans at the biggest metal festival in Germany.  It was an emotional departure, and a great swansong for a great band.

And then Peter Jordan happened.

Look, I know this is Rolf's baby, I know everything that's happened since the very first days of Granite Heart in the mid 70s has been at the behest of Rock'n'Rolf, but ever since Peter Jordan showed up, things went from "bad" to "unbearable".  Rolf's obsession is 70s and 80s cock rock has never been a secret, he openly dedicated "Kiss of Death" from The Rivalry to KISS, and there have always been big hard rock songs from as far back as Port Royal, but they were never the focus until near the end, they never became ubiquitous until the last two albums before the initial disbanding.  And I feel like Rolf's favorite yes-man probably had a pretty big hand in convincing him to resurrect the Running Wild name.  Because let's face it, Running Wild, Toxic Taste, and Giant X have all been the same fucking band for the past eight years now.  Rolf doesn't want to do Running Wild anymore, he doesn't want to write another Blazon Stone or Death or Glory, no matter how badly we fans want such a thing.  Clearly, he's into stadium oriented buttrock, because that's what he keeps writing, and that's all he's been writing ever since Jordan started leeching off the man like the world's most heartbreaking parasite.  The thing that sets this apart from Ultima IX is that Shadowmaker and Resilient weren't rushed or compromised, these albums are what the creator really wants to do.  It's clear that Rolf has poured his heart into these tracks, and that makes the fact that they sound so unbelievably lazy and half-baked all the more heartbreaking.

On one hand, it's pretty neat to see Rolf being so productive again, releasing three albums in the span of little over a year and a half (because let's face it, Giant X is just Running Wild and vice versa, with the same shitty members, same shitty production, and same shitty buttrock songs), but clearly the man is running on a renewed fuel, his passion for music definitively reignited.  It's just sad because he isn't writing Running Wild music anymore, and if he'd've just stuck with Giant X, I wouldn't be so profoundly offended by these last handful of albums he's released under the Running Wild name.  I passed on reviewing Shadowmaker when it was new because there really wasn't anything to say about it.  It was an offensive trainwreck of lame buttrock songs with only a couple tunes worth hearing.  "Piece of the Action" was a decent Billy Idol song and "I Am Who I Am" at least sounded like a Running Wild song (albeit a rather uninspired b-side from The Brotherhood), but that's really all there was amidst a mire of bad "Me & the Boys" type songs.  So how does Resilient differ?

Well, it's a lot less overtly arena rock I suppose, but it's still pretty weak.  There's no outright offensive songs like "Me & the Boys", but it's pretty much an entire album full of "Black Shadow"s and "Riding on the Tide"s.  It sounds more like Running Wild than the rest of the Giant X albums he's been releasing lately, but they're not very good Running Wild songs.  It's an album that starts with filler, continues with filler, and nearly ends with filler.  It'd be like if Pile of Skulls opened with "Roaring Thunder", and then had no other songs until "Treasure Island".  Resilient is full of songs that sound like worse versions of better songs, but the songs they're emulating were always among the weakest on any given album.  It's basically an album consisting of "Raging Fire", "Evilution", "Fight the Fire of Hate", "Land of Ice", "Lonewolf", "Man on the Moon", "Unation", and "Into the Fire".  If that list of filler songs meant nothing to you, then I'm afraid we can't be friends.

At the very least, I can give this album some credit for its energy.  It feels like this should have been released first instead of Shadowmaker.  That album didn't sound like a man resurrecting his legendary metal band due to a renewed passion for the music, it sounded more like a tired old codger trying to desperately relive his glory days.  Granted, Resilient still sounds like that, but it just feels more genuine.  Unlike its predecessor, this doesn't start feeling tired and obligatory until the last handful of songs, everything from the opening to "Run Riot" at least sounds like Rolf had a smile on his face while writing and recording the songs.  They're fun and upbeat, if nothing else.  Now, they're not very good, mind you, but they do at least feel like they were written by a man who wanted to write them.  There are a couple highlights, I will admit.  I can't justify why, but I really like "Run Riot", it's probably the most familiar sounding song on the album, in the sense that it wouldn't have been out of place on an album like Victory (fuck you, that album rules, if you can't dig "Tsar", "Timeriders" or especially "The Hussar", then you are dead to me).  It offers a sense of cozy nostalgia, a warmth of familiarity that I gladly welcome.  And "Adventure Highway" isn't bad either, though not entirely striking.

