Παρασκευή 8 Νοεμβρίου 2019

Riding the Storm: The story of RUNNING WILD’s “Death or Glory” & interview with Jens Becker.

In the summer of 1986, Roman Polanski's film Pirates was released. Sometime during that period, a trailer of the film had a scene where a pirate flag was rising up, and that was the main influence for the song “Under Jolly Roger”; an amazing track with a great title! That title, was also the name of the album that was released in 1987. At that point, Running Wild left aside the satanic and evil image and adopted the pirate themes. In September of 1988 the Port Royal album was released, and in November of 1989, Death or Glory was unleashed upon the world. It was the same day (November 8th), exactly 30 years ago… 
written by Andreas Andreou

Judas Priest-meets-Accept was an early influence of Hamburg, Germany based, Running Wild, but when the Captain screamed, “Weigh anchor, hoist the sails!” they became the iron fist that ruled the seven seas.
Under Jolly Roger was the beginning where the flag was raised and the pirate ship was ready for boarding… Port Royal was the journey, a cry of freedom on the sea, and Death or Glory is the album where the pirate spirit is perfected. At the same time, Captain Rock ‘n’ Rolf also perfected his riffing; a metal riffing that gets more powerful (powermetal-ed?) in the next albums. The bands and artists that are influenced or copy the pirate spirit (like Blazon Stone) are mainly in the power metal field, but Running Wild’s spirit is unmatchable; a league on its own.

What's the music of Running Wild? Just like many more bands, Running Wild stand in a realm that dwells between classic heavy metal, power metal, even speed metal. There is no problem if someone will call 'em “heavy metal” or “power metal” (especially the '90s albums), but just like the unique - and similar - case of King Diamond, you can simply call their music, “Running Wild-metal”. You can find Running Wild mentioned in articles about classic metal, and also in articles about power metal, and everyone is correct, depending the songs and albums that are mentioned.

While you could see the picture of Iain Finlay on Port Royal album sleeve, Stefan Schwarzmann recorded drums on that album, and Finlay played for the first time in Death or Glory. Schwarzmann left to join U.D.O. but returned briefly to Running Wild for the album Pile of Skulls (1992). 
The recording line-up of Death or Glory was: Rock ‘n’ Rolf Kasparek (vocals, guitars), Majk Moti (guitars), Jens Becker (bass), Iain Finlay (drums).
Death or Glory was recorded, engineered and mixed at Studio M in July to August 1989, by Jan Němec, and was produced by Rolf Kasparek. By that time, Cap’n and crew had reached their highest point of musicianship, and that album had their better production until that moment. For many pirate fans, Death or Glory stands as their highest (among many) achievements, and this writer is among them.

Cover artwork was created by Sebastian Krüger.
Who had the idea for the cover art of Death or Glory, and was the design used, the first and final one? “Idea, cover design and all details had originally been created by the record company SPV and his former director Manfred Schütz”, told us Mr. Krüger, but actually the concept was based on an idea of Running Wild.
On the question if the band members were involved, or it was commissioned by the record label, Sebastian Krüger replied, “The album cover had been commissioned by the record label. They sent an illustration sketch with comments on all demanded details.”
It is always interesting to know if all those artists know the bands. When I asked Mr. Krüger if he listened to Running Wild before the creation of the cover art, his reply was, “No.”
Actually, Running Wild was signed to Noise Records but Death or Glory, a very successful album in their catalogue, was something more. It was basically released under EMI Noise, due to the new - then – deal that Noise signed with the German division of EMI.

As a band, Running Wild have memorable, catchy and sing-along choruses, but they also have managed to have memorable and catchy riffs; riffs you can sing-along to, like being on a stadium… or on a pirate ship. And Death or Glory has lot of them, starting with “Riding the Storm”, a highlight in the long career of Running Wild, an iconic song, and one of the greatest album openers ever.
“Face in the wind, we're riding the storm
We'll stay our course whatever will come
Wandering souls in the sea of the damned
Death or glory, oh, oh, we're riding the storm.”
That’s a statement!
This album is a treasure. Riffs, leads, hooks, songwriting, everything is gold. And while at first touch, guitars and the characteristic vocals seem the most precious jewels, underneath them, lie diamonds; Jens Becker’s bass lines and Iain Finlay’s drumming. You just can’t ignore them! Finlay is a monster! The way he keeps the pounding rhythm but also how he changes everything within a song. As for Becker, he has a fantastic way to add every bass line, while the production helps every instrument to sound clearly; just listen to the instrumental “Highland Glory”. You can identify an Iron Maiden vibe in “Highland Glory” and there are few more influences here and there, but at that moment, Running Wild have already established their own unique style.
Breaking the waves, a ride on the wild raging sea... You have heavy metal bangers (“Bad to the Bone”, “Renegade”), songs with amazing structure (“Evilution”, “Running Blood”), riff-driven storming anthems that combine classic heavy metal with speed metal (“Marooned”, “Tortuga Bay”, “Death or Glory”), and a huge epic (“The Battle of Waterloo”), while the band also explores historical subjects besides pirate themes. And everywhere, anthemic sing-along parts. How many times have you heard this album and felt the need to raise your fist in the air?
Track list:
01. Riding the Storm (M. & L.: Kasparek)
02. Renegade (M.: Kasparek, L.: Finlay)
03. Evilution (M.: Kasperek/Becker, L.: Finlay)
04. Running Blood (M. & L.: Kasparek)
05. Highland Glory (The Eternal Fight) (M.: Becker/Finlay)
06. Marooned (M. Kasparek, L.: Kasparek/Finlay)
07. Bad to the Bone (M.: Kasparek, L.: Kasparek/Finlay)
08. Tortuga Bay (M.: Kasparek, L.: Kasparek/Finlay)
09. Death or Glory (M.: Moti, L.: Moti/Finlay)
10. Battle of Waterloo (M. & L.: Kasparek)