I feel like the reason a song like "Adventure Highway" or "Fireheart" can stand out on this album is because the rest of the running time is so goddamn samey and uninteresting that anything approaching catchy is instantly caught in your mind.  "Down to the Wire" and "Crystal Gold" are 100000% forgettable and completely unnecessary, and it has a lot to do with the very formulaic writing.  Almost every song on the album sits comfortably around the four and a half minute mark, and they're all structured in a nearly identical and conventional pop structuring.  Every single song is verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-solo-chorus-fin.  It never deviates, it's as bad as All That Remains or Kajagoogoo.  That's not to say that Running Wild was always adventurous with their songwriting, but they never felt as paint-by-numbers tedious as they do here, and it really drags down what could logically be a lighthearted and fun hard rock album.  Rolf even does that fucking thing he always does on "Desert Rose" and "Down to the Wire".  You know what thing I'm talking about.  It just sounds like he's going through the motions for most of the album, even if he's having fun with these motions for the first time in nearly a decade.

The production woes of the past are just as present here as they always have been.  It was never completely clear to me until Shadowmaker, but Rolf's voice needs reverb.  In this pristine, controlled environment, his signature snarling croon becomes the sound of a laughably arthritic old man trying to prolapse a hot dog out of himself.  I'm not kidding when I say the final vocal flourish in the title track sounds damn near identical to the sound I make when wrestling with an unusually resilient poop.  The guitar sound is strangely robotic as well, sounding almost industrial with how tinny and hollow it sounds.  It doesn't sound like a guitar as much as it sounds like a really unconvincing MIDI patch, and when you couple that with Angelo Sasso's mechanically dull drum performance, you get a pretty disingenuous sounding record.  Man, now that I think about it, if you don't believe the rumor of his death in 2007, Angelo Sasso is the longest tenured member Running Wild has ever had.  Isn't that just the saddest fucking thing since Old Yeller?

But throughout all this, I've been noticeably ignoring one track in particular, the signature closing epic, "Bloody Island".  Like every fan worth his salt, I recognize the brilliance in a track like "Treasure Island".  The long buildup, the instantly memorable chorus, the extended soloing section in the middle, the legendary hooks and melodies, there's practically nothing wrong with that song, and it's rightfully regarded as one of the band's best songs nearly universally.  They've never quite captured the same lightning in a bottle again, with "Genesis" and "The Ballad of William Kidd" both being great songs, but not quite on the same echelon as the godlike "Treasure Island", and "The Ghost" and "Dracula" (yeah yeah, I like that song too) both being serviceable and not complete embarrassments, with the only epic of theirs actually falling to utter shit being "The War", from the already snakebitten Rogues en Vogue.  So how does "Bloody Island" stack up against such a pedigree?  Fairly well, actually.  It is without a doubt the best song to be found on Resilient, and easily the most "Running Wild-y" song featured here.  It's pretty much a direct carbon copy of "Treasure Island", but it's almost unspeakably welcome on an album as dull and devoid of that legendary flash like this one.  The main melody is straight out of the Blazon Stone era, the chorus is closer to The Brotherhood, but it's one of the good songs from that album at the very least.  This is what the fans wanted to hear, this is what we wanted.  Even if it wasn't quite as good as the late 80s and early 90s, we wanted to hear Rolf put his effort into doing what he does best: epic, classy melodies and strong, barbed hooks.  I know that's exactly why I criticize an album like Death Magnetic, but really, Rolf has clearly defined his strengths in the past, and what he's been doing for the past decade is little more than a self indulgent vanity project.  It's nice to see him doing what he loves, because he has earned it, but a little throwback like this shows that he isn't completely sapped out of his former magic, he just... doesn't want to do it anymore.

In a way, this is actually a more disappointing than Shadowmaker, because while that album was bad and boring, Resilient is bad, but even more boring and yet somehow shows some flashes of Rolf's former magic, something that was conspicuously absent on the previous album.  Resilient is better, don't get me wrong, but at this point it may just be Stockholm Syndrome.  Despite the slight step up in quality, this is still bad, still boring, still bland, and still disappointing.  It's better than Shadowmaker, but do you know what's better than winning a silver medal at the Special Olympics?  Not being retarded.

RATING - 30%