Due to time constraints, the first vinyl pressing didn't include the track March On (M. & L.: Moti). However, that song was included in the CD version of the album and also in Bad to the Bone single.
Two months after the release of Death or Glory, Running Wild also released Wild Animal EP with the track list: 1. Wild Animal, 2. Chains & Leather (new recording), 3. Tear Down the Walls, 4. Störtebeker.
All these tracks were included in different future repressings of Death or Glory, and the Wild Animal EP was released to support the Death or Glory Tour, recorded at the same studio with Death or Glory in October of 1989.

Just before the official release of Death or Glory, Running Wild recorded a show in Düsseldorf, and that show became the Death or Glory Tour – Live VHS, that was released in June 1990, and that live show was the main part for the video clip of “Bad to the Bone” and the live video clip of “Riding the Storm”.

The Death or Glory Tour was a success but during touring, Iain Finlay left the band and was temporarily replaced by Jörg Michael - that became the band's permanent drummer for the albums Black Hand Inn (1994), Masquerade (1995), The Rivalry (1998), adding an extra “power metal” element; European Power Metal, where Jörg Michael rules. Running Wild's drum roadie Rüdiger Dreffein (stage name, AC) became the band's new drummer, and also in 1990, guitarist Majk Moti was replaced by Axel Morgan. Moti was fascinated with new - then - technology and left the band at the end of 1989 to pursue a new career.

Bassist Jens Becker remembers...

Did Rolf always had a plan of how an album should sound and was he open to ideas from the other band members?
J.B.: Yes, Rolf always had the basic idea for the albums with all the lyrics, cover etc. but he also sometimes accepted songwriting ideas from us.

How the band did choose the final tracks that made it to each album, and did you had more songs written or recorded that never got released?
J.B.: This was never a problem, because we only worked on song ideas where it was clear they would make it on the album. There are no extra songs recorded.

What do you remember about the recordings of Death or Glory? Was the album completed before you enter studio?
J.B.: It was a very interesting and exciting time for me. We knew that we recorded some really good songs and the expectation was very high. The songs were all completed, we did not write anything in the studio.

How was the band's relationship with Noise Records' owner, Karl-U. Walterbach? I haven't ever read about any kind of drama or problems between Running Wild and the label, like other bands (for example, Celtic Frost).
J.B.: There was no trouble as long as I was in the band. But Rolf had all the communication with the label anyway. So I don’t know any details.

“We'll stay our course whatever will come”... The pirate ship kept its course but the crew was always changing. Was it always because of the Captain and why did you parted ways with Rolf and Running Wild?
J.B.: This is a difficult subject… I did not leave the band. I was fired together with AC, but I never knew why, Rolf never told me. It was one of the biggest disappointments of my life.

Have you talked to Rolf after your departure and did you ever think that you could return to Running Wild?
J.B.: No, I never talked to him again. I only met him one time on a festival in Italy where I played with Grave Digger also. Just said hello and that was it. My return was never an option for him obviously.

Have you listened to any Running Wild album afterwards?
J.B.: I never heard a full album, only some songs here and there. So I cannot say anything about the whole thing. But I am still really proud about the albums I recorded and I think it was the best period of the band. But this is only my opinion.

Despite other members that joined Running Wild in the past, you are still an active musician in the metal scene. After all these years, how do you see now the legacy of Running Wild in the metal history?
J.B.: As I said before, I am very proud that I was an important part of the history of Running Wild and we were definitely some pioneers of the German Metal history.

Photo by Martin Becker

After Running Wild, Jens Becker formed X-Wild with former members of the pirate crew, Axel Morgan (guitar) and Stefan Schwarzmann (drums), and Frank Knight on vocals, playing power speed metal. Their debut album So What! (1994) was recorded at the same studio as Death or Glory. X-Wild released two more albums and disbanded in 1997. Sometime in 2009, singer Frank Knight was joined by guitarist Majk Moti for selected live shows under the name Wild Knight, performing X-Wild and Running Wild songs.
When X-Wild was disbanded, Jens Becker joined Grave Digger, another classic German heavy/power metal band from Germany, and old label mates of Running Wild in Noise Records.

Running Wild kept the course, with many line-up changes during the next years, and up to 1995 kept releasing the kind of heavy metal we love to listen. More albums were released, others good, others not so good, and there was a brief break during 2009-2011. Cap’n Kasparek returned with a new album in 2012 and from that point he performs selected live shows, while releasing new music, keeping the pirate idea alive. But the music is not always of high quality.

Hoist up the main brace and fasten the sails…

